Editor’s Introduction

[1] “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18)

[2] Riots at the Capitol on Epiphany interrupted Congress as it was beginning to certify a democratic election.  The riots occurred on the second day of the Lutheran Ethicists’ Gathering where members were discussing just and merciful reactions to the Covid pandemic.  While the participants were in their individual homes, not in D.C. this year as they were last January, the riots caused disruption. While focusing on how to care for the sick, how to address the gender inequity and racial inequality that compounds the pandemic’s effect on various communities, and how to minister to socially distanced congregants, hard questions arose: What is power? What is truth? Where is our hope?

[3] A man dressed in horns who believes himself from an alien world cries out to kill democratically elected leaders.  Congressmen hide like school children under tables and await instruction.  Within the week the same gentlemen and gentlewomen from each state debate amongst themselves whether the insurrection was problematic because of the violence or because of its core objection to democracy itself.  What makes a leader who incites mob rule a criminal, they debate. What is power? What is truth? Where is our hope?

[4] This issue of JLE is about these questions, particularly as they relate to racism and reconciliation.  Racism, in no small way, is a key part of the January insurrection.  Reconciliation, in no small way, is a key part of the hope for the future. The common theme of this issue is that all the above questions about power, truth, hope, and reconciliation are answered by God’s present and redeeming love.

[5] The Gospel in the season of Epiphany is about the revealing of God’s presence, surprising us with epiphanies as we repent our old ways.  John the Baptist is crying out in the wilderness, baptizing those who confess their sins.  Suddenly after baptizing Jesus, John’s voice is accompanied by the voice of Heaven. “Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased.” Law and Gospel.  Confess. But as you are confessing, know that God is already with you and pleased to dwell with you as Christ.

[6] This February issue is grounded in this juxtaposition of confession and reconciliation, of Law and Gospel, of justice and mercy, of reasoning and being forgiven, of calling out racism and building friendship.

[7] The subject of this issue, like so much of the content lately, was thrust on us at JLE.  The first two papers by Ted Peters and William Wood came before the call for papers for 2021 had been planned. Wood’s article called for the church to remember its prophetic voice calling out that Black Lives Do Matter.  Peters’ essay was submitted as a draft of a proposal for a new issue on the subject of racism in the ELCA.  Peters’ essay, written at the peak of protests this summer and revised throughout the fall, is a hard hitting look at white liberal Lutheran navel gazing when it comes to racism.  Using a Law and Gospel rhetorical style to proclaim Gospel to those caught in a self-defeating and racism-perpetuating cycle of unhappy unconsciousness, Peters’ essay will likely strike some white readers as controversial when it urges them to move beyond continued confession and into action.  Peters’ aim, however, is not to target white readers but to de-center those white readers.  He assumes, and works to build consensus on the assumption, that readers of JLE are of many different ethnicities and races all working together, reconciled in Christ, to reconcile with each other.

[8] The third paper was submitted in mid-fall as a response to the call for the previous issue on For Peace in God’s World. Vincent Evener’s paper raises the importance of the Church inspiring peace by participating in the world as a counter image to brutality.  Evener’s paper, while on a different theme, is grounded on the same premise as Peters’, namely that our reconciliation in Christ is the foundation for our reconciliation with each other.  In examining the images of racist brutality in our nation, Evener points the reader to look at the Church as a family where all are in friendship with Christ.  This scholarly analysis of Luther’s ecclesiology of Church and theology of friendship leads the mindful reader to recognize that communal sin cannot be solved by an individual by herself nor perhaps even by governmental change.  Communal sin must be confronted with a different idea altogether, an image of friendly love between people who are loved beyond themselves.

[9] These three papers, thus, created the theme for this issue: a look at how Lutherans might ground their anti-racism work in the Gospel’s promise of friendship.  All three of these papers were written from a similar social location, of white men in the academy, who found racism as a barrier to peace and friendship.  The final two papers were chosen from those sent in December, both pieces from writers with their boots on the ground, so to speak, who are working in their congregations on the issue of racism and who focused their discussion on friendship.

[10] From his framework as a pastor, Timothy Hoyer suggests that we begin to use the term racial mercy rather than racial justice.  Importantly, Hoyer’s use of the word “mercy” is akin to Luther’s understanding of God’s friendly-heartedness that Evener also proclaimed.  Hoyer proclaims that the only hope for reconciliation with those we have harmed, and here Hoyer is talking directly to white readers, is to recognize that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves without the help of Christ who is merciful to us.  Freed by Christ’s love for us, we are then, and only then, able to stop the sinful attempt of self-justification to go forth and love others as we have been loved.

[11] Moving from confession to action, the fifth article in this issue is written by two women at Lake Park Lutheran Church in Milwaukee who are leading the congregation through active work in becoming a more diverse church community. The article begins with a report that explains briefly the history of the church community and the desire for creating a more diverse community; the report is followed by two personal reflections about the process by the leaders.  Readers will find this piece a place for congregations to engage actively in this issue.

[12] Also included in this issue are two tributes to the Reverend Dr. Cheryl Pero, one of the first African American women ordained in a predecessor body of the Lutheran church and one of the first to obtain a doctorate in New Testament Studies at the University of Chicago.  The tributes to Pero remark on her faith, her knowledge, and her commitment to building community.

[12] When the JLE editorial board was considering different frameworks for a future issue on racism, this wasn’t the framework that I had initially imagined. I had thought that this topic to be one that requires mainly the first and second use of the law.  There needs to be condemnation and their needs to be specific action plans!  How much more I felt this way watching the terrifying events of insurrection.

[13] This issue does condemn racism and racist thinking and put forward action ideas.   But these papers and tributes took me to a new (albeit old and fundamental) place when I read them together.  They all have the same controversial and provocative starting place—the fundamental Christian premise– that peace, reconciliation, and friendship cannot begin with individuals just trying to be better.  White Lutherans have been in a position of power in the ELCA and have not used that power for greater inclusion as they have been called by the Gospel to do.  In response to this fact, white Lutherans cannot justify themselves–certainly not by angry defensiveness but neither by appropriate confession and new action.  Whites cannot justify themselves by calling themselves supreme to other races, as some white supremacism tries to do.  Whites cannot justify themselves by calling themselves victims of the social order as many contemporary white supremacist cults do, including those that tried to overthrow the social order this month. And whites cannot justify themselves by weeping tears of unhappy conscience; guilt and anxiety do not make for righteousness.

[13] All people are reconciled to God through the friendly mercy of Christ.  It’s already done; it’s already accomplished. We are all already justified.  Even when we are in confession, we are simultaneously in reconciliation.  Knowledge of this can move us from asking the selfish questions, “How can I be good? What should I do?”  to asking the loving questions, “How can I better serve my neighbor?  What does my neighbor need?”   These are questions we can only ask when we are secure and free in our knowledge of the friendly love of God who dwells with us in the wilderness.

[14] Isaiah tells us that we are called to reason together, for our sins have been forgiven.  There is still a lot of accountability to come in the rest of chapter one in Isaiah.  But the promise is that God’s reconciling love for us can transform us into vehicles that can spread this love to others. Let us trust that love, for our neighbors and our nation and our world so desperately need us to turn out from justifying ourselves and turn towards taking care of each other with the friendly love that allows us to reason together to care for each other.






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.