JLE Portfolio: Conscience and Community

[1] It’s all very fine and good when Luther says “My conscience is captive to the word of God,” and he’s the only one using that particular argument. But what to do when people claim to be conscience-bound to the Scriptures, but with entirely different results? Given that the Task Force for the ELCA Studies on Sexuality faces just such a conundrum and names it explicitly in its recommendations, we thought it wise to examine notions of conscience in JLE.

[2] Bill Russell goes back to Luther’s stance at Worms and delves into the history behind it and finds Luther’s view of the conscience incompatible with that of the task force. Laurie Jungling surveys several views of the conscience, from Paul to Pannenberg and proposes that conscience is liberated, rather than bound, and liberated into relationship that makes community possible. Martha Stortz adopts a complex, Trinitarian view that works well with the task force sensibilities. Larry Rasmussen, however, finds the appeal to the bound conscience insufficient, and hopes for reform instead. The variety of approaches to conscience displays something of the challenge that confronts the ELCA in August and onward.

[3] Whether or not those who claim a bound conscience are historically, theologically, and scripturally correct (and they probably all aren’t-as dire straits once said, when “Two men say they’re Jesus one of them must be wrong”), they are still sharing a church with those who find themselves bound to the opposite point of view. Will we find conscience to be discerned through relationship with others, rather than by terminating relationship with others, as Jungling and Stortz do? Will we find the concept an insufficient response to struggling with the Word of God, and Rasmussen does and appeal instead to our roots as a Reformation church? Or will we, as Russell hopes, be drawn again to the gospel as our center?

JLE Portfolio: Conscience and Community

Conscience-Bound or Conscience-Liberated: What’s best for the ELCA? by Laurie A. Jungling
Since the release of the ELCA Task Force recommendations in January 2005, the focus of the conversation has shifted in part toward the concept of conscience.

Martin Luther’s Understanding of the Conscience, “Coram Deo” (…and the ELCA’s Sexuality Study) by William Russell
For nearly 500 years, Martin Luther’s view of “conscience” has been the subject of a consistent, occasionally cantankerous, controversy-and this controversy has grown into an impressive tradition of scholarly research.

Solus Christus or Sola Viscera? Scrutinizing Lutheran Appeals to Conscience by Martha Stortz
In the wake of recommendations from the ELCA Task Force on Human Sexuality, one commentator worried that Lutherans would fall prey to bitter “red synod/blue synod” squabbles reminiscent of the November, 2004 election. Let’s hope we have recovered from the fallout of an angry election.

Yet Another Chance to Be Lutheran by Larry Rasmussen
One can only extend a grateful hand and a word of appreciation to the Task Force for Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Studies on Sexuality. Its assignment was daunting, not to say volatile, and its work exacted long hours. Yet despite the most conscientious efforts, the Task Force did not reach consensus on the issues. Nor will its recommendations satisfy ELCA constituencies.

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.