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Letter 63 | American Values Religious Voices

Letter 63

DAY 63

Phillis Isabella Sheppard

E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Associate Professor of Religion, Psychology, and Culture
Vanderbilt University Divinity School and Graduate Department of Religion
March 23, 2021

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

On January 6, 2021 our nation witnessed the violent attempt to not only overturn the presidential election but to rewrite history. The insurrectionists claimed the election had been stolen; so, as perceived victims, they believed they had a right to turn Capitol Hill into the battleground for their vision of this country.

Proverbs 29:18 warns: “Without a vision, the people perish” (King James Version). Another translation reads: “Without a vision the people lose restraint” (U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops). A third version declares: “Where there is no prophecy, the people cast off restraint” (New Revised Standard Version). All three translations are apropos to our current moment.

This biblical verse and the events of January 6 warn us of what can happen when leadership lacks a vision—not just any vision, but a prophetic vision.

“Today we need prophetic leadership that can…articulate a vision of a more inclusive and just United States.”

Today we need prophetic leadership that can repent for past wrongs and articulate a vision of a more inclusive and just United States. We need leaders who open their eyes to the injustices across our country. We need leaders who see that families are still trying to find their stolen children at the borders of this country. We need leaders who see that women are still victims of harassment and subjected to violence every nine seconds, especially transgender women of color. We need leaders who see that Black and Brown bodies are used for target practice by those who carry badges and guns and that Black and Brown people are living in a medical apartheid. We need leaders who see that our most “essential workers” earn less than a living wage and many others cannot even find a job.

The work ahead of you will be arduous. The change in administrations has not silenced or impeded the organizing of those who let loose restraint and nearly overturned our democratic processes on January 6.  You must eradicate the mechanisms of injustice that are, quite frankly, in the DNA of this country and that permeate government, education, and religious deliberations and processes.

We are a country at war with itself. We need your prophetic leadership and vision of justice, inclusivity, truth, and hope for the future of the United States.

Sincerely,

Phillis Isabella Sheppard

Phillis Isabella Sheppard, Ph.D.
E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Chair
Associate Professor of Religion, Psychology, and Culture
Vanderbilt University Divinity School

the author

Phillis Isabella Sheppard, E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Associate Professor of Religion, Psychology, and Culture at Vanderbilt University Divinity School and Graduate Department of Religion, is a womanist practical theologian, ethnographer, and psychoanalyst. She is the author of Self, Culture and Others in Womanist Practical Theology (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011) and Tilling Sacred Ground: Interiority, Black Women, and Public Religion (forthcoming, Rowman and Littlefield/ Lexington Books, 2021). Dr. Sheppard examines Black women’s negotiation of race, gender, and sexuality in religious spaces. Her third book, Identity, Culture, and Religion: Womanist Ethnography and Black Women’s Vocation develops a womanist ethnographic methodology and will be published in 2022.