This was a hard book to read.
In 1523 Luther wrote, “Remember that we are but Gentiles, while the Jews are of the image of Christ. We are aliens and in-laws; they are bloom relatives, cousins and brothers of our Lord.” (That Jesus Christ Was Born A Jew) In that same treatise he wrote, “We must receive them cordially, and permit them to trade and work with us.”
Twenty years later, three years before his death, he wrote another treatise, On the Jews and Their Lies. This treatise encouraged rulers to burn synagogues and schools, confiscate Jewish property, confiscate religious writings, prohibit rabbis from teaching, and more.
What on earth happened? Like it or not, Luther left an awful legacy.
Author Eric Gritsch covers the field. Sadly, the roots of anti-Semitism go back a long way in Christianity. Luther grew up in world where the Judensau was an accepted icon. While his anti-Semitism was based on religion rather than race, hatred is hatred.
Lutherans are linked to Luther by name. While we don’t hold his writings to be sacred or infallible, we must speak out against his anti-Judaic writings. Hence, the ELCA made a statement in 1994 that said the following:
As did many of Luther’s own companions in the sixteenth century, we reject this violent invective, and yet more do we express our deep and abiding sorrow over its tragic effects on subsequent generations. In concert with the Lutheran World Federation, we particularly deplore the appropriation of Luther’s words by modern anti-Semites for the teaching of hatred toward Judaism or toward the Jewish people in our day.
Grieving the complicity of our own tradition within this history of hatred, moreover, we express our urgent desire to live out our faith in Jesus Christ with love and respect for the Jewish people. We recognize in anti-Semitism a contradiction and an affront to the Gospel, a violation of our hope and calling, and we pledge this church to oppose the deadly working of such bigotry, both within our own circles and in the society around us. Finally, we pray for the continued blessing of the Blessed One upon the increasing cooperation and understanding between Lutheran Christians and the Jewish community. (Declaration of ELCA to Jewish Community: http://download.elca.org/ELCA%20Resource%20Repository/Declaration_Of_The_ELCA_To_The_Jewish_Community.pdf.pdf)
Luther was a flawed human being, who believed God’s grace was sufficient to reach our deepest shames and address the most tragic truths. In that spirit, it would be wise for every Lutheran leader to digest this difficult book.