Editor’s Introduction: Protecting Children: What Is the Role of the ELCA?

[1] This issue of JLE, which publishes the papers given at this year’s Gathering of Lutheran Ethicists, is a call to action to the ELCA on behalf of children.  We feature two renowned experts on this topic, Victor Vieth and Marcia Bunge, who were the speakers at the gathering in January.

[2] In December, our JLE issue, Addressing the Sin of Child Abuse, began this discussion for our readers.  This was the first issue in JLE’s history to address child abuse directly. Certainly, past Journal topics have featured many ethical concerns that impact children. As Bunge’s essay points out, climate change, gun violence, immigration, poverty, and war all have direct impacts on child welfare.  However, the December 2023 issue focused specifically on addressing abuse towards children by those who are closest to them. Children are wholly dependent on those to whom they are entrusted, and they are often in the most danger from those whom they trust to care for them.   In this issue, we have also included a podcast interview with the author of one of these essays, Dr. Craig Nessen. Please take a listen.

[3] Marcia Bunge, who has written several books and many articles on the theology of the child and the ethics of protecting and nourishing children, gives the readers of JLE a deep dive into Lutheran theology and the child; she also addresses the policies and practices that should accompany this Lutheran view. Bunge’s essay explains the unique vulnerability of children in their needs for protection, support, instruction and guidance. Moreover, she notes that the language of contemporary culture continues to consider children as property rather than whole people with their own dignity and rights.  Her essay explores Lutheran theology as a source for a more full and true understanding of the child as vulnerable yet imago dei, as in need of instruction yet able to teach and inform the community, as a source of joy to others yet a creative social agent in their own right. Bunge gives clear advice on how better thinking about children and childhood can frame better policies and actions to protect children and promote their well-being.

[4] Victor Vieth has dedicated much of his work to the vocation of ending child abuse.  As a prosecutor he received national recognition for his work addressing child abuse in rural communities. He has served as the direction of the National Center for Prosecution of Child Abuse and has been instrumental in developing child advocacy studies programs at over 90 colleges, universities, law schools, medical schools, and seminaries. He developed the concept of Children’s advocacy chaplains to address the spiritual needs of survivors of abuse and has designed and teaches courses on child abuse at Wartburg and United Seminaries. His essay in the December 2023 issue of JLE spoke to the prevalence of child abuse and what churches and seminaries can do.  In his talk at the Lutheran Ethicists Gathering, which is published here, he gives ten guidelines for recognizing abuse and supporting survivors. The essay includes the stories of survivors with whom he has worked.

[5] Also included in this issue of JLE is a summary of the talks given by three panelists who work in communities to support families, children, and adult survivors of childhood abuse. Their insights are valuable to all readers, and to the ELCA as it considers creating a social statement that addresses child abuse.


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.