The Way Things Used to Be: JLE One Year Later

[1] “That is why what America most needs today may be prayer: prayer that God may yet help us, before it is too late, to stop our accelerating slide toward the way things used to be.” Stephen L. Carter, “Reflections on an America Transformed,” The New York Times September 8, 2002

[2] I have, in preparation for our September issue, not to mention out of curiosity, been reading many reflections on the year since September 11, 2001. The question which seems to dominate these articles is whether we as a nation have changed in that year. I quote Stephen Carter from a series of editorials entitled “Reflections on an America Transformed,” and I think “transformed” is the word to use rather than “change.” Of course we have changed, but has it been a superficial, temporary thing which will allow us revert to our old selves as soon as our sense of safety can be restored, or is it a deep-seated transformation which influences our very being?

[3] Have we been transformed by what happened a year ago? Having been taken aback, confronted by enormous destruction and heroism in the same moment, will we allow transformation to occur? Or will we only use the events to confirm what we already know, whether it’s that we have always had it coming or whether it should be considered an assault on everything that is good about the Western world? In this journal we have published a range of opinions and explanations. It’s a good thing to be exposed to these opinions-they form our nation’s policies and they form thoughts and actions of others in the world. For a Christian, however, knowing these perceptions is only a temporary step.

[4] In the end, what will enable true transformation is faith in the God who redeems and sustains us. Only through that kind of faith can we confront all that was present in 9/11–the suffering that leads up to and away from it, the enormous human capacity for acts of anger and selfless heroism, the arrogance, the hatred, the love of neighbor, the sacrifice–and find any true revelation. I believe our unique calling is to publish essays such as those written by Glenn Tinder and Stephen Bouman this month, which speak the voice of prayer and hope and faith that these things, as wrenching as they may be, are not the final word.

[5] It seems to me that in the Twin Towers we as a nation suffered a collective loss, but the greater loss was the individuality of the lives that were extinguished–the woman who raised 40 foster children, the man who had every kid in the neighborhood running after his car as he came home from work, the mother who took a day off from work the first day her daughter went to kindergarten, the immigrant restaurant worker sending what he earned back to support an extended family. The intricate particularity of these people, their loved ones and friends, their daily routines and their exceptional acts, was lost to people who regarded these complex, lovingly created children of God as only one thing. May we never make the same mistake.

[6] In looking over the past year, I am struck by the amount of energy we have dedicated to 9/11-related issues, so utterly unanticipated when we began planning for the Journal of Lutheran Ethics. But thanks to a veritable cadre of authors, we have been able to weigh in on a wide variety of topics. While our discussion about invading Iraq dominates our consciousness, people are working on cloning humans, the Supreme Court is making decisions about school vouchers, and the deeper work of the study of ethics which supports our moral deliberation continues. How can we realize the seriousness of our international situation while appreciating the gravity of ethical issues in our everyday lives?

[7] I’d like to point out a few aspects of JLE of which I am particularly proud. First is our electronic forum on the role of the U.S. in Israel and Palestine. Scholars with impressive credentials and a deep commitment to the region participated in a two-hour online forum. From California to Jerusalem, we were able to engage in a spirited, yet cordial discussion of how the U.S. can best engage this situation. I anticipate more creative use of our status as an electronic resource in the future.

[8] Another aspect of the past year which pleases me is our accumulation of some of the classic works of Lutheran scholarship into electronic form. Works of William Lazareth, George Forrell, and others have been collected, and we anticipate a collection of essays on the doctrine of the two kingdoms in the near future. To make these works available online moves the works in the dimensions of time and space: we move them not only into an electronic age, but out across the world to anyone who has internet access. When we offered to send readers copies of The Promise of Lutheran Ethics, we found ourselves mailing books out to many countries outside the U.S.

[9] Another fruitful use of the electronic medium has been our collection of social documents from the ELCA and its predecessor church bodies. In our work we return to the church social documents to consult the statements of predecessor church bodies again and again. In November of last year, the Department for Studies created a display consisting of the statements of the church on war and peace. Edward Schneider kindly wrote an article ( reflecting on the tradition of war and peace in these statements. Surely, we think, 9/11 was unique in American history, but just as surely, we look to our tradition for guidance-both the errors and the finer moments.

[10] There are many other aspects of JLE in which I take pride: the quality of our feature articles, the breadth and depth of our authors, from different religious traditions, different regions of the world, and very different perspectives. We are in the midst of a three-month focus on “Ethics and Family: An African American Perspective” thanks to the stellar organizing capabilities of Richard Perry. We continually turn our focus on aspects of parish ministry, with articles on preaching, on ethical advice in the parish, on popular culture, and on vocation and the liturgy. I simply hope that in years to come we will have as much to look back on with pride as we do in this first year.

[11] The past year has been possible through the expertise and creativity of our former managing editor, David Scott, the support, advice, and direction of John Stumme, the excellence of our editorial council, and the dedication of our contributing editors, Paul Jersild, Richard Perry, and Edward Schneider. In the words of St. Paul, I give thanks to my God always for you.

[12] Our challenge as a nation for the next year will be to approach the same old problems with renewed faith, while being realistic about the complexity of these problems. It’s a suitable goal for JLE, to provide enough background to be cognizant of the history and complexity of the world’s problems, but with that background to give fuel to our faith that resists the slide towards the way things used to be.

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.