Editor’s Introduction – Wise as Serpents, Innocent as Doves: Forming Counter-Cultural Christians in an Age of Consumer Media / Advertising

[1] Viral marketing, product placement, and extensive consumer data gathering enable consumer advertising to reach its tentacles of influence deep into our lives. Disposable income and malleable social identity make youth a desirable demographic for commercial advertising. Unless they have the power to question and resist, youth can be formed into ultimate consumers.

[2] Aware of the power of commercial advertising, how might Christians in the Lutheran tradition respond to its ability to form — and its power to deform? In a tradition born out of questioning, open to paradox, and allowing its members to find earthly vocations, how can Lutheran youth be formed into young adults who question consumer culture? How can Lutheran moral formation and social witness specifically address, subvert or counter the negative impacts of such “commercial” formation?

[3] Little did we know, in planning this issue with the inspiration of former JLE intern Libbi Williams, how passionately writers would respond, and in what numbers. Clearly, the topic touches a nerve in those who work with youth and families. This month JLE takes on the topic from many perspectives. Chad Rimmer writes a historical theological explanation of the shift in economic understandings that gave rise to consumerism, and illustrates the conflict with created dignity. Mary M. Doyle Roche persuasively argues for instilling virtue through the family as a way to counteract consumerism. Jeremy Posadas and Dianha Ortega-Ehreth find inspiration in formation and counter-formation, Posadas using his teaching experience, and Ehreth reminding us that despite the amount of information the Internet is capable of gathering, teenagers are almost always more savvy than we give them credit for. Campus Pastor Elizabeth Palmer considers the ethical implications of brand ambassadors on campus. Caryn Riswold dissects how consumerism appeals to and relies on gender stereotypes to sell. Terri Elton searches Lutheran sources for theological responses to consumerism, finding inspiration in baptism, the economy of God, and the agency of the Holy Spirit.

[4] ELCA Young Adults in Global Mission executive Heidi Torgerson writes of the experiences of her volunteers when they experience life in a new country with an unaccustomed lack of economic resources, and the growth that ensues. Youth and Family Therapist Kari Lyn Wampler answers questions from JLE about the formation of identity in youth. Your intrepid editor reviews a book referenced by Caryn Riswold, Reality Bites Back.

[5] Considering all the exciting work being carried out through and in the name of the church, we should feel hopeful, thrilled by the wealth of resources and inspired by our fellow Christians.

[6] This month we are also privileged to have Clint Schnekloth continue his series on preaching seasonally on ethics with a reflection on epiphany.

Kaari Reierson

Kaari Reierson is the founding editor of the Journal of Lutheran Ethics and is the Chair of the Journal of Lutheran Ethics Advisory Council.