“I have just one question for you.” The ultra-Orthodox rabbi wasn’t interested in taking the gospel literature I proffered on the Brooklyn street corner. “Why are you involved in such a religion of hate?”
Fifty years ago that question would have made no sense to me. But that was before I learned that, for Jewish people, Christians are responsible for inhumanity over centuries: the Crusades and the Inquisition, multiplied edicts of expulsion, pogroms based on false accusations regarding the Black Plague, blood libels, and deicide. It was this history that prompted the rabbi’s question.
The tragic truth is, the association of institutional “Christianity” with ill treatment of Jewish people is not so easily dodged. The Holocaust was birthed in Germany, the country of the Enlightenment – and the Protestant Reformation.
October 2017 marked the 500th year of Martin Luther’s posting his 95 theses on the castle church door in Wittenberg, Germany. Luther spoke out against corrupt practices like the sale of indulgences.
Christians owe much to Luther for his emphasis on the primacy of Scripture as our guide to faith and practice. The sufficiency of our Savior’s atoning sacrifice and the truth that justification is by faith were essential correctives Luther and the Reformers emphasized.
Sadly, what wasn’t rooted out in the Reformation were noxious anti-Jewish views that had already taken hold by the fourth century. Two recent blogs (Luther’s Jewish problem by Pastor Bernard Howard and Martin Luther’s Anti-Semitism by friend and colleague Michael Rydelnik) remind us that even heroes have clay feet.
Luther’s Of the Jews and Their Lies is his most-referenced diatribe against the Jewish people. But that screed is not an isolated document. In a separate comment, Michael writes, “I suggest going to a theological library, finding the multi-volume Luther’s Works, checking the index for Jews, Jewish, and Israel, and then read the hundreds of pages of vitriol.”
We know “nobody’s perfect.” (Jesus’ teaching that “there is none good but God” is self-evident.)
But how do we account for Luther’s evident hatred of the Jewish people, whom God “loves with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3)? This is especially troublesome as Of the Jews was written decades after Luther sought to share the gospel of grace with the Jewish people of his generation.
While Christians may be unaware of Luther’s vicious diatribe, many of our Jewish friends have been exposed to it. Because of Martin Luther’s stature and enduring influence, and because he wrote such vile words (and more than a few) toward the end of his life, it’s difficult to understand – much less excuse – his actions.
And the tragedy is compounded by Hitler’s saying, “I never said anything Luther didn’t” about the Jewish people.
A sincere apology is due our Jewish friends for what has been perpetrated against them in the name of Christianity. Our contrition won’t erase centuries of hurt and harm. But hopefully by our attitudes and actions we can demonstrate that such hatred is exactly opposite of what Yeshua taught us:
+ “Love the Lord your God.”
+ “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
+ “Love your enemy.”
For all of his wonderful contributions – and they are many – Luther’s anti-Semitism serves as an example of the human susceptibility to sin. “Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.”
When followers of Messiah Jesus operate in the flesh, conform to our sinful culture, or replace God’s Word with Satan’s lies, grievous consequences follow.
Racism of every kind is always condemnable – most especially when I find it hiding in my own heart. “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone” certainly applies to me.