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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Social justice

Church, once silent, found its public voice in mid-20th century

James Childs: Lutherans haven't always been clear or consistent about the church's mandate to be involved in the fight for social justice. Though individual Christians were admonished to be good citizens and support a just society, justice was a matter for the civil use of the law entrusted by God's design to civil authorities.

Within the framework of the church's gospel mission, the love for neighbor that Christ commanded was to be practiced in one's personal relations as reflective of God's love.

This love ethic also led concerned pastors and laity in the American scene to develop what is now a vast network of social ministry organizations that serve justice in the sense of meeting the needs of many.

However, the separation of love and justice often meant the church was silent in the face of clear injustices.

design picsThankfully, the mid-20th century brought an awakening of the church's need to speak on issues of justice. The ELCA and its predecessor churches began to produce social statements on a number of justice concerns. These statements were to serve as study documents and guidance for individual Christians, congregations, synods and churchwide advocacy. They make clear that love and justice aren't separated — justice is the form love takes when responding to need on the societal level.


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