Journal of Lutheran Ethics Issue Index: Income Inequality Part I

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Editor's Introduction


Roger Willer, Interim Editor
This issue of the Journal of Lutheran Ethics (JLE) may seem like an April Fool’s prank.  Yes, regular readers will note this was supposed to be the March/April issue, not an April/May.  What happened to March?  An April Fool’s prank? And again, isn’t Carmelo Santos the JLE editor?  Is he masquerading as some “fake editor” Roger Willer? No, this issue is not a prank and the focused theme of growing income and wealth inequality is certainly no joking matter.  So, what’s going on? This issue marks transitions.  There is a transition to a new publication schedule, each of the six bimonthly JLE issues will now be posted on or near the 1st of the even numbered months rather than on the odd numbered ones.  I will not weary readers explaining the “back-end” reasons for this switch but will draw your attention to the more important transition, that of editorship.  Read more.



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An Economic Reading of Luther on the Eucharist, or How a Sacramental Economics Made Matter Matter in New Ways by Jon Pahl

"Our words and practices, including the ways we celebrate Eucharist and the public policies we support and advocate for, have consequences for our broader relationships with matter.  If the finite bears the infinite (finitum capax infiniti), then attention to the finite cannot be fleeting or unjust:  matter matters.  To state my claim even more strongly:  violence against the finite is to build the cross anew.  Following Schweitzer, there may be tragic choices we must make where “life-willing-life” cannot simply be left to be.  Nonviolence is norm but not absolute.  But the violence of economic inequality of the scope evident in contemporary U.S. society is contrary to the spirit of the Eucharist.  U.S. inequality does real harm to the real presence of Christ.  Indeed, global economic inequality, paired with climate change denial, may--if the Earth’s climate changes as rapidly as some scientists now predict, lead to a world with no bread, no wine, no body, no blood."

Response to John Pahl’s “An Economic Reading of Luther on the Eucharist, or How a ‘Sacramental Economics’ Made Matter Matter in New Ways” by Justin Nickel

"Two brief words regarding the format of this response: given the nature of the gathering, I thought it best to respond to John Pahl’s paper with questions to prompt further discussion. That format is preserved below. Think of this response as a way to probe Pahl’s claims and their implications. Also, my questions and critique assume the Lutheran confessional writings as authoritative, hence my implicit appeal to them in the final paragraph."

"Douglas Hicks opens his masterful 2000 book Inequality & Christian Ethics by asking the seemingly simple question, “equality of what?” Inequality, he writes, is often reduced to discussions of economic inequality, which tend to miss the complexity of inequality, where income is tied to other distributional and consequential imbalances of resources, assets, access, and outcomes. This is an important consideration. Nevertheless, we must start somewhere, and income inequality provides an accessible launching point. Taking both Hicks’ concern and the reality of the US context seriously, though, means bearing in mind the layers of inequality and the connections between them." 

Response: An Economy of Grace: From the Margins of the Margins by Donna R. Matteis

"There is much to agree with in Dr. Cumming’s presentation. Among other things, his economy of grace rejects the notion that poverty is a sign of a character defect. His proposed economy rejects profiting at the expense of another and calls us not to be complacent in the face of inequality. He argues for a structural analysis of poverty, an acknowledgement that we live in a society of centers and margins, and that we consider the most vulnerable among us.  I must admit, however, that with a focus on our most vulnerable neighbor, I kept waiting for a discussion of race to be raised, as people of color, especially women of color, and American Indians are the most economically vulnerable in the US, when it comes to income inequality."



Book Review Introduction

Nancy Arnison, Book Review Editor

In our attempts to act ethically as a church, a community or as individuals, we often begin with a theological lens.  It is essential, however, that we also draw from solid secular sources of knowledge to inform our decision-making.  Data, analysis, and experience that attends to multiple perspectives (both academic research and real world stories) can broaden our worlds and enrich our approach to social issues.  In this issue, Kaari Reierson reviews Evicted, a book that opens our eyes to the extent, causes and devastating personal impact of eviction in the lives of so many Americans.


Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond

Review by Kaari Reierson

"Evicted has won multiple book awards, including the Pulitzer Prize. Its author, sociologist Matthew Desmond, received his doctorate from UW Madison and currently teaches sociology at Princeton. The book centers around several characters and their search for safe, habitable housing, and a pair of landlords making a living by leasing units to low income renters in Milwaukee. Desmond grew up on the fringes of poverty, and when he was an adult his childhood home was repossessed by a bank. He and a friend helped his industrious and frugal parents move out, and it seems that this experience and the shame associated with it impelled his career choice."

Articles published in the journal reflect the perspectives and thoughts of their authors and not necessarily the theological, ethical, or social stances of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.​

© April/May 2019
​Journal of Lutheran Ethics
Volume 19, Issue 2 



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