Tribute to John Stumme on His Retirement

[1] My acquaintance with John Stumme goes back to his days when he was a student at the Lutheran School of Theology and I was a young professor there. As I recall, he was a serious and excellent student who was particularly drawn to Carl Braaten’s teaching and work. He then went off to graduate school, taught at St. Olaf, and then went to Argentina to teach in the seminary there. I more or less lost contact with him in those years.

[2] But he returned to the USA and the ELCA as an associate in the Department of Studies of the Division for Church in Society. In these later years he has been Director of that Department. During that time we have had a wonderful and rather intense ongoing conversation about his work, my work, and the work of the Department, as well as many extra-curricular subjects which I will mention later.

[3] John, in my estimation, strongly exemplifies and practices the Christian virtues of faithfulness, fairness, and patience. First, John has been unswervingly faithful to the Lutheran tradition which he and we believe construes the Christian faith in a profoundly persuasive way. In an era when such traditions are often diluted by pursuing this or that theological or intellectual fad, John has been steadfast in his faith that there is something precious to be preserved in our Lutheran tradition of theological ethics. He has insisted in all his work that the public arguments of the ELCA flow from its Lutheran theological commitments. And, of course, his faith is not finally in the Lutheran tradition of thought, but rather in the God in Christ who is witnessed to in that tradition.

[4] John is fair. He has insisted that different perspectives on the Lutheran tradition of theological ethics and the full spectrum of applications of that tradition to particular issues and problems be fairly represented. Often being in the minority in the latter category, I am very grateful to John that my applications have been heartily invited. Indeed, John is so fair that it is sometimes difficult to discern exactly where he stands on this or that issue. But he believes in fair discourse and that has been the mark of his work in Church in Society concerns. This has made the statements of the church and the discussions in the online Journal of Lutheran Ethics models of “moral deliberation” rather than exercises in ideological conformity.

[5] John is patient. I do not know how he keeps his “cool” when his writing is painfully dissected by committees of the whole or when whole sections of his work are sometimes judged harshly. Calmly and non-defensively sitting through such ordeals is beyond my ken. Though the process of seeing social statements through from beginning to end is long and sometimes unrewarding, John has developed the virtue of patience to see them through to many excellent conclusions.

[6] Besides these “professional” virtues, John has been a good friend for many years, mainly though copious e-mail exchanges. I have stored enough of John’s candid e-mails to get him fired, but, alas, it is too late to use them since he is retiring. Seriously, we have had wonderful conversations about almost every issue under the sun. Even more seriously, we have celebrated and lamented the triumphs and failures of the Bulls, the Bears, the Cubs, the White Sox, the Vikings, the Twins and even the University of Iowa’s teams.

[7] We are all most grateful that he has been restored to health and will be able to enjoy a long and fruitful retirement. Thanks be to God for a fine and faithful servant of the Church.

Robert Benne

Robert Benne is the Jordan-Trexler Professor of Religion Emeritus and Research Associate in the Religion and Philosophy Department, Roanoke College, Salem, Virginia and Professor of Christian Ethics, The Institute of Lutheran Theology.