Notes from the Dialogue: What Can the ELCA Say or Do about Gun Violence Now?

As indicated in the editor’s introduction, this submission to the April 2023 issue provides readers with a snapshot of themes and content reported from the break-out group discussion session at the January 2023 Lutheran Ethicists’ Gathering.  This informal summary was compiled by Rev. Rebecca Nin​​ke and Dr. Jennifer Hockenbery; it does not represent official minutes or recommendations.


[1]  Shifting Language:

Throughout the Gathering there was an understanding that there might be benefit in making a shift away from current paradigms of discussion. We need a language shift that moves away from the talk of individual rights and freedoms towards a language of care of neighbor.

  • The well-being of the community should be the focus of the discussion.
  • Christian principles such as peacemaking should be emphasized.
  • Violence as a whole, not just gun violence, ought to be addressed as a public health issue.


[2]  Finding Common Ground:

There was a sense that the ELCA should emphasize points of common ground shared among the majority of Americans including those who are gun owners and those who are not. Some of these are:

  • Suicide reduction
  • Decrease in child mortality rates
  • Better public health and community wellness
  • Reduction of crime rates
  • Reduction of violence


[3] Recognizing Underlying Problems

In the papers and the panel data was presented that explained how a number of social issues in the United States contribute or even ground the epidemic of gun violence.  The ELCA should pay attention to these issues both in their own right and as contributing factors in gun violence.

  • White supremacist patriarchy as a system that seeks to reinforce itself intentionally, and also as a system that participants unintentionally reinforce since they have been indoctrinated in views about what bodies cause fear and what bodies should have power,
  • American obsession with individual power and freedom
  • Poverty and economic and social inequality
  • Domestic Violence, Intimate Partner Abuse, and Child Abuse
  • Rising Mental Health Issues/Lack of Sufficient Mental Health Resources.
  • Distrust of institutions
  • Polarization that leads to a distrust that there can be common dialogue and common ground


[4] Gathering Evidence.

Both paper presentations noted how little research has been done on gun violence because of policies initiated by the 1997 Dickey Amendment which restricted funding for such research.  That said, starting in 2020 there has been a push against the Dickey amendment, and $25 million annually has gone towards NIH and CDC study of public health and the effect of guns.  This data must be studied as it comes in, and we as a church need to call for and encourage more research.


[5] Actively Listening.

The panel spoke especially about how important it is to talk to those most affected by the issues involved.  These people include:

  • Children
  • Victims and bystanders
  • Perpetrators of gun violence
  • People who live in communities with high levels of suicide and homicide.

It was clear throughout the conference that there must be conversation that includes both gun owners and those who do not own guns.


[6] Leaning into our Lutheran theological resources.

By leaning into our Lutheran resources, we can find common ground with each other as Lutherans.  These elements of Lutheran theology were especially important to the group.

  • The theology of the cross requires us to call a thing what it is, and to recognize that we must give special attention to the victim, the marginalized, the sufferer. This recognition requires that our dialogues include as participants those who suffer and center on those who are impacted most.
  • Living in God’s grace means that while we do not presume to know all the answers we can spend time listening to others who disagree with us in open dialogue in order to grow in our responses to our neighbors’ needs.
  • Faith in God demands that we trust God’s justifying love more than our more fallible ability to secure safety for ourselves or for our communities.
  • The understanding that we are all saints and sinners forbids thinking about good guys vs bad guys. We are all just people trying to live together.
  • Lutheran realism recognizes the need for legitimate force by legitimate political authorities in just wars and civil law enforcement.

The group decided that further inquiry into our Lutheran theological resources also might have fruit for congregations discussing this issue.  Examples include the Catechism’s explanation of the commandment, “thou shalt not kill,” Luther’s views on governmental institutions and vigilante justice, Lutheran views on social welfare, and Lutheran ways of healing the moral injury caused in those who have used guns violently against others, whether in the line of professional duty or out of self defense.


[7]  Leaning into our Scriptural tradition

By leaning into out Biblical resources, we honor the foundation of Lutheran ethics while also exercising an ecumenical resource. Some examples:

  • Jeremiah explains the need to see the security of the whole city as a vocation for all citizens.
  • Isaiah speaks of turning swords into plowshares.
  • Matthew proclaims that the peacemakers are blessed.


[8] Hearing and working with Social Ministry Organizations.

Lutheran Services in America and Lutheran social ministries on many levels are newly mindful of social determinants of health in their programming. We ought to work with them to think about how effects of gun violence coalesce around their work with at-risk people.


[9] Working with other social activist groups.   

People of faith are not alone in these concerns and there are many public options for participating in collaborative efforts. (Here is one example, drawn from a panel presentation at the Gathering.) Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, was formed after the Parkland massacre. It seeks to help pass gun sense legislation to make communities safer, spotlighting prevention of gun suicide, domestic violence, and safe gun storage.  Readers are encouraged to visit to find out more and text READY to 644-33 to join a local Moms Demand Action group.  [For information about other groups represented on the panel, visit OneAim (  and the Industrial Areas Foundation ( )





Jennifer Hockenbery

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.