A Note from the Editor: June/July 2020

[1] Last October when the JLE Advisory Council met to plan the issues for 2020 we decided to put the summer book review issue in June.  We, or at least I, envisioned professors on summer break from classes having time to peruse new books on the beach while pastors and lay leaders had a more relaxed schedule to look at new books for adult education opportunities.  The idea of a lazy summer reading issue has, of course, been thoroughly scrapped. Covid-19 and quarantine and church building closures have created new challenges for teachers, preachers, and families. Now the end of May and early June brings a new situation, founded on the centuries old American problem of systemic racism and police brutality.  Even in my usually quiet suburb of Milwaukee, I lay awake all night listening to police helicopters circling as protesters march.

[2] During such a time, my mind reels with the question that this journal is supposed to help readers grapple with:  What ought I do? At the churchwide assembly last summer the ELCA adopted a Condemnation of White Supremacy and Racist Rhetoric and a Declaration to People of African Descent. These important documents make a stand of support for people of African descent and make a promise to work against white supremacy and systematic racism. These can help orient us as Lutheran Christians and remind us of our call to discipleship.  But they do not tell us, right now and in this place, exactly what we should do.

[3] The situation is complicated. As a teacher and a philosopher I believe in the powerful tool of dialogue. I have witnessed class discussions that have brought remarkable change in attitude, and also in reported behavior, when students who are police officers and students who have experienced unjust policing have spoken openly to each other. So many police chose their vocations because of their love of their community and a desire to protect.  So many who experience unjust policing have friends and family who are also police officers whom they respect.  But both are caught in a national system of racism that makes clear sight and just policy difficult. I do believe that listening and talking helps. I do believe that reading and reflecting helps. The book reviews in this issue, which were completed before the murder of George Floyd, recommend several books that speak to the issues of taking a stand in public life and working towards liberation of the oppressed.

[4] But still I do not have an answer to the central question I face as I lay in bed: What should I do right now?  Should I be in the streets protesting? Should I be carefully quarantining? Should I be trying to reform the system through letters and social media or by taking a physical stand? How do I help preserve the order necessary for a functioning society that takes care of children, the poor, and the elderly while also reforming that order to make sure that all people are better cared for?  How do I best support those who are taking a stand?

[5] I don’t have the exact answers for the readers of JLE.  I am not even sure of the exact answers for myself.  While Lutheran theology frees us from trying to justify ourselves and our actions, it also binds us to pragmatic loving service of our neighbors.  This is particularly difficult when we are not sure what is the most pragmatic path to this loving service. I hope that this June and July, readers of JLE will find the books reviewed in this issue and perhaps articles from past issues to be of help as they discern what actions they are called to do in love now.

Jennifer Hockenbery

Jennifer Hockenbery serves as Editor of the Journal of Lutheran Ethics .  She is Professor of Philosophy and Dean of Humanities at St Norbert College. She attends Grace Lutheran Church in Green Bay, WI.