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New peace/justice major at Wartburg a first for Lutherans

Several Lutheran colleges offer courses related to social engagement

A young Lutheran scholar once confessed, “I used to think religion was mostly about a relationship between God and me. Then I got acquainted with the Old Testament prophets.”

In particular, what this young man confronted was a much-quoted, often-not-well-heeded passage from the prophet Micah (chapter 6, verse 8): “[God] has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

That young Lutheran was a graduate of Wartburg College. In his day, the school didn’t offer a major study track focused on peace and justice issues. Wartburg is about to change that. Beginning this fall, the Waverly, Iowa, ELCA school will become the only Lutheran college or university in the country to offer such a study opportunity.

Wartburg is not the only Lutheran school that cares about peace and justice. Many other colleges and universities founded by Martin Luther’s spiritual descendants offer specific courses. (See “Peace and justice study opportunities at Lutheran colleges and universities,” below.) But, so far, only Wartburg has forged ahead with a major in this field.

“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,” St. Francis once famously prayed. “Dancing Francis,” created by Lutheran sculptor Paul Granlund, should feel even more at home on the Wartburg College campus now that the school’s new Peace and Justice major is ready to launch. Photo: Mike Sherer

The Wartburg major is designed to explore theories of peace and justice that lead to concrete results, along with strategies for the remediation of violence and injustice.

According to Prof. Brian Jones, a member of Wartburg’s religion faculty, the idea arose in dialogue with some of his colleagues, one of whom was fellow religion professor, Dr. Walter Bouzard. “He was one of the prime movers getting this moving forward.

“We were in conversation for more than two years before launching this,” Jones told Metro Lutheran. It is the first new major offered at the Waverly, Iowa, school in a decade.

Why launch a major in a field where jobs may be hard to come by? Jones says, “We have a lot of students interested in peace and justice. When we started talking this up, students said things like, ‘I wish you had offered this when I started my college career. Something like this really interests me.’”

Bouzard put a practical face on it. He told the Wartburg News Service, “We hope to send students out literally to change the world. And if that sounds immodest, just imagine a company of doctors, lawyers, teachers, social workers, politicians, nurses, artists, biologists, chemists, and more, who leave Wartburg year after year, trained and prepared to make peace and justice a reality.”

Prof. Jennifer McBride, who joined the faculty last year, will manage the new major. With her academic credentials in Christian ethics, McBride teaches courses on the life and thought of [Martin Luther] King and [Dietrich] Bonhoeffer. That, says Bouzard, makes her a perfect fit to head up the new major.

“Students often feel paralyzed by the size and complexity of the social problems we face,” says McBride. “This major will give them the analytical and practical tools they need to address those challenges in concrete and constructive ways.”

The Wartburg major is designed to provide students with tools for understanding causes of violence, oppression, and injustice. It will explore theories of peace and justice that lead to concrete results, along with strategies for the remediation of violence and injustice. Students will learn skills for conflict mediation, peace and justice advocacy, and also political action.

Nationwide there are currently 32 colleges and universities offering peace and justice majors, none of them Lutheran. Area institutions include three Roman Catholic schools: Creighton, Omaha, Nebraska; St. John’s, Collegeville, Minnesota; and St. Thomas, St. Paul, Minnesota; and one United Methodist school: Hamline University, St. Paul. (Hamline offers a “Social Justice Degree.”)

Jones is clearly excited about prospects for the new study track at Wartburg. “I think there’s a big market for people who want to change the world,” he says. “There are a lot of kids coming out of high school these days who are mad as hell about what’s going on in the world. This major will offer them an avenue to address that.”

Peace and justice study opportunities at Lutheran colleges and universities

The list of Lutheran colleges and universities below includes schools responding to a Metro Lutheran email query.

Bethany Lutheran College, Mankato, Minnesota
Two courses include peace and justice concerns: Christian Social Thought and Sociology of Religion.

Concordia University, St. Paul
An honor program includes two courses that incorporate “issues of justice and the Christian’s response of service for the sake of the world.”

Concordia University, Mequon, Wisconsin
Offers courses in Justice & Public Policy and also Criminal Justice.

Gettysburg College, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
Offers a Peace and Justice minor.

Grand View University, Des Moines, Iowa
Offers a course, “Poverty, Racism, Power: Making decisions in a multi-cultural world.”

Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter, Minnesota
Has offered a peace education program, including a minor, since the early 1970s (see “Gustavus and social justice,” right).

Luther College, Decorah, Iowa
Students can design their own inter-disciplinary major in peace and justice, conflict resolution, and related topics.

Midland University, Fremont, Nebraska
Core humanities courses emphasize the relationship of the individual to society, particularly in responding to injustices; an ethics sequence gives attention to social structures of inequality.

Roanoke College, Salem, Virginia
Has an academic concentration in peace and justice studies.

St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minnesota
Offers a peace studies program. An endowment supports peace and justice activities and will include a related study course beginning this fall.

Wartburg College, Waverly, Iowa
The Peace and justice major begins this fall.

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