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Journal of Lutheran Ethics Issue Index October/November 2020: Gun Violence and Childhood Trauma

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Editor's Introduction


Jennifer Hockenbery, Editor

This issue of JLE looks at the re-occurring trauma of gun violence in the United States.  It speaks to gun violence in schools, gun violence in communities, and gun violence at the hands of police. The essays include a Bible study, an essay on the March for our Lives movement, and a reflection on the anticipatory trauma experienced by a child who becomes aware of the vulnerability of black children to police brutality.   The authors look especially at how gun violence traumatizes children. The authors explain ways that individuals, churches, and the ELCA can work to protect children rather than give them arms and an admonition to protect themselves. Read more.

Call for Papers

The December issue will highlight the 25th anniversary celebration of the social statement For Peace in God's World

We invite papers reflecting on this document or on the topic of peace and justice more generally.  

Submissions are due October 20th to jennifer.hockenbery@elca.org.

Congregational Discussion Questions:

Because this issue centers around the questions of trauma and childhood, readers might consider engaging high school and middle school youth groups in their study and discussions of these issues.  These conversations might need to be done in virtual formats or on discussion boards during the pandemic.

Questions for adults to ask older children:
1. What are some of the distinct memories you have of witnessing gun violence or seeing events on the news that involved gun violence? How have these impacted the way you see your community?
2. What are you glad adults have done in response? And what do you wish adults would do in response to these events? 
3. When you think of younger children you know, what do you fear most for them and what do you hope most for them?

Questions for adults to ask adults:
1. How do you talk to children about gun violence when they see it on the news or experience it in their communities?
2. How does racism affect the ways children experience gun violence? Consider both how children are victims of racism and participants in it.  How can we address the roots of racism in order to to also address the epidemic of gun violence?
3. Niveen Sarras makes note that Isaiah’s prophecy makes particular promises to children.  What emotions are evoked in you when you hear “The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den”?
4. What is the role of adults in the church to take care of the public health, the spiritual health, and the physical health of children in their community? In what ways are you acting as a good Samaritan to your neighbors’ children?



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The Messianic Reign in Isaiah 11:1-10: A Message to Foster Children Post-Traumatic Growth

 by Niveen Sarras

The prophet Isaiah, in chapter 11:1-10, speaks a message of hope not only for his war-traumatized community but also for our community of children traumatized by gun violence. Isaiah gives confidence to children that they will no longer experience violence and trauma, but that they will play safely in their neighborhood. Isaiah leads his traumatized community to foster post-traumatic growth. The ELCA must continue to offer spiritual counseling and participate in political activism in order to help children grow in the midst of trauma and to help end the conditions that cause that trauma.

Marching for Our Lives on the Road to Jericho

 by Mary M. Doyle Roche

Gun violence and its trauma have reached epidemic proportions. The trauma of gun violence is both acute and chronic. The term epidemic in this instance is both a public health appraisal of the impact of gun violence as well as a metaphor that might spark the civic imagination toward a more effective response. The metaphor also invites healthcare ethics and healing practices to contribute to communal response.  As a public health issue, the epidemic of gun violence must also be addressed at a structural level and in systemic ways. 

 A child may be too young to fully grasp the complexities of racism and police brutality, but she is not too young to suffer the ramifications of their existence in our society. As hard as it is, I try to tell my daughter as much truth as possible in order to protect her, and to prevent her from becoming one of those dreaded headlines. While I love the idea of my child being able to have a safe, and carefree childhood, that is just not a possibility for Black children living in the United States and has never been. It is not until we work to dismantle all of the systems that are impacted by the lasting effects of racism that we will be able to end the perpetual cycle of trauma forced upon innocent children, and truly save our children.

Book Reviews

Nancy Arnison, Book Review Editor

This month our three book reviews address guns and political beliefs.  The first two books offer insights directly relevant to gun violence and gun control debates.  These books are reviewed by two ELCA pastors living in Montana.  Rev. Jean Larson, who also served as Faith Outreach Leader for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, offers a critical analysis of Fear Not: Living Grace and Truth in a Frightened World by Eric Law.  Larson's review includes the details of a conversation she pursued at the suggestion of the author.  As such, Larson advocates that we all pursue such conversations with our neighbors of differing perspectives. Dr. Paul Seastrand has retired from serving the ELCA in a variety of roles and now, in his own words, “unabashedly uses rod and gun to savor the beauty and fruits of creation.”  He reviews Talking About Gun Violence in America by Donald Gaffney.  The third book broadens the canvas.  It has one chapter on “God and Guns” within a larger focus of trying to understand the relationship between evangelical Protestant Christianity and support for Donald Trump.  By sharing stories from her interviews with Trump supporters, the author seeks to uncover commonalities between Christians with radically different political beliefs. Dr. Robin Taylor, a theologian and attorney, reviews this timely book by Angela Denker, Red State Christians: Understanding the Voters Who Elected Donald Trump.


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Fear Not: Living Grace and Truth in a Frightened World by Eric Law

Review by Jean Larson

"Fear Not is useful for Christians confronting gun violence, even though it was not written specifically for that purpose.  This volume is a second edition of Law’s 2007 book, Finding Intimacy in a World of Fear, written in response to 9/11 and the American experience of fear and its manipulations.  Law has written a new preface and final chapter, along with discussion questions following each chapter, but the bulk of the book has not been changed."

Common Ground: Talking About Gun Violence in America by Donald V. Gaffney

Review by Paul J. Seastrand

In the United States, public discussion about gun violence and gun control is over-politicized and under-ethicized.   Since our postmodern and polarized society does not share a common religious and moral vocabulary, it has instead reduced dilemmas like gun violence and gun control to the language of secular “rights” and the proper size of regulatory government.  There is, nonetheless, a widespread hunger in our society to hear people converse about gun violence and gun control with Christian terms that provide traction on our enduring dilemmas of sin, evil, and redemption.

Red State Christians: Understanding the Voters Who Elected Donald Trump by Angela Denker

Review by Robin M. Taylor

Denker’s purpose in writing Red State Christians is an admirable one: to get people to move beyond their first impulse which is often “to block, to unfriend” anyone who disagrees with them. She hopes that by encountering these stories of Christian Trump voters, the reader will find commonalities with people who often seem quite different from oneself.  This in turn may provide an “opportunity for growth and national renewal.” This is not just an academic exercise for Denker, but a personal quest. Her acquaintances, friends, and family are Christian Trump voters, and Denker’s personal observations are interwoven with these stories. That is one of the strengths of the book – we get to see how Denker confronts her own deeply held beliefs about Trump voters.  She is challenged to go beyond a superficial understanding of these fellow Christians.

Articles published in the journal reflect the perspectives and thoughts of their authors and not necessarily the theological, ethical, or social stances of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.​

© October/November 2020
​Journal of Lutheran Ethics
Volume 20, Issue 6



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