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

[1] 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.

[2] The second article analyzes the opposition that the draft ELCA Social Statement on Genetics and Faith faced from some farmers and synod’s which had significant farmer constituents. The authors, Leland L. Glenna (who was part of the taskforce that produced the Social Statement)1 and Curtis W. Stofferahn find in their analysis that agrarianism combined with libertarian proclivities seem to be the major driving forces opposing the draft Social Statement on Genetics. The opposition was not against any specific recommendation made by the Social Statement but rather to the very idea that the church would meddle in farmer’s choices regarding what technologies to use or not to use. The authors see in such response a symptom of the erosion of the Christian understanding of the common good in the United States’ religious scene.

[3] Finally, a word of gratitude from JLE goes to Eva Johnson for her work securing the article from Glenna and Stofferahn as part of her internship at the Theological Discernment Team of the Office of the ELCA Presiding Bishop (the team responsible for the publication of the JLE). Eva is a sophomore at Florida State, Tallahassee, majoring in Interior Architecture and Design. Thank you, Eva.

Carmelo Santos


1 In the interest of full disclosure it must be said that I was also a member of the ELCA Genetics Taskforce.

Carmelo Santos

​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.