Journal of Lutheran Ethics: In Service to Witness

[1] If my memory serves me correctly, I have been fortunate enough to have been involved with JLE since its inception as a member of the former editorial committee, a contributor of articles and book reviews, and now as book review editor. I recall a time early in my career when it seemed that Lutheran scholars in America who identified their principle discipline as Christian ethics were relatively few compared to other traditions. It is a source of gratification and pride to have witnessed the increase in the number of Lutheran ethicists and their important contributions to the discourse of ethics in general and Christian ethics in particular.[1] The Journal of Lutheran Ethics is a beneficiary of that growth in the discipline and a product of the commitment of the ELCA to engage the ethical issues of the day as an integral part of its Christian witness.

[2] If one clicks on the “About Us” portion of the website, one will find an excellent description of what the Journal understands its mission to be. Further if one navigates the archives, by date, by topic, or by author you will discover what a wide variety of issues have been addressed. These are ethical issues that consistently reflect the constantly developing concerns of our context. True to the mission statement, they have consistently displayed solid theologically grounded scholarship and critical reflection in a mode of presentation accessible and useful to scholars, students, and church leaders alike. Searching the archives will also uncover a list of authors representing great diversity in background, ethnicity, gender, and generation. There are international voices, long established voices, and younger voices that insure the ongoing promise of Lutheran ethics.

[3] It is first from the standpoint of a long time participant in the life of the Journal that I want to reflect a bit on what I see as its mission of witness and service. I will comment from the vantage point of book review editor later in the piece

[4] Christian ethics is an integral part of the witness of the church to the world. As the Christian community seeks in love of neighbor to realize the values of life, peace and justice that are the promise of God’s coming reign, it gives witness to the faith and hope within it for the good news of the new creation in Christ. This witness is the vocation of the whole people of God. As the community strives to be faithful to the will of God in the face of difficult questions, the church is word empowered and Spirit led as a “community of moral deliberation.” [2] The articles in JLE not only lend their voice to the ethical witness of the church, they serve the church’s vocation of moral deliberation by providing resources on a host of topics for all participants. This work of service to witness is central to its purposes. Browse the archive by topic and you get a sense of the great scope of the Journal’s contributions. Human sexuality, medical ethics, racism, war and peace, art and culture, biblical theology, youth and family, social justice, civil religion, climate change, and Jewish-Christian dialogue, are just some examples I have selected at random. These and many other topics engage the church as the church engages the issues involved. Per Anderson’s April, 2014 JLE article, “Congregational Moral Deliberation as Next Public Church,” fits right in here and reminds us in specific ways that this vocation of moral deliberation and ethical witness is the business of all the church’s expressions. Back in April of 2002, Pastor Sonja Tillberg wrote a piece entitled “Lutheran Ethics form the Perspective of a Pastor.” I suspect more such articles would help to lift up the great importance of pastors as partners in ethical discourse and leaders in the task of moral deliberation.

[5] While I have emphasized the service the Journal provides for the moral deliberation and witness of the church, it also serves other related purposes. It is a splendid resource for students and faculty – I have introduced students to the JLE website and assigned articles from JLE in my classes. JLE also offers a readily accessible expression of Lutheran voices for the ecumenical conversation in Christian ethics. Roman Catholic ethicist Moira Ryan’s August 2009 article, “Responses and Reflection for the Annual Gathering of Lutheran Ethicists,” which was dealing with the development of the ELCA social statement on genetics reminds us of the potential for ecumenical dialogue and the fact that not all our authors have been Lutherans or North Americans.

[6] As an emeritus professor who is still teaching part time and still doing some writing, taking on the role of book review editor has been a good fit for me. It keeps me in touch with the literature in the field as I identify books and read the reviews, writing some myself. As I seek willing reviewers, the job also keeps me in touch with people in the field, many of whom I know personally and others that I have enjoyed coming to know in the process.

[7] The book reviews that come out with each issue and are the sole feature of the July/August issue work hand in hand with the purposes of the journal. The reviews point readers to resources that offer up to the minute accounts of issues as well as resources that can deepen the theological foundations of the Christian ethic.

[8] The books reviews offer an opportunity for diversity in the journal’s offerings in the field of Christian ethics because all the reviews are certainly not of books by Lutheran authors. Recent reviews of Lutheran theologian Ted Peters’ book, Sin Boldly and a book on the legacy of the late Reformed ethicist, Paul Ramsey, are illustrative of a bit of the theological scope one can discover in basic approaches to the Christian ethic. Books by feminist theologians, African American, Hispanic, Asian, and theologians and ethicists of various Christian traditions, along with international authors are all represented. While most reviewers are from the ranks of Lutherans, they are a diverse lot: active and retired professors, pastors, graduate students, activists, and church wide leaders. One hopes that this diversity of participants will help to foster a similar broad readership.

[9] In contributing to JLE’s purpose of serving the church’s witness, we attempt to align the selection of books reviewed with the themes of each issue whenever possible. More importantly, the books selected need to deal with matters that speak to the mission and ministry of the church at various levels: historical and theological self-understanding, public witness, pastoral care, the resources of other traditions, and discourse and dialogue on controversial issues, e.g.

[10] I want to conclude with an expression of gratitude for the many fine contributors and reviewers who have enriched the mission of the Journal of Lutheran Ethics with their informative, insightful, and faith-filled narrative and reflection. They have given freely of the considerable time and energy required and we have been the beneficiaries. Given their dedication and others rising from the ranks of church and academy to join the effort, the future of JLE continues to be promising.


[1] There were Lutherans in America writing about ethics, of course, but in many cases as a subset of their primary discipline in systematic or pastoral theology and, principally for Lutheran audiences. Mid to late twentieth century figures like George Forell and William Lazareth, who were influential both inside and outside the Lutheran fold were the exceptions. An archival search of the nominated and elected leaders of the Society of Christian Ethics, e.g. shows that a good many years go by before Lutheran ethicists begin to appear.

[2] See the ELCA social statement, “Church in Society: A Lutheran Perspective.” Especially pages 3-5.

James M. Childs is Joseph A. Sittler Emeritus Professor of Theology and Ethics at Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus Ohio.

James M. Childs

James M. Childs is Joseph A. Sittler Emeritus Professor of Theology and Ethics at Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus Ohio.