Issue: March/April 2018: Dignity, Challenge, and ELCA Social Statements

Volume 18 Number 2

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

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.

When “Farming and Faith Collide”: The Role of Agrarianism and Libertarianism in the Opposition to the ELCA’s Statement on Genetics and Faith

In 2010, a controversy erupted over the draft of a new social statement on genetics, as some people in farming communities claimed the document labeled using genetically engineered crops as sinful. Glenna and Stofferahn use this case study as a jumping off point to dive into what libertarianism looks like the United States today, particularly in an agrarian context. Can this political stance on the common good be compatible with Christianity?

Distilling Dignity: Our (ELCA) Emerging Definition

We often talk about inherent human “dignity”–but what does that mean? Does the ELCA have a consistent definition? Suehr examines each of the ELCA social statements to thoroughly analyze how often they use the term and concept of dignity and what they mean by it. This piece is particularly timely as it comes during the draft period for the upcoming social statement on women and justice.

Review: Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship (Simon & Schuster, 2017)

Whoever read Greg Boyle’s first book has been waiting for the next. Tattoos on the Heart (Simon & Schuster/Free Press 2010) introduced readers to the ministries of Homeboy Industries in east Los Angeles. Fr. Greg Boyle wasn’t always CEO of Homeboy; he started his own ministry as priest of Dolores Mission Parish in Boyle Heights, an area wracked with gunfire and gang wars. Having failed at shuttle diplomacy between rival gangs, Boyle suddenly realized that best way to stop a bullet was a job. The idea of Homeboy was born.

Review: Love in a Time of Climate Change: Honoring Creation, Establishing Justice (Fortress Press, 2017)

Asked to review Sharon Delgado’s Love in a Time of Climate Change, I was not impressed when flipping through it for the first time. The usual politically progressive boxes seem to have been checked off: Biblical interpretation centering on creation themes, catalogues of the scary impacts of climate change, an indictment of the fossil-fuel industry and western economic development generally, a sacramental view of nature, a celebration of indigenous wisdom, and of course, copious suggestions for action, both personal and political. Delgado appears to be ringing the expected changes for an audience she knows well from her decades of activism. But I wondered if there is anything to set her book apart as a noteworthy contribution to the budding ethics literature on climate change?

Review: Building the Good Life for All: Transforming Income Inequality in Our Communities (WJK, 2017)

There is much to be commended in L. Shannon Jung’s new book, Building the Good Life for All: Transforming Income Inequality in Our Communities. As both a pastor and a scholar, Jung brings years of thinking about the church’s role in addressing poverty and inequality. His experience in parish ministry and with concrete service organizations makes the book practical and especially beneficial for congregational use. The book’s seven short chapters could be easily adapted to, for example, a Lenten book read or short book study.

Review: Picture the Bible Curricula (First Congregational United Church of Christ, River Falls, WI)

[1] Several years ago three beautifully illustrated children’s books about baptism and the story of the Bible landed on my desk. As I read the accompanying letter I was introduced to the progenitor of the books, Rev. Dr. Stacy Johnson Myers, an ELCA and United Church of Christ pastor from Wisconsin. And she told me […]

Review: Changing World, Changeless Christ: The American Lutheran Publicity Bureau, 1914–2014

The American Lutheran Publicity Bureau (“ALPB” or “the Bureau”) is one of those rare institutions that spans major North American Lutheran denominations, (or at least some camps thereof). Hoping to make the Lutheran church better known in America, its early founders (then, primarily from the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod) set in motion a publishing body whose publications have provided a forum for ethical reflection, social engagement and denominational dispute across the decades. Although not a church body, the ALPB has focused on issues facing American Lutherans — from its outspoken voice against racism in the 1940s, to war and peace, abortion, sexuality and other social concerns.