Beginning in a Time of Anguish and Crisis

[1] We begin Journal of Lutheran Ethics (JLE) in the shadow of the horrendous and shattering events of September 11, 2001. As we planned and prepared for this journal, little did we anticipate the critical historical moment that is now upon us all. Little did we imagine that people everywhere would be struggling through the aftermath of vicious terrorist attacks and with the prospect of protracted war of a new kind.

[2] Christian ethics, at its best, probes the depths of Christian faith, draws upon the insights of human reason, and offers guidance on how Christians should live their lives. It is a human discipline within the life of the Church that attempts to help Christians to talk and think more clearly about vital personal and social moral matters. Even in what we imagine to be simpler times, the task was not easy, nor was its guidance always faithful or illuminating. In recent times, Christian ethics has exhibited a welcome diversity, a crippling disarray, or something in between -take your pick- as it has addressed new issues related to science, technology, globalization, race, gender, sexuality, and what it means to be faithful in contemporary society. These issues and others remain, and now Christian ethics also is called upon to face the realities and dilemmas of a new era inaugurated by the spectacular and radical evil of September 11. The task appears overwhelming.

[3] We have experienced the darkness of what humans can do to one another, but we also live in the light that shines forth from the glory of the crucified and risen Jesus Christ, a light that breaks through even the darkest shadows of our time. We know of One who said, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12), whose “light shines in darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5), and so we do not despair. We are humbled by the complexity of our time’s challenges, by the limits of our human capacities, by our own life in darkness, and by our knowledge that we are accountable to God. Yet the gift of faith in the One who has overcome sin, death, and the power of evil gives us hope to carry on and calls us to care for the neighbor in this time of anguish and crisis.

[4] JLE, then, speaks out of faith in the Triune God from within our world in turmoil. In humility and in hope, it joins the Church’s ongoing conversation about the Christian life and the good of society. It searches for direction in a confusing, dangerous, yet wondrous world, aware of sin’s power, grateful for God’s gifts of human compassion, courage, and reason, and confident in God’s saving love and grace in Christ Jesus.

[5] Even in this time, especially in this time, JLE intends to be a meeting place for all who are interested in reflecting on and conversing about Christian ethics. Most often its contributors will have a Lutheran accent and its concerns connected with the faith, life, and mission of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Yet Lutherans understand themselves to be part of the one universal church and members of a worldwide Lutheran communion; we believe that God also works through peoples of other religions or no religion to preserve and enhance the world. Therefore JLE welcomes all who wish to engage the issues and themes of Lutheran ethics.

[6] Like print journals, JLE is a meeting place in the sense that through its articles, resources, and commentaries, it offers persons the opportunity to encounter the ideas and insights of others. As its material grows and accumulates, JLE hopes to become a busy, lively meeting place where persons on the Web turn first when wanting resources in Lutheran ethics. For an online journal, the notion of “meeting place” takes on added significance. The internet makes it possible for persons from around the world to meet on a Web site and to communicate with one another. Through its message board, JLE provides this possibility, allowing persons separated by distance but joined through common concerns to become acquainted with and learn from one another. Good and productive conversation requires, of course, respect and courtesy, listening and fairness, care and continuity. May JLE be a meeting place for such conversation.

[7] JLE as a virtual meeting place depends upon and grows out of face-to-face gatherings and relationships. The many networks that work with the ELCA’s Division for Church in Society, particularly in preparing social statements and studies, and the contacts that Lutherans enjoy through the Lutheran World Federation are examples. The encouragement and collaborative spirit given JLE by the editors of Lutheran print journals- Currents in Theology and Mission, dialog, Lutheran Forum, Lutheran Quarterly, and Word & World- are a further example. Especially important for providing a human context for JLE is the annual gathering of Lutheran ethicists that since 1993 has brought together around 40 persons each year to discuss topics of mutual interest. This gathering was instrumental for the writing of The Promise of Lutheran Ethics, in which ten of its participants worked together to think through the nature of Christian ethics today. (This book is recommended for those who want to learn more of the character, themes, and diversity of Lutheran ethics.) The bonds formed through this annual gathering and the support Lutheran ethicists give to JLE will be drawn upon to enrich this publication.

[8] The material in this initial “issue” of JLE provides a sampling of what is to come. Dr. Robert W. Tuttle, a law professor with a doctoral degree in religious ethics, speaks on the meaning of Christian vocation for lawyers and provides a bibliography of works on the topic. Related articles on vocation, previously published in print journals and here made available online, supplement Tuttle’s feature article. Mary Gaebler, who teaches at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, provides a summary of a paper she will give on Martin Luther at the next meeting of the Society of Christian Ethics in January, 2002, and invites your comments. Five persons with differing views provide brief commentary on President Bush’s decision on stem cell research; we hope others will go to the message board and join in on the discussion. Under “Church Social Documents,” you will find social statements and studies going back to 1920 from Lutheran church bodies existing prior to 1987 that are online for the first time. Readers may be interested in seeing what was said about international affairs and war in other times.

[9] Yet it is the shadow of September 11 that takes precedence as JLE goes online. We asked a number of persons, in the United States and other parts of the world, to write a paragraph or so on the meaning of that day’s events. Their comments, written in a short time and under pressing circumstances, are not meant to be definitive or exhaustive, but are intended to initiate further discussion. We thank them for their contributions, and we ask you to help us all sort through our grief, anger, uncertainty, fear, and confusion and to search for what Christians, the United States, the world community, and other actors should now do.

[10] We welcome you to Journal of Lutheran Ethics with heavy hearts, with prayer for our suffering world, and with hope that you will find here a meeting place to which you will want to return often to be nourished in mind and spirit for a “faith active in love”
(cf. Galatians 5: 6).

John R. Stumme

Dr. John R. Stumme is a retired ELCA Pastor. When he wrote this piece, he was Professor of Systematic Theology at the Instituto Superior Evangélico de Estudios Teológicos in Buenos Aires and Vice-President of the Iglesia Evangélica Luterana Unida in Argentina. After ten years in Argentina, he worked for almost two decades with the ELCA's Church in Society unit as Associate Director and Director for its Department for Studies.