What American Values, Religious Voices Is All About
American Values, Religious Voices: 100 Days, 100 Letters is a national, nonpartisan campaign created from the conviction that scholars who study and teach our diverse religious traditions have something important to say about our shared American values. This project aims to contribute constructively to our national discourse, reaffirming who we are as Americans and modeling how we can learn from one another and work together for the common good.
For the first 100 days of the Trump administration—from January 20 to April 29, 2017—the Values & Voices campaign sent a letter a day to President Trump, Vice President Pence, and Members of the 115th Congress through email and the US postal service, and to a wide multifaith audience through our website and social media platforms. The letters provided insight and inspiration; they challenged our national leaders to govern in ways that align with the values that have guided our nation in the past, values that are rooted in our various faith traditions.
For the first 100 days of the Biden administration—from January 20 to April 29, 2021—Values & Voices will send a letter a day to our elected leaders in Washington and readers around the county, letters that will bring an array of religious texts and teachings to bear on our most pressing contemporary issues.
The Values & Voices letter writers come from a range of religious backgrounds. Scholars in the 2017 and 2021 campaigns are Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, and Sikh. Our Christian scholars are Catholic, Evangelical, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, Orthodox, Mormon, and Quaker. Our Jewish authors come from the Reform, Reconstructionist, Conservative, and Orthodox Jewish communities. Our contributors are rabbis, ministers, a Buddhist nun and a Catholic Sister, ordained clergy, and active laypeople in houses of worship nationwide.
The Values & Voices letter writers reflect the glorious diversity that defines and strengthens our nation. Our scholars approach this project from their individual perspectives as Americans. They bring their unique identities and experiences: Black, white, Latinx, Asian, Native American, people of color from around the world, LGTBQ+, parents, grandparents, activists, immigrants, teachers, people trying in various ways to make a difference in the world.
The Values & Voices letter writers live “from sea to shining sea.” Scholars in the 2017 and 2021 campaigns hail from over twenty-five states and the District of Columbia. Our contributors teach at institutions of higher learning across the country, from large public universities to small liberal arts colleges and seminaries. Other letter writers lead organizations like the Forum for Theological Exploration and the Interfaith Youth Core.
How American Values, Religious Voices Came About
American Values, Religious Voices: 100 Days, 100 Letters is the result of a unique partnership between a Bible scholar and a graphic designer who joined forces after the 2016 presidential election to start a dialogue about American values. In the days following the 2016 election, Rabbi Andrea L. Weiss, Associate Professor of Bible and now Provost at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, came up with the idea of gathering 100 scholars of various religious faiths to send letters to our newly elected officials for the first 100 days of the Trump administration.
To bring the idea to life, Weiss enlisted the help of her friend, Lisa Weinberger, founder and creative director of Masters Group Design, a design and branding studio in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Weinberger threw herself into the project, pro bono, designing the visual assets, creating all of the social media platforms, overseeing the website, and making herself available to help at all hours of the day.
To secure funding and approval for the project, Weiss reached out to Rabbi Aaron D. Panken, of blessed memory, then President of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. Rabbi Panken responded enthusiastically to the idea for a project that would position scholars as thought leaders, and he agreed to provide the necessary financial and logistical support. The 2017 Values & Voices campaign was funded by HUC-JIR. Lisa Messinger, Rabbi Panken’s beloved wife, is generously helping to support the 2021 campaign.
To get the campaign off the ground, Weiss formed a multifaith Advisory Committee to help map out the project, engage potential contributors, and provide guidance as the campaign moved forward. Two HUC-JIR rabbinical students, now Rabbis Hilly Haber and Thalia Halpert Rodis, served as campaign interns and assisted with social media.
To turn an ambitious idea into a concrete reality, Weiss sent invitations to 180 scholars, starting on December 2, 2016. As an academic herself, she knew how many requests to contribute to worthwhile projects scholars receive, many of which they decline because they are overcommitted and simply do not have enough hours in a day. The idea for the original campaign come to fruition because 100 scholars said “yes” and took the time to write powerfully and passionately about the issues that animated them and the texts that inspired them in the wake of the 2016 election and the early months of the Trump administration.
To make an impact, Values & Voices needed more than 100 scholars to write their letters; the project needed people to read the letters. Over 2,000 subscribers followed the campaign, and many more read the letters each day. People reached out to tell us how meaningful the letters were to them and how the campaign made them feel they were not alone. One follower wrote: “I am loving my daily inspirational letters from voices I am not accustomed to hearing.” Another told us how the letters “created dialogue and healing” for two brothers who stopped talking during the 2016 campaign. Readers described the letters as an “archive of compassion and democracy” and “a beacon of level-headedness and morality.” The one recipient in Washington who replied to our letters, Katherine McGuire, then chief of staff for the Illinois Republican Congressman Randy Hultgren, wrote on Day 24 (February 12, 2017): “Keep the letters coming. People are reading them. They help to make sense of the world we live in today and remind us of the world we all want to live in tomorrow.”
Two years later, the positive response to the letters and accompanying artwork led to their publication as a book, along with four essays reflecting on the campaign and its significance (University of Cincinnati Press, 2019).
To meet the needs of a new moment, the American Values, Religious Voices: 100 Days, 100 Letters campaign is launching again in 2021. In a February 9, 2017 Philadelphia Inquirer article on American Values, Religious Voices campaign, Dr. Elsie Stern (author of Letter 100) stated: “I would love to see this project with every presidential election. I think this one grew out of a sense of urgency and anxiety, but I think the idea that these incredibly wise religious traditions have a lot to say to folks who have just ascended to positions of enormous power isn’t specific to this moment.”
Four years later, we are gathering 100 scholars to bring the wisdom of our religious sources to bear on the most pressing issues of our day: a pandemic, a fractured nation, a collective outcry against systemic racism, the specter of climate change, and more. These letters aim to offer our elected officials and fellow citizens alike the guidance and inspiration needed to meet the challenges of this precarious moment, while modeling how people of different backgrounds can listen to and learn from one another.
The Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion continues to sponsor American Values, Religious Voices. Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah is funding the Values & Voices 2021 campaign as part of its commitment to collective Jewish communal action in support of American democracy.
Meet the Values & Voices 2021 Campaign Staff
Rabbi Andrea L. Weiss is Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Provost and Associate Professor of Bible at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. She is co-author of the published letters, American, Values Religious Voices: 100 Days, 100 Letters (University of Cincinnati Press, 2019) and co-editor of The Torah: A Women’s Commentary (CCAR Press, 2008).
Lisa Weinberger is Founder and Creative Director of Masters Group Design in Philadelphia. Her in-house creative team, along with web designer Roni Lagin, contributed to the success of the 2017 campaign. Lisa is co-author of the published letters, American, Values Religious Voices: 100 Days, 100 Letters (University of Cincinnati Press, 2019).
- Deirdre Good, New Testament Scholar, Stevenson School of Ministry and honorary Canon
- Herbert R. Marbury, Associate Professor of Hebrew Bible at Vanderbilt University
- Hussein Rashid, Founder of islamicate L3C
- Mark S. Smith, Helena Professor of Old Testament Literature and Exegesis at Princeton Theological Seminary
- Elsie R. Stern, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Associate Professor of Bible at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College
Kayla Gillman is a senior at Williams College studying Art History, Studio Art, and Religion. She is an intern in the Education Department at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and has facilitated classes and workshops on Rikers Island and at the Berkshire County Jail and House of Correction.
Sophia Sonnenfeldt is a junior at Williams College studying Religion, History, and Jewish Studies. She mentors first-year students as a Junior Advisor and won the History department’s Richard Ager Newhall Book Prize, an award for the best essay written by an underclass student in courses on European History.
Rebecca Tauber is a senior at Williams College studying English, History, and Jewish Studies. She works as a tutor at Williams’ writing workshop and served as managing editor of The Williams Record. She also has worked in public radio at GBH in Boston, Michigan Radio in Ann Arbor, and KRBD in Ketchikan, Alaska.