Editor’s Introduction: Special May Issue 2020

[1] The Journal of Lutheran Ethics aims at connecting academics, clergy, and congregations in thoughtful dialogue on contemporary ethical issues.  One goal of the journal is to present and encourage constructive theological thinking at the moment in which it is most needed.  To that end, we have put together a special issue of JLE for May, 2020 in response to the current pandemic and quarantine. This issue includes an essay by Rev. Aaron Klink that responds to this current pandemic, as well as links to articles from past JLE issues that provide thoughtful insights on topics relevant to the crisis.


[2] The current situation is twofold in its crisis. There is the danger for public health caused by the virus itself, a virus which has already infected over 3 million people and claimed the lives of over 220,000 people worldwide including more than 62,000 Americans. There is, also, the trials resulting from the need to quarantine in order to slow the disease: unemployment, isolation, anxiety, and untreated health issues not related to COVID-19.


[3] In this issue, Rev. Aaron Klink, speaks to both sides of the current crisis by presenting some of the insights Luther shared during the 1527 plague in Wittenberg.  While Luther encouraged faith by speaking of the promises of the God who justifies, he reminded his readers that the use of reason was paramount in making practical decisions during a time of epidemic. Klink gives some guidelines to help today’s readers think through practical decision making about their own ethical obligations, while also inspiring and encouraging the faith that protects us, not from COVID-19, but from anxiety and despair.


[4] In considering anxiety and looking back in previous issues of JLE, I found Rev. James Childs’ essay on anxiety and vocation to be a helpful article in these new times.  Childs discusses how to deal with anxiety when the world is ‘out of whack,’ providing a message of hope that  while “[causes for anxiety will not go away and the experience of anxiety will not go away, . . . neither will the grace of God.”


[5] In combatting anxiety and the disease, academics, clergy, and laity are all using technology in new ways to share their rational insights and their faithful hopes during this time.  Professors are teaching online, worship services are happening via Zoom, and families are staying in touch through Facebook.  JLE has had several issues on the topic of the use and abuse of technology in such instances.  Two particularly helpful essays for today include Deanna Thomson’s 2012 essay,  “Virtually There: Martin Marty, Cyberspace, and Cultures of Trust in the 21st Century” and Eric Berg’s 2012 essay, “Technology, Lutheranism, and the Proclamation


[6] As we consider ways to use technology to serve our neighbor, it is important that we strive to see all of our neighbors. Cheryl Stewart Pero’s 2013 “When Did We See You, Lord?” reminds readers that we find and serve Christ in “the least of these.”  The disparate death tolls among African Americans, Native Americans,  and white Americans force faithful Christians to examine the structures of racism that leave certain populations more vulnerable to illness as well as the immanent racism that leads to clinicians treating ill patients differently in accord with their race.


[7] Finally, although we have never really been here before, Rev. Donald Stiger’s 2010 article on “The H1N1 Pandemic: Ethics and the Common Good” reminds us that we have faced smaller versions of this crisis in the past.  A look at the pandemic from the last decade may provide us with plans to help us in future health crises and the essay provides a solid foundation for thinking about the common good in times of epidemic.


[8] As I write this editorial, I am anxious.  My faith does not protect me from the physical form of anxiety that is palpable in so many of us during these difficult times.  But my faith does inspire me to trust that my ultimate concerns are secure in God’s love.  This frees me to take my own fears more lightly in order that I might love more fully those who need my calm, rational, and patient help.  My offices as professor, editor, and mother provide me the opportunities and obligations to teach, disseminate good thinking, and offer comfort and support. The ability to do so is a gift of grace.  And I am grateful for this office with JLE in these troubled times, as I continue to hold the readers of JLE in my prayers and with the fullness of hope.


Jennifer Hockenbery Dragseth

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.