5. The intrinsic value of the whole creation
Lutheran higher education follows Martin Luther’s own declaration that all of creation holds intrinsic value, from the majestic mountains to human communities to the tiniest living components of life. Some Christian traditions today may declare that spiritual matters are superior and good whereas the world is inferior and intrinsically bad. To these claims, Lutheran thought provides a resounding No!
While there have been times when a bleak view of human nature has marked the Lutheran tradition, Luther had a robust love of creation, good food, play, pleasure, and intimate human relations. In fact, some have argued that Luther’s own marriage and family led him to become increasingly earth-affirming as he aged. We are not called to another supernatural world, escaping this one, but rather God is seen in, with and under creation. God the creator is not just passing through an allegedly “evil” world but rather, in a very integral way, God’s very being is knit into and is present everywhere. Affirming that God is creator, present within creation and it processes, entails a high estimation of the world’s value. Indeed, some of Luther’s own writings led to forms of thinking about human society and the natural world that promote social justice and diversity as well as strong commitment to sustainability.
In his famous 1520 treatise “The Freedom of the Christian,” Luther states that God’s grace and love raises all humans to the same level – he claims that “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none.” No human is intrinsically superior to another. This sentiment is distilled into Luther’s famous insistence on a “priesthood of all believers” – a community of spiritual equals – which challenged many of the hierarchical structures and practices of his day. Following this lead, Lutheran higher education assumes that humans are fundamentally equal and no race, gender, social status or orientation can claim an intrinsic superiority over others. In addition, all occupations and vocations are necessary and complementary for serving the common good.
Beyond the bounds of human society, the radical value of all of creation is also affirmed. “God speaks true and existent realities,” writes Luther, “thus, sun, moon, earth … you [and] I … are all words of God” (“Lectures on Genesis,” 1535). Rather than supporting a creationist argument, Luther’s writings on Genesis affirm a developmental understanding of the natural world, an understanding rooted in divine reality and one that affirms the a distinct purpose and value for every element in the natural world. Likewise, Lutheran higher education takes this claim and the resulting responsibilities to care for the earth seriously.
At Pacific Lutheran University, our mission statement affirms that we are called to care for “other people, human communities and the earth.” Indeed, the decennial planning documents, PLU 2010 and PLU 2020, state that justice, diversity and sustainability are values upheld across the university’s curriculum and practices. PLU supports the health of human bodies through such educational programs as Nursing, Movement Studies & Wellness Education and Dance. The university supports the Women’s Center, athletic teams, the Health Center, and fitness classes while the Dining and Culinary Services department illustrates these commitments through constant innovative concern for local, sustainable, and healthy food choices. The respect and care for diverse bodies, all equally valued, is demonstrated through many individual courses taught across the curriculum and strong support through the Diversity Center, Campus Ministry, Veterans Affairs, International Education, and Disability Support Services. Care for the earth is honored through Environmental Studies and through PLU’s commitments to sustainability in buildings, waste management and recycling, composting, and its long time membership in the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education.