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Letter 62 | American Values Religious Voices

Letter 62

DAY 62

Joel B. Kemp

Assistant Professor of Hebrew Bible
Emory University’s Candler School of Theology
March 22, 2021

Dear President Biden, Vice President Harris, and Members of the 117th Congress,

As you assume the daunting task of serving a nation reeling from tragedies and smoldering with discontent, let me assure you that the prayers of many people of faith accompany you on this journey. As I reflect on this moment in American history, we find ourselves confronting fundamental questions about who we are and what we want to be. The persistence of racial injustices, economic inequalities, political polarization, and the deaths of over 500,000 Americans because of COVID-19 have produced a palpable sense of despair and anxiety in this nation. How should you meet this moment? How might you provide hope and comfort for a nation in desperate need of both?

“…we must never allow despair, violence, and hatred to have the final word.”

As a Christian minister and scholar of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), I often turn to Scripture to find answers. Like our country today, the prophet Ezekiel addressed a nation wrestling with loss and struggling to find hope amidst great suffering. Ezekiel captures the nation’s despair and desperation when he quotes how the people are feeling: “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely” (Ezekiel 37:11). In this oft-cited passage, Ezekiel sees a valley of dry bones and hears God ask: “Can these bones live?” (Ezekiel 37:3). What follows is a fantastic vision of restoration and quasi-resurrection. A nation greatly divided and left for dead is reanimated and united.

While Ezekiel 37 emphasizes God’s miraculous intervention, it also reminds us that humans have a role to play in this restoration. Like the prophet, we must be willing to see and be present among those who are suffering. We must choose to speak while others are silent. We must choose to see what is possible, when others only see the problems. Above all, we must never allow despair, violence, and hatred to have the final word.

In closing, I join other contributors in encouraging you to work courageously, creatively, and compassionately to inspire “the better angels of our nature.” May we all work in hope, pray in faith, and speak truth in love.

Sincerely,

Joel B. Kemp

Joel B. Kemp, J.D., Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Hebrew Bible
Candler School of Theology, Emory University

the author

Joel B. Kemp is an Assistant Professor of Hebrew Bible at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology. Dr. Kemp holds a Ph.D. in Hebrew Bible from Boston College (2017), an M.Div. from Andover Newton Theological School (2010), and a J.D. from Harvard Law School (2000). His research interests in biblical studies include the Old Testament, especially the latter prophets, biblical law, and the history of Judah and identity development. His additional scholarly pursuits include African-American appropriations of Scripture, the relationship between race, religion, and law within American society, and the use of the Bible in popular culture.