Lutheran Studies Conference

Featured / September 8, 2014
By Dr. Samuel Torvend
University Chair in Lutheran Studies
Amid the Gaza rubble, she sat on the ground holding her wounded child, crying out, “Who will help me? Do you not see my innocent child? Is there no justice in this place?”

“We work hard in the vineyards,” said the migrant worker, standing next to a lush, irrigated field in Eastern Washington. “But we live in terrible conditions and earn barely enough to get by. ‘Liberty and justice for all,’ you say. Really?”

The angry mother and the worn-out field worker give voice to the ancient plea: “Act with justice and righteousness, says the Lord, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor anyone who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place” (Jeremiah 22:3).

While PLU 2020, the university’s long-range planning report, underscored that ancient commitment to act with justice and resist structural evil, the true meaning of “justice” remains an open, and disputed, question. While American children grow up repeating the words “with liberty and justice for all” in the Pledge of Allegiance, our nation’s history offers another story in which women, immigrants, people of color, refugees, sexual minorities and the land itself have been deprived freedom and justice.

In that light, and in support of PLU’s commitment to promote justice and peace, the fourth annual Lutheran Studies Conference, scheduled for Sept. 25, will be devoted to Justice in Society: Lutheran Sources of Social Change.

Martin Luther, the progenitor of Lutheran higher education, argued that God’s justice is a life-giving justice for all people regardless of gender, race or ethnicity, social or economic status—a justice that should suffuse human relationships and the education of future leaders in society. Indeed, he was among the first of his generation to protest business, banking and religious practices that favored the wealthy few and impoverished the many.

And yet Christian and Lutheran history also are marked by the refusal to heed the ancient call to act with justice, exchanging that more-difficult task for charitable endeavors or stoic silence in the face of oppression.

At the PLU conference, participants will engage with panelists, speakers and workshop leaders who will open up what it means to “act with justice” and explore the religious, philosophical and legal dimensions of promoting social change that benefits the many rather than the few.

As Americans—and as participants in Lutheran higher education—we are the inheritors of stories mixed with remarkable achievement and terrible loss. Which story will animate our lives together?

Dr. Samuel Torvend teaches courses in the history of early, medieval and reformation Christianity, as well as historical courses on the reform of social welfare, Christian responses to local and global hunger, Christian art and architecture, and Christian rituals. As the University Chair of Lutheran Studies, he teaches courses and seminars on Martin Luther, the Lutheran Heritage, Women Reformers, Lutheran higher education, Lutheran art and music, and the Reformation.


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