Main NewsPresident

Resisting the Power of Fear

Dear Pacific School of Religion community,

As we have reflected on the founding of PSR 150 years ago, I have often made reference to the tensions that framed the context into which PSR was born—marked by significant economic transitions, demographic shifts, and deep national conflict. This fall’s campaign season and the results of the election have highlighted the similarities of our context today. I know I am not alone in feeling in my own body the deep divisions of the campaign, the polarization it both revealed and provoked, and the uncertainty created by deeply troubling rhetoric of exclusion and blame.

As it was at our founding, our context highlights the importance of our communal calling to both prepare and serve as theologically and spiritually rooted leaders—leaders able to place the passions and challenges of our moment into a larger/divine context, and ready to draw from a deep well to sustain our work and that of our communities. This moment requires both our prophetic voices, as well as our attention to our own well-being and that of those we are called to serve. We need to join together for communal prayer, to reflect and discuss, and to find ways to ensure that we are able to bring our communities together at a time when powerful divisions are threatening to tear us apart. I have been grateful for the opportunities we’ve had in community to gather already, and encourage our continued engagement with one another.

Javier Viera, a friend and colleague who serves as Dean at Duke Divinity School, captured our calling at this moment in a note to his community which he shared with me: “While any response may feel inadequate at this point, we must still reflect and seek a way forward that promotes peace, dialogue, and the common good. We’re part of a community of scholars and practitioners whose responsibility it is to lead in moments like this. Our leadership must be thoughtful, informed, faithful, and prophetic, otherwise we simply add to the din that has drowned out reason and respectability as part of our common discourse.”

My prayers are with those of you who will be leading in worship or bearing witness in other ways to our calling—particularly with those members of our community who travelled to Standing Rock and find themselves bearing witness with their very bodies as they have been detained.

Every encounter between humans and the divine in both the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures always begins with the same phrase: “do not be afraid.” At the heart of the Good News is this call to resist the power of fear. As we lead or participate in the gatherings of our communities, I pray that we may find ways to both hear and proclaim those powerful words.



David Vásquez-Levy
President, Pacific School of Religion