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Letter 74 | American Values Religious Voices

Letter 74

DAY 74

Mai-Anh Le Tran

Vice President for Academic Affairs, Academic Dean, Associate Professor of Religious Education and Practical Theology
Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary
April 3, 2021

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

Of the many things that the COVID-19 pandemic has made real and surreal, it is that we can be simultaneously terrorized and amazed, that life can be at once awful and awesome.

The inauguration of two life-long public servants to the nation’s highest offices, and the sight of a first Black/Asian American woman vice president, were for many emblematic of the United States in its most dignified instantiation. It was a re-presentation of the noblest forms of the “American idea” of which President Biden spoke: collective courage, conviction, conscience, collaboration. However, just two weeks before, we witnessed a terrifying display of deep-rooted white supremacist sedition, anarchy, and cowardice—a stark reminder that as a country we still cannot imagine the possibility of common futures and a common good for all.

The Biden administration has demonstrated hawkeyed attention to the critical issues of our lifetime: the raging COVID-19 pandemic, the choking economic crisis, the inertia of racial inequity and injustice, and the perils of climate change which threaten our very existence. We know that these matters will take more than 100 days of executive orders. They require the unflinching resolve and principled actions of a people and a planet.

“…the world is in need of repair, and we humans insist that its brokenness is repairable.”

The “battle for the soul of the nation,” as President Biden has put it, is not a fight between winners and losers out of which some may suffer mortal wounds. It might be more akin to what Christian biblical scholar Melanie Johnson-DeBaufre has described as “utopian social dreaming.” It is not sleepy-eyed wishful thinking, but rather an “engaged, directed daytime vision,” a daringness to “dream the world as it ought to be,” as Toni Morrison advised the 1988 graduating class of Sarah Lawrence College in her commencement address. Utopian social dreamers are acutely attuned to what philosopher Elizabeth V. Spelman had written long ago:  the world is in need of repair, and we humans insist that its brokenness is repairable. To this conviction Christians would add that it is God who is steadily at work in the ongoing regeneration of this world. Our human responsibility is to join in that work.

This is the very same terror and amazement of Easter which Christians celebrate worldwide. We are terrified by our own death-dealing brokenness, and yet we continue to be amazed by God’s regenerative, resurrectional power.

May this good news sustain and embolden you for the long and hard work ahead.

With great expectations,

Trần Lê Mai Anh

Rev. Dr. Trần Lê Mai Anh, Ph.D.
Vice President for Academic Affairs and Academic Dean
Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary

the author

Mai-Anh Le Tran is Vice President for Academic Affairs, Academic Dean, and Associate Professor of Religious Education and Practical Theology at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois. She is an ordained Elder of The United Methodist Church, a past-president of the Religious Education Association, and a member of the Association of Practical Theology. Dr. Tran has served on advisory committees for faculty development and race and ethnicity of the Association of Theological Schools. Her research and teaching focus on gender, race, ethnicity, and critical pedagogies. She is the author of Reset the Heart: Unlearning Violence, Relearning Hope (Abingdon Press, 2017).