On the Fifth Anniversary


[1] Journal of Lutheran Ethics was originally scheduled to be launched on September 15, 2001. The pages were all set to go, only our web editor had a vacation in California in early September. This meant that when airline traffic was shut down after 9/11, he had to make his way back via rental car (a scarce commodity immediately post-9/11) to Chicago.

 [2] For better or worse, a great deal of our work here has been shaped by what has followed the events of that September 11, 2001. Copious examination of just war principles paired with class for just peacemaking have driven a considerable portion of our work. The scandals of war (Abu-Ghraib and Haditha) make us question what happens overseas in our name, while the occasional email from readers tells me how different things might look on the ground to those serving as members of the military.

 [3] Add the dimension of conflicting worldviews nesting in different faiths, and we ask, following on public comment, whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God.   Our self-image as a nation, which Stewart Herman brings as a challenge to Lutheran ethics, our sense of right intentions, and respect from other nations we thought we had earned have all made for a lively discussion around the actions of the United States on the international scene. 

 [4] So much did talk of war and peace dominate the public square, when the presidential election of 2004 rolled around, we asked authors to contribute essays on what was not being talked about in the election.

 [5] Throughout this process, the two kingdoms in its evolution and emergence in the Lutheran tradition has proved a lively articulation of how church and state interact. It is the thread which runs through so much of JLE's work. I hope we can say we have made a significant contribution to the marvelous work that is the two kingdoms. And I hope that this thought continues to inspire us to discernment.

 [6] This is not to underestimate the importance of other of our seminal themes such as vocation, preaching and the role of law. Presently we are blessed with dedicated scholars of the church such as George Forell and William Lazareth, whose work we have been able to highlight. We have engaged the life and work of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and intend to engage others in the future. Anyone looking for proof that Lutheranism is living need look no further than these pages.

 [7] Lutheranism as lived out in the ELCA has been well-represented by JLE, from reviews of and comment on social statements on caring for creation and education to reviews of books published through the Department for Studies on Lutheran ethics and church and state. Having an informal venue such as JLE has allowed the Department for Studies to initiate exploration of topics such as genetically modified organisms, taxation, and stem cells, all of which prove useful to our work. The kind of scholarly discussion occasioned by these issues is the lifeblood for the Department for Studies.

 [8] Surely one of the most challenging and occasionally mystifying aspects of my work is the topic of sexual ethics. We have trod particularly carefully around the topic of sexuality. I have always valued the freedom that JLE has been given to present different perspectives, even perspectives that criticize the institutional church which pays my salary. This freedom has persisted through the topic of sexuality, and yet too often I sense that the trust we enjoy on other topics wanes, and readers are looking for an indication that JLE is leaning one way or the other.

 [9] What strikes me, looking back over the past five years, is how the work of a man from so long ago is still so fresh today. Perhaps it's a comment on the human condition-I like to think of it as more a comment on Luther's profound understanding of the human condition. The other aspect that strikes me is how this work needs to be embodied (as James Childs and Robert Benne both claim this month), and it needs two forms. Embodiment requires a community such as the ELCA's Lutheran Ethicists Gathering, scholars committed to thinking and voicing Lutheran ethics, and it requires the bodies of Lutherans such as the ELCA committed to grappling with Lutheran ethics in worship, private, and public life. 

© October 2006
Journal of Lutheran Ethics
Volume 6, Issue 10