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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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A spaghetti Western

Today's politics play like 'good guys' vs. bad guys'

The Jan. 8 shooting of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her constituents galvanized an already growing debate: is our increasingly crude and vicious culture, characterized by cyberbullying, reality-TV shows and political vituperation (continuous harsh and angry criticism), leading to violent action?

Even if senseless violence is inevitable regardless of wordplay, what are we as Christians and as Lutherans to do?

Four ELCA thinkers on ethics, religion and history say it's a tough issue — one that requires us to be constantly reminded of Martin Luther's dichotomy: while he was unrestrained in using vulgarities when railing against Roman Catholicism and expressed some beliefs considered violently anti-Jewish, he believed we are obligated to see Christ in one another.

Did Luther simply reflect his times, when 16th century rough justice and swift executions were the rule in a time with no rule of law?

R. Guy Erwin, professor of religion and history at California Lutheran University, Thousand Oaks, said he struggles with the chicken-and-egg conundrum.

"There is a big question in my mind about the relationship between crude and violent language and a crude and violent society — which is the chicken and which is the egg?" he asked. "The 16th century was a violent world. Our ideas of civil language seem very ancient in the sense that we hold up as an ideal of reasoned, calm discourse that of ancient Greece and Rome."


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September issue

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