Greg Carey is not averse to writing letters to elected officials. That includes U.S. presidents.
But the March 13 letter the Lancaster Theological Seminary professor wrote to President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, Cabinet members and members of Congress was a bit different. It was one of a chain of 100 letters sent by religious scholars from a range of religious traditions as part of a national campaign titled “American Values Religious Voices: 100 Days. 100 Letters.”
The idea for the campaign began with Rabbi Andrea L. Weiss, associate professor of Bible at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York. Concerned by the divisiveness of the presidential campaign, she searched for a way to reinforce the values that define this nation.
Out of her discussions with colleagues around the country, she initiated the 100 Days. 100 Letters. campaign.
In fact, Weiss’ letter landed in the president’s inbox the day he took office. In it, she reminded him and his team that Micah 6:8 teaches leaders “to do justice and to love mercy.”
Carey’s letter arrived on March 13 — Trump’s 53rd day in office — and it followed a similar theme. He cited the Sermon on the Mount in which “Jesus voices God’s blessing to all sorts of people: ‘Blessed are the poor … Blessed are the meek … Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.’ ”
“This attention to those who are crushed by despair, grief and the absence of justice,” Carey wrote, “suggests that a key measure of a leader is what he or she does for the poor and the powerless.”
Twisted views on abortion
Eight days later, Jennifer Koosed, professor of religious studies at Albright College in Reading, admonished the adminstration that the abortion debate has been twisted by abortion opponents.
Citing Exodus 21:22-25, which she said is the only biblical law concerning fetal life, she wrote: “This text makes a clear distinction between fetal life and human life: If a fetus is killed, damage has been done, but murder has not been committed.”
She added: “From this passage, Judaism derives its position: Not only are there times when abortions can be performed (generally rape, incest, statutory rape, great emotional distress), but sometimes they must be carried out (when the woman’s physical or mental health is threatened) (Mishnah Oholot 7:6; Talmud Sanhedrin 72b).”
She said her primary objective was to point out that the abortion debate is “not between people who are religious and people who are secular. Even within religious communities there are a wide variety of positions on abortion.”
Like Carey, Koosed is an inveterate letter writer.
“I have been an avid letter writer to my politicians for years,” she said. The only daunting factor regarding this letter was that it would be available for the public to read.
All writers received the invitation to write their letters before Trump took office. Although Carey wrote his letter after the inauguration, he said his message was unchanged.
“I wrote the same letter I would have written before the inauguration.”
There was no explicit talk of political affiliation among the contributors.
“I think the idea was to bring a very diverse range of religious wisdom from scholars into the public conversation about the new presidency,” he explained.
Carey was invited to write at the recommendation of a friend, Eric Barreto, a professor of New Testament at Princeton Theological Seminary. Barreto also wrote a letter that concluded, “Let that good news inspire your words, your actions, even your tweets, to reflect what has been best about our country.”
The writers were limited to 350 words. Some took the opportunity to lecture the executive and legislative branches of the federal government.
Simran Jeet Singh, an assistant professor of religion at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, who practices the Sikh faith, questioned the president’s behavior.
“What does it mean for all people of faith to watch leaders in the White House who, on the campaign trail and now in office, contribute to immense social fracturing and fuel flames of bigotry and hate across the United States?” he asked.
Others pointed fingers at society as well as at their own institutions.
The April 3 letter by Karoline M. Lewis, of Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minnesota, tackled the issue of misogyny — an issue that arose during the campaign from Trump’s 2005 taped conversation with TV interviewer Billy Bush.
"What does it mean for all people of faith to watch leaders in the White House who, on the campaign trail and now in office, contribute to immense social fracturing and fuel flames of bigotry and hate across the United States?"
~ Simran Jeet Singh, assistant professor of religion
Lewis wrote that “As a woman leader in the church, I routinely confront sexism, which churches continue to sanction. I experience firsthand, or hear from students and colleagues, the many ways women in ministry are devalued. We are told women should not be pastors. We are told the only value of our ministry is in our looks.”
Neither Carey nor Koosed have heard back from anyone in the administration since they wrote their letters. Nor did they expect their letters to change peoples’ minds.
But both have been disappointed in the administration’s policies in the first 100 days.
“I think some people wrote letters that were different after the inauguration,” Carey said, “in response to the immigration order, that sort of thing.”
Citing the president’s immigration ban, the white nationalist links of some of his staff members, a budget he said targets the most vulnerable in society and the president’s continued “vindictive” tweets, Carey said “I feel more negative now than when I sent the letter.”