Beyond Service: What Justice Requires

By Stortz, Martha E. | Currents in Theology and Mission, June 2010 | Go to article overview

Beyond Service: What Justice Requires


Stortz, Martha E., Currents in Theology and Mission


Lutherans write much on the subject of justification, but they have less to say about justice. Karen Bloomquist's work, as a writer, a theologian, and an administrator, speaks into that silence. Bloomquist's commitment to justice began early in her calling. She let her experience as a pastor shape her graduate work at Union Theological Seminary. Her first book, The Dream Betrayed, examined how the realities of race and gender, class and ethnicity altered "the American dream." (1) Pastoring a low-income congregation prompted Karen to interrogate the structures that created class.

Later, as Karen joined the Division for Church in Society in the merged Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in 1988, she worked to create structures that would foster moral discernment. Under her leadership and with her collaboration, the first document produced by that unit offered a structure for congregational moral deliberation. (2) Though subsequent statements treating the social issues of that time would all begin with the obligatory understanding of context, behind them all was a structure for deliberation. In front of them was an invitation to change.

Finally, in her leadership as director of studies at The Lutheran World Federation, Karen has consciously worked to raise up voices of global Lutheranism, creating structures for them to be heard and venues in which they might speak and be heard, write and be read. Her tenure in Geneva saw publication of studies that once again bridge the academy and the far-flung congregations of Lutheranism.

In Geneva, Bloomquist pursued her interest in economics into globalization. She spearheaded studies of trends in worldwide patterns of development; she wrote supplementary material on globalization and the distribution of wealth. (3) Hers has been a signal contribution. Behind it is the conviction that theology that is worth its salt transforms not only the churches--but the world.

Bloomquist has consistently pushed beyond the classical Lutheran commitment to service into justice. She has pursued a Lutheran commitment to the needs of the neighbor beyond context into analysis of the structures that created the need in the first place. She advocates for the neighbor, even as she probes the root causes of oppression in the neighborhood. In this, Bloomquist has leaned on feminist and liberation theologians like Johann Baptist Metz, Rebecca Chopp, Pablo Richard, James Cone, and Jose Miranda to fill in gaps in her own tradition.

Where are those gaps? And why might they exist? Those questions drive this paper forward, and I engage them in characteristic Bloomquist fashion: ecumenically. No single tradition has a corner on divine mystery; each brings something to the table, without which the meal would not satisfy. I propose to examine a Lutheran emphasis on service against the horizon of another tradition that finds justice at its heart, the Ignatian tradition. (4) Principally, I will focus on founders, two men who were contemporaries of one another. Martin Luther (1483-1546) was born in Saxony and trained by the reform-minded Brethren of the Common Life. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) came from the Basque region in present-day Spain, a nation orienting its identity around Roman Catholicism. (5) Both count as reformers, Luther as one of the leaders in the Protestant Reformation and Ignatius as founding father of a religious order dedicated to mission and committed to "contemplation in action." (6)

A focus on Christ: The incarnate God or the historical Jesus?

Theologically, these two reformers had much in common. Both focused on Christ, though in very different ways. Luther rivets his attention on Christ, the revealed face (deus revelatus) of a God often hidden from human view (deus absconditus). Luther plays out the dialectical drama best in his Christmas hymns:

God's Son to whom the heavens bow,
Cradled by a virgin now,
We listen for your infant voice
While angels in you heav'n rejoice. … 

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