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From Luther to Hitler: How Anti-Semitism of a Revered Man Shaped the Power of a Dictator

I have always been Lutheran.  Born into a family that were members of a Lutheran congregation.  I was baptized, had my first communion and confirmed in the same Lutheran congregation.  We were taught that Martin Luther was the father of the Reformation and the Lutheran Church.  He saw there needed to be changes in the Catholic Church and he made that known to everyone.

Change.  That is what Martin Luther wanted.  His intentions were never to break away from the Catholic Church but as time went on, the Catholic Church saw that Martin Luther was not in favor of the Catholic traditions and teachings, resulting in his excommunication from the Catholic Church.

As a member of Luther Place, I find it exhilarating that he was excommunicated for his actions of wanting change.  At Luther Place, we often are at the crossroads of what is right for humanity and what is right in the eyes of society.  We truly are a Lutheran congregation with a twist of ecumenicalism.  We share our sanctuary with our Jewish brothers and sisters for their high holiday celebrations; we partner with local congregations of all faiths through Washington Interfaith Network; our own congregation gave birth to N Street Village and Lutheran Volunteer Corps.  Our very own congregation was a major part of the ordination of the first African American Lutheran pastor.  Our congregation truly is a church of reform.

We have come so far from Martin Luther’s days.  Luther was a reformer but he also was not the glorified man that Lutherans and those of the Reformed Christian traditions have been taught for years.  Luther was a preacher who preached to those who were devout Christians only.  In simple terms, he didn’t like anyone different than him.  The peasants were nothing to him; he called Jews pigs.  The man we revere was not as holier than thou as we all thought.

As a modern-day reformer, I don’t agree with Luther’s statements about the Jews or the peasants.  We can take his anti-Semitism rhetoric and learn that though he sought reform, he didn’t seek to include those who had different views unless they converted to Christianity.  Today, the collaborations among Christians, Judaism and Muslim brothers and sisters would probably make Luther turn over in his grave.

Luther’s anti-Semitism was used heavily in the National Socialist German Workers’ Party or better known as the Nazi party in the 1930s and into the World War II years.  Luther’s book, “On Jews and Their Lies”, he writes of Jews as swine, an unclean animal.  Anti-Semitic rhetoric of the Nazi Party often quoted Luther’s writings against the Jews.  Many in Germany were members of the Reformed/Lutheran tradition and, like many of us in other Lutheran traditions today, looked up to the man that started our current day church tradition.  It seemed easy for the Nazi Party to connect to the people of Germany through their religion because their revered founder was Anti-Semitic.

As we reach the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation, there have been more publications put out to help us celebrate but looking through these materials, Luther’s “dark side” is still not being brought to light.  We must learn from our past even if the past is not a something to be proud of.

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