Carmelo Santos, Ph.D., serves as associate pastor at St. Mark’s (San Marcos) Lutheran Church in Springfield, VA. He is also a lecturer at Georgetown University.
Once a year members of the Lutheran Ethicist Network convene around a program relevant to the intersections of church and society. This year they met in Toronto, Canada exploring the meaning today of vulnerability and security. More specifically, the title of the event was: “The Meaning of Vulnerability and Security Today in the Light of Global Realities: Living in the Shadow of Empire.” The present issue of JLE makes available to readers a partial but probing sample from the substance of the Gathering.
In his study on faith and culture, German-American theologian, Paul Tillich, claimed that religion is the substance of culture and that culture is the concrete form in which the religious dimension of the human spirit is expressed. But what happens when different religions and cultures coexist in the same society, in close proximity to each other? That is the case in many places across the world today. At an intellectual level, the challenge for people who take their faith seriously is how to balance the absolute claims of their faith tradition (they are after all claims about God or ultimacy, with universal scope) with the also absolute claims of the neighbors’ faith. The peaceful coexistence of our communities depends on the success of that balancing act.
This issue of JLE is dedicated to Brazilian Lutheran theologian Vítor Westhelle who passed away on May of this year. Westhelle was a global theologian, although he probably would have preferred to say that he was a planetary theologian. Students came from all over the world to study with him and he went around the world to teach and study the Lutheran theology that he loved so much. His contribution to Lutheran ethics was indirect but important. Perhaps one of his most impactful contributions to Lutheran theology and ethics is what could be call the turn to space and place in eschatology. He viewed with suspicion the excessive emphasis that western theology places on time and lineal history vis-à-vis space rather than cyclical views of time more prevalent in the wisdom traditions of many indigenous and nonwestern peoples. Using space and place as interpretive keys he reexamined biblical symbols, theological doctrines, and Luther’s writings and was able to mine rich new meanings and applications for them.
What is the future of theological education in the ELCA? That is the question that the authors in this issue wrestle with. This question has important implications for Lutheran Ethics because in our tradition, theology is supposed to be the sustained reflection on the faith with the intention to guide our proclamation, our praxis and our life together as a church. Without adequate theological formation the church runs blind and our ethics become reactionary or dangerously ideological. Additionally, theology is never done in a vacuum; if theology is truly incarnational then it is incarnated in concrete cultures, languages and communities. Unfortunately, for too long Lutheran theology has been myopically Eurocentric, dealing preferentially with concerns born of the White European and European decent experience. Both authors in this issue challenge us to reframe the way we understand diversity in the church and in theological education.
In this edition of the JLE we take a look at the social statements that the ELCA has produced in its 30 years of existence. In the first article, Christopher Suehr examines whether there is a common thread connecting the different social statements. He finds such a thread in the way the concept of dignity is used or implied in the different statements. After analyzing the different meanings of the term in the different documents he comes to the conclusion that they do share a stable understanding of dignity that gives them a certain ethical coherence. That stable underlying understanding of dignity is that dignity is a relational category, one that creatures are endowed with by virtue of their relationship with God as their creator. For that reason dignity is assumed to be universal and inalienable. What is not clear in the way dignity is used in the different ELCA Social Statements, however, is whether they assume that there are different degrees of dignity among different kinds of creatures and if so then what would be the criteria to decide.
 On the occasion of the 500th observance of the Reformation, it is appropriate to look back and reconsider some of the themes and strategies that gave wings to the movement. In this issue of JLE we will focus on two such themes and emphases, namely the role of Anfechtung in Luther’s wrestling with the […]
In this issue of the JLE we continue to explore the role of sanctification in the thought of Luther vis-à-vis that of John Wesley. The original setting of these papers was the January 2017 meeting of the Lutheran Ethicists Gathering which included an actual dialogue between Methodist and Lutheran ethicists. In the first article, Svend Andersen, professor at the Department of Theology in the University of Aarhus, Denmark, compares and contrasts Wesley’s explicit elaboration of sanctification as moral perfection with Luther’s more implicit understanding of sanctification especially as it finds expression in his discussions of the role of love in the life of the believer and the work of the Holy Spirit in the economy of salvation. In the second article on this issue, Mathew Riegel, bishop of the West Virginia-Western Maryland Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, offers an erudite exploration of the place of justification and sanctification in the thought of Luther.
The two articles in this issue of JLE are very different from each other. The first article comes from the pen of Ted Peters, distinguished Research Professor of Systematic Theology (and Religion and Science) at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary and the Graduate Theological Union. Different from his past contributions to the Journal in this article, he engages the question of economism. He follows closely the work of his colleague, Richard Norgaard, who has articulated an alternative economic proposal that puts ecological concerns over market economic interest. With the help of Langdon Gilkey’s hermeneutics Peters reads economism as the structuring myth of contemporary society and calls for (and models) a thorough criticism of its crypto-theological underpinning.
Everybody knows that in the late 15th century Christopher Columbus arrived at what is now known as the Americas and that he proceeded to take possession of such lands on behalf of the Spanish crown. What is not widely known, however, are the legal and theological rationale with which Europeans justified the often violent (at times genocidal) conquest and colonization of these lands which had already been “discovered” and populated. By the time the Spanish and English peoples arrived at Turtle Island and Avia Yala (the original names of these lands) Native American nations and empires had already been in place for thousands of years. (The current scientific consensus is that First Peoples began arriving some 14000 years ago.) So, what logic led the new arrivals to think that they had the right to take away the land from these nations?
 The election of Donald J. Trump as the next president of the United States has raised some important ethical issues that will have to be sorted out wisely and carefully for the sake of the wellbeing of our country and our communities. There are complicated questions regarding conflicts of interest, foreign meddling into our […]
In this exceptional political cycle and fraught political climate, it can be difficult to navigate with thoughtful engagement. This month Dr. Robert Benne and Bishop Dick Graham bring their years of experience and thought into reflections intended to help traverse these waters. They both encourage active citizenship and flag dangers in political activity, with an […]
Love is at the core of the Christian faith. In fact, love is even used as the closest analogy to speak of the being of God. As we read in 1 John 4: 7-8: “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.”Therefore, given the importance of the concept of love in the Christian faith it is worth coming back again and again to examine its meaning and implications.
The work of theological and ethical reflection is done by particular human beings in specific circumstances, imbued by the ethos and pathos of the Sitz im Leben in which they have been formed and in which they live, think and write. For that reason we as a publishing team thought it might be of some value in this month’s issue to offer JLE readers a glance into some of the formative ideas, perspectives, circumstances and hopes that shape our work at JLE. Since I have already shared my ideas on the future of JLE elsewhere I will focus here on my theological journey and some of the greater influences on my Lutheran theological formation as new editor of JLE.
Forty five years ago the ELCA’s predecessor church bodies took the courageous and wise decision to no longer keep women away from the ministry of Word and Sacrament. We want to commemorate such an important occasion in the life of the church by looking back to previous articles in the Journal of Lutheran Ethics dealing […]
The prognosis for our planet is deeply troubling. Already we are witnessing such drastic events as roads melting and people dying under the scorching heat of the summer, droughts killing crops and drying up streams and other sources of potable water, monster storms relentlessly buffeting islands in the Caribbean and the Pacific, and blizzards dropping record breaking amounts of snow through out the North American continent. Things are not looking good for the prospects of life as we know it, and especially human life, in this blue planet that we call home. What is the church called to do in the midst of such overwhelming circumstances? Is there a word of hope, of credible hope, that the church can speak to our dying world?
How shall we respond to the stranger knocking at our door? What should our answer be to the plight of the refugee desperate for a safe haven or to the immigrant seeking refuge among us, fleeing violence and poverty in their home country. How shall we respond when we know that we are not totally innocent from the causes that have created the humanitarian crises consuming the Middle East, Central America, and so many African countries. And what shall we do when the stranger knocking at the door is viewed with suspicion and fear by many among our own?
That black lives matter should be obvious but unfortunately it is not. Black Lives Matter is not simply a rhetorical expression coined by a few. It is in fact an existential cry with deeply spiritual roots. Born from the depths of centuries of collective oppression (remember slavery, indentured servitude, Jim Crow,) it is an expression of the groans of the Spirit of which Paul spoke, the collective prayer of a people demanding their right to exist, their inalienable right to be.
The church is at an important juncture in its public life. How will it respond to the cries for justice bubbling up from the various marginalized sectors of our society?
Martin Luther spoke of Anfechtung as an essential part of the life of faith. Trials of spiritual angst can serve to teach us to despair of our own merits (or lack of them) and to rely solely on God’s amazing grace. But what happens when religious leaders in public service have to undergo such tribulations […]
Exploring the Role of Unconscious Bias in the Immigration Debate and the Transformative Power of the Church
Imagining Undocumented Immigrants  What does an undocumented immigrant look like? What images do those words elicit in your mind, and what feelings and emotions do those images evoke? Compassion? Pity? Anger? Puzzlement? Anxiety? Admiration? Indifference? Those are probably not easy questions to answer, even if you happen to be an undocumented immigrant yourself! However, […]