ELCA Social Teachings

The Paradoxical Vision: Robert Benne’s Public Theology in the 21st Century

[1] Dr. Robert Benne, prominent Lutheran theologian and ethicist is the closest Lutheran theologian who actively utilizes the theology of Reinhold Niebuhr’s “Christian Realism” within a Lutheran framework.[1] Dr. Benne has been a public theologian for the past 30 years and has explored different theological and ethical concepts, authored numerous books, and served as professor […]

A Case Study in the Ethics of Dialogue: ELCA Sexuality Study 2002-2005

[We] need a positive moral vision that would start by rejecting the idea that we are locked into incessant conflict along class, cultural, racial and ideological lines. It would reject all the appurtenances of the culture warrior pose — the us/them thinking, exaggerating the malevolence of the other half of the country, relying on crude […]

Lessons Learned in Teaching Luther in a Pandemic

[1] In Spring 2021, I taught a course on Lutheranism for the first time in a few years. As with probably every single other institution of higher education, Midland University, where I have taught since 2008, was responding to the COVID-19 epidemic and to the challenges it presented to our students, staff, and faculty.  We […]

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 […]

Editor’s Introduction: Dignity, Challenge, and ELCA Social Statements

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.

Distilling Dignity: Our (ELCA) Emerging Definition

We often talk about inherent human “dignity”–but what does that mean? Does the ELCA have a consistent definition? Suehr examines each of the ELCA social statements to thoroughly analyze how often they use the term and concept of dignity and what they mean by it. This piece is particularly timely as it comes during the draft period for the upcoming social statement on women and justice.

A Lutheran Bishop’s Reflections on the Church’s Public Work of Advocacy

Bishop Graham of the Metropolitan Washington D.C. Synod writes about his experiences with advocacy ministry. He notes that though Lutheran advocacy is a voice advocating for the poor among many similar voices, the humility and compassion Lutherans can bring to this work makes it all the more unique and valuable. How can Lutherans better serve their neighbor through this vital ministry?

Commending Life’s End to God: The ELCA Message on “End-of-Life Decisions” After Two Decades

Luther’s sermons and letters of pastoral counsel speak eloquently about the ability of faithful Christians to face death confidently trusting God’s promises in the Gospel. In that spirit, the ELCA adopted a social message on “End-of-Life Decisions” in 1992 that picks up this tradition of speaking honestly and faithfully to issues faced by the dying and their loved ones. As a hospital chaplain, Klink explores the gifts of the 1992 message and ponders​ what issues and questions might need further work from a Lutheran perspective given the changes in technological, medical and social climate over the last two decades.

Punitive Justice in War: Sounding out the 1995 ELCA Social Statement

The ELCA social statement For Peace in God’s World​ provides a moral framework for evaluating the relationship between war and justice. ​Herman explores if the statement is theologically deep enough to grapple with modern warfare, which looks very different now than it did twenty years ago when the statement was adopted. Using Nigel Biggar’s In Defence of War​, Herman looks at just war theory and how it applies our political and moral landscape today.

For Peace in God’s World

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The Social Statement ​For Peace in God’s World was adopted by the fourth Churchwide Assembly in 1995. Read some excerpts from the statement here.