Category: Religion


They came first for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for me
and by that time no one was left to speak up.
—Pr. Martin Niemoller, (1892-1984)
German Anti-Nazi Theologian and Lutheran Pastor

It has been eighteen years since I traveled Europe as one of countless college students with a backpack strapped to my back. And like any other twenty-one-year-old in Germany, I visited  the Dachau concentration camp. I got up early with my roommate, got on a bus and saw what humanity could do if left to its hateful devices. It was raining, if I recall correctly, rather fitting for place. Didn’t bother with a guided tour. This was a journey I wanted to experience alone with my thoughts and my ugly brown umbrella. I walked past the site where barracks once lined the road. There are only cement blocks and trees there today as reminders.   I felt sick to my stomach as I walked through the crematorium, horrified that people were burned like stacks of firewood.

I spent a lot of time at the international memorial with its tangled iron, forged together to look like barb wire. It was only after I took a closer look did I realize that the barb wire was made from human forms. And then there was the simple phrase: Never Again written in Hebrew, French, English, German and Russian. The war was flaring in the Baltics at that time, and I prayed that we had learned from our mistakes and would not  repeat history.

I prayed for peace and tolerance.

And yet we don’t seem to learn from our mistakes. We’re still a world of intolerance, often in the  name of self-proclaimed political or religious superiority. Ethnic Muslims were still slaughtered in the Baltics in the 1990’s.  I can’t count how many were slaughtered in the genocide in Rwanda. What Stalin did to his own people, or Hitler to the Jews, Roma, and others is not a new concept. Purge those who are different while wrapping yourself in the flag and proudly smiling.

When one person hates, they can be signaled out as a bully. When that person hates with an audience they can go from shunned whack-job or hate-monger to a hero in a matter of moments. Remember how crazy that woman sounded during the 2008 when, while attending a John McCain town hall meeting, declared that Barack Obama was an Arab? (And by saying “Arab,” that as a buzzword to mean Muslim, which leads to the ridiculous syllogisms that equate all Muslims to terrorists.)   Sounded pretty insane right? Well don’t underestimate the power of the mob mentality. Nearly one in five adult Americans now believes that Obama is a Muslim. (And I am going on record saying, even if he was, WHO CARES? There is not a constitutional ban on non-christians holding public office in the United States. God help us that it remains that way!) Again it’s fear mongering. But apparently if you through enough of anything against the wall, it will stick.

And it’s not just fringe whackjobs that are trying to perpetuate fear. It’s very savvy individuals that know how to manipulate the mainstream media.  When Keith Ellison, Democratic Congressman from Minnesota was elected, Glenn Beck fanned the fire of fear by saying something quite obnoxious, “And I have to tell you, I have been nervous about this interview with you, because what I feel like saying is, “Sir, prove to me that you are not working with our enemies. And I know you’re not. I’m not accusing you of being an enemy, but that’s the way I feel, and I think a lot of Americans will feel that way.”

Translation: Others may not feel like I do, but I’m going to do my best to plant that seed of fear so that they they think like I do.

And then there is Beck asserting everyone’s First Amendment rights to religion, free speech and the right to assemble, but at the same time tries to propagate that any Islamic Center at the Park 51 site near–not at— Ground Zero in New York will hasten Sharia Law and the destruction of America as we know it. It’s just a nudge and a wink, but that seed is planted yet again:

Everybody is talking about Ground Zero and the mosque. Should it be there? Should it not be there? I believe, as a nation, we’re pretty clear: You can build any house of worship wherever you want to build.

But, shouldn’t we be asking a more important question? Who are the people behind this? Where are they getting the funding? What do they really believe?

According to our next guest (Frank Gaffney, the same anti-Islamic president of a lobbyist group that advocated that the US military take out the Al Jazeera news network–ed.), the imam behind the Ground Zero mosque, Imam Rauf, makes no bones about his goal to build a mosque near sacred ground and to bring Shariah to America.

But their definition of Sharia Law carries omnious overtones. Gaffney states: “Shariah is a political program that the authorities of Islam have long believed, a millennium or so, must be imposed over the entire world, to be ruled by a theocracy, a caliph and to impose Shariah as the rules.”

In other words, hide your babies and beadwork! The Evil Muslims are coming for your country!

Yet the opposition to mosques and the basic constitutional right to assemble is not something unique to the Park 51 location where the excuse of Hallowed Ground gets tossed around more frequently than a football. It’s happening all over the country, but it doesn’t get as much media play (or thankfully, the public media magnets such as Palin and Beck haven’t heard about them yet.) And I’m ashamed to say, it is happening in my own state. Time recently ran an article about Islamophobia. When a local physician, Dr. Mansoor Mirza, wanted to start a mosque in the tiny town of Oosburg, Wisconsin so that he and others could have a house of worship, he was met with nothing short of xenophobia and hostility:

But when the floor is opened to discussion, you hear things they would never say to you even in the privacy of an examination room. One after another, they pour scorn and hostility on your proposal, and most of the objections have nothing to do with zoning regulations. It’s about your faith. Islam is a religion of hate, they say. Muslims are out to wipe out Christianity. There are 20 jihadi training camps hidden across rural America, busy even now producing the next wave of terrorists. Muslims murder their children. Christian kids have enough problems with drugs, alcohol and pornography and should not have to worry about Islam too. “I don’t want it in my backyard,” says one. Another says, “I just think it’s not America.”

Not American. As in, We Don’t Want YOUR Kind Here. By the way, Dr. Mirza was even asked if there would be any weapons or military training at the proposed mosque. And the local clergy aren’t immune to fanning the fire. In fact, the local clergy started an effort to ban the mosque before it could even be built!  Rev. Wayne DeVrou, pastor of the First Reformed Church of Ootburg told Time, “The political objective of Islam is to dominate the world with its teachings … and to have domination of all other religions militarily,”

Someone once told me, it is very hard to publicly disagree with your doctor or pastor. When the local clergy gang up to perpetuate stereotypes and fear, is it any surprise that Islamophobia is gaining momentum on a national level?

This mindset terrifies me. And I don’t just mean it gives me a big case of the willies. I worry we are on a slippery slope, and if we don’t do something to nip this fear mongering and hatred in the bud, the atrocities of the 1940’s Germany will come back to haunt us.  The anti-Semitic pogroms of the 1930’s were fueled by hatred and fear on the local level. And look what that got us? Euphemisms such as The Final Solution to the Jewish Problem. The pogroms started with propaganda. It didn’t just magicly appear at the beginning of World War II.  It appeared long before that. And some of the words from the  1934 Deutscher National-Katechismus (German National Catechism) echo nearly word for word what we are hearing about Muslims in America today:

The goal of the Jew is to make himself the ruler of humanity. Wherever he comes, he destroys works of culture. He is not a creative spirit, rather a destructive spirit.

Sounds a lot like what the anti-Muslim pundits are screaming every day if you ask me. But it doesn’t stop there, the Nazi’s were very good at coming up with counterarguments like, “Religion is a private matter” or “There are decent Jews” or even, “Everything in the human race is equal.”  Again, these are arguments rightfully used today when the sane try to counter these ridiculous and hateful assertions. Kurt Hillmar Eitzen’s Zehn Knüppel wider die Judenknechte outlined the propaganda with its own rules of logic (unfortunately it was the type of logic that insane trolls speak) to dehumanize the Jews.

Funny how we forget how propaganda successfully manipulates the waiting mob. It can whip the mob into a frenzy and spark unspeakable violence. All it needs is a nudge in the right direction. September 11 means quite a lot to many. It is a day to mourn those who passed in the terrorist attacks. It’s a day to support the survivors, both from the actual sites and every one of us world-wide who watched the terror unfold. Shortly after the event, the United States Congress  darated a bill to memorialize September 11, but President George W. Bush reinvented Patriot Day to reclaim the day from those who wanted to main and destroy us, rebranding it as a day of Nationalism and pride. It’s now a public holiday along side Memorial Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc. Not sure if mail service is supsended that day.

Coincidentally, September 11, 2010 also marks the end of the Muslim month of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Muslim year marked by, among others,  fasting, prayer and reflection.

I, like others worry,  how these two entities will collide. And I’m not talking about attacks on America or others. I’m talking about how the mob will react to to Muslims.

There is already hype for an International Burn a Quran Day on September 11. And this “celebration” (Picture me making very sarcastic air quotes.) is the brainchild of a so-called Christian preacher Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainsville, Florida. It has a Facebook page that features photoshopped pictures of Iran and Mecca being destroyed by bombs.

What’s not to stop people from going one step further? All it takes is a small nidus for an infection to take hold. For Islamaphobes, September 11 is a rallying point. There is no question about it. Some will be clutching a cross and wrapping themselves in an American flag as the burn the Quran. What’s to stop anonymous cowards who already burned construction equipment at a building site for a future mosque in Tennessee from escalating the violence on a larger, more destructive scale?

After all, it’s not the first time in humanity’s long history that houses of worship have been burned to the ground in the name of extreme nationalism. It happened quickly, and countryBerlin Synogogue after Kristallnacht-wide on the night of November 9, 1938 in Germany. That night at least 91 Jews died, 25,000-30,000 more were arrested, 267 synogogues were destroyed in fires and thousands of Jewish homes and businesses were ransacked and destroyed. Some say it was this event that took Germany from petty pogroms to a full-blown steamroller of the Shoah that extinguished the lives of millions all in the name of nationalism and extreme religious/cultural intolerance.

Are we creating the perfect storm for the Islamic version of an American Kristallnacht either through active hatred and violence, or worse yet our own apathy? How much graffiti is enough? How many acts of arson will occur before “decent” Americans finally say No More, Never Again? When do we realize that we aren’t the puppets of dressed up pundits and finally put our foot down?

When will we learn from our own mistakes. Neimoller’s words still ring true today. I just hope people are still willing to listen to him.

“Those who begin by burning books will end by burning people.”
—Heinrich Heine, German Jewish Poet

For more about this, I highly recommend Rabbi Arthur Waskow’s article Qur’an Burning: The 5 Steps that Brought Us to this Point and Why Religious Communities Must Resist.

I recently taught my daughters (ages 6 and 4) how to play Roshambo aka Rock, Paper, Scissors. Everyone knows the game:  Rock crushes Scissors, Scissors cuts Paper, Paper covers Rock.  While I love the permutation: Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock, apparrently so do my girls. It didn’t take long for them to start throwing dynamite into the mix, proclaiming that dynamite trumps (or in their words explodes everything.) Although they forget that Scissors can cut the fuse on dyamite, my daughters quickly learned that games can become very one-sided when someone has a trump to play.

Now while it is fun to pull out dynamite and sandbag your Roshambo opponent, it is not so fun when someone pulls out the dynamite of theology: Scriptural Authority. Things quickly become defined in black and white, right and wrong in record time when someone throws down the trump and declares any other facet of a discussion invalid.

It’s easy to label things when you claim Scriptural Authority: Churched vs. Unchurched. Biblical vs. Unbibical. You get the picture. There is no room for debate. Ever. It’s a cheap and dirty way to claim the high ground. It’s like playing Rock, Paper, Scissors (with or without Dyanmite, Lizards or Spock) and someone hauling out NUCLEAR BOMB!  I mean, how do you counter that? You can’t. It’s a cheap way to declare, without actually saying, “I’m right and everyone who disagrees with me is wrong, and I don’t even want to listen to what you have to say.”

Pastor Brant Clements sums it up quite well in his blog:

So if someone uses the phrase “the biblical doctrine” what they mean is “the Bible as I interpret it supports the doctrine that I teach.” Again, if someone uses the expression “the unbiblical practice” what they mean is “the Bible as I interpret it condemns the thing that you are doing.” I have found this to be invariably true.

Quite frankly, I’m a little fed up with this game plan, especially when it is tossed around like a hand grenade in the debate following the 2009 CWA decision regarding same-sex unions and GLBTQ rostered clergy. It’s what the Anti-ELCA crowd (ie, LCMC/CORE/WA) likes to use to criticize and condemn the “unbiblical” decisions of a now “unchurched” denomination.  Word Alone has no problems claiming Scriptural Authority to weigh in on this:

Biblical norms establish the boundaries and proper use of sexuality. The Bible clearly teaches that marriage is a holy bond between one man and one woman and is the only proper arena for sexual activity. From marriages, families are formed which serve as the building blocks of civilization.

There’s that biblical vs. unbibical moniker that Pr. Clement blogged about. Translation: “OUR rules establish the boundaries and norms for marriage and sexuality because we claim Scriptural Authority.”

One of my own pastors, who embraces the orthodox Confessional Lutheran Acronym Salad, has even claimed as much in his speech when implored the LCEP to secede from the ELCA (bold emphasis mine):

Throughout her history, [LCEP] has been a part of a Christian Lutheran body that has upheld the Bible as the final authority in governing the way she lives out her faith and service to God. [LCEP’s] current constitution proclaims that the Bible is “the source and norm for all matters of faith and life.”

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the Lutheran body with which [LCEP} currently has membership, has taken steps away from this time-honored and basic Christian practice. As a result, a number of the member churches of the ELCA have been thrown into turmoil and the ELCA’s world partners have distanced themselves having issued letters calling for the ELCA to turn from this grave error.

Translation: “I don’t agree with the 2009 CWA’s decisions, and since I am the Associate Cheese* at LCEP, I am going to discredit it because it doesn’t jive with my interpretation of Scripture. My house, my rules. End of discussion.”

Which brings us to Word Alone (not the ministry, the concept) aka Sola Scriptura. It’s a concept that all Lutherans (and for that matter most Christians) embrace.  It’s one of the pillars of the Reformation. The Bible alone is the measure of faith and the sole authority for Christians. Many Lutheran denominations cite Paul’s letters to Timothy as the basis for this rule:

16All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.    2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NIV)

Contrary to popular belief, the ELCA does not sway from that belief. In fact, it reaffirms it in many ways. At it’s website, the ELCA states the following:

The canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the written Word of God. Inspired by God’s Spirit speaking through their authors, they record and announce God’s revelation centering in Jesus Christ. Through them God’s Spirit speaks to us to create and sustain Christian faith and fellowship for service in the world.

I don’t think even the most progressive Lutheran will argue this confession of faith. It’s what makes us Lutheran. It’s why we embrace the Nicene Creed as one of our Confessions of Faith. It’s that leap of faith that defines who we are as Christians that God really did speak through the prophets.

But who gets to interpret every verb and decide where every comma goes? Who gets to claim the scriptural high ground and be, as former President Bush, declared, The Decider? Who gets to decide what is “inerrant” and “infallable” and what is minor and trivial? As one of the pillars of the Reformation, Sola Scriptura was a concept to correct the errors of the Roman Catholic Church. It was meant to take the human error out of how we read scripture. As Martin Luther once said, “a simple layman armed with Scripture is greater than the mightiest pope without it.”  In other words, Reformers such as Luther strongly believed  in the Five Solas (as in were willing to die for what they believed) that Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone), Sola Fide (Faith Alone), Sola Gratia (Grace Alone), Solus Christus (Christ Alone) and Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone) were the foundations of faith and salvation. We didn’t need an intermediary such as the Pope to facilitate grace or interpret scripture. In fact, Luther (and many conservative Lutheran denominations) to this day still officially declare the Catholic Pope the Antichrist. (Talk about arguments I never want to touch with a ten-foot pole!) I have no idea if they truly meant the Pope really does have the number o’ the beast hidden under his mitre or if he was just the embodiment of the power and how to abuse it, (for that matter, I don’t want to touch that debate with ANY  length pole) but it is summed up nicely in Building Unity (Burgess and Gross, eds.):

In calling the pope the “antichrist,” the early Lutherans stood in a tradition that reached back into the eleventh century. Not only dissidents and heretics but even saints had called the bishop of Rome the “antichrist” when they wished to castigate his abuse of power.

But in ignoring the time-honored Lutheran tradition of respecting Bound Conscience (PDF file), have these Anti-ELCA organizations and their Scriptural Authority become the one thing that the the early Reformers rallied against: the embodiement of power and how to hold it over others? Have they become the Dynamite in Roshambo that becomes the unnecessary intermediary and Decider of right and wrong? Isn’t that why Luther split with the Pope and his church because of the arbitrary “unbiblical” rules  (Yes, the irony of using the word “unbiblical” burns, thanks for noticing.) for salvation and grace. Grace Alone, Faith Alone, Word Alone (as long as you color within the lines with the preapproved four crayons provided for you. Any deviation from this will nulify the above promised Grace.)

And since I’ve already stuck my neck out far enough, I might as well go all the way and really get branded a progressive heretic…

I don’t agree with Scripture Alone.

There I said it. I haven’t been smote, smoted, smited (what is the past tense for the verb “to smite?”) by a bolt of lightening. And when I say that, I mean that I don’t think that Scripture is not the ONLY way that the Holy Spirit communicates with us. Holy Pessimism, Batman! If that were the case, aren’t we painting a very bleak picture of modern Christianity? That would have meant that God had stopped speaking to us over 2000 years ago, that there are no modern day prophets that will light the way, that God has been some place else for the past two millenia. I like how Pr. Brant summed it up in his blog. The Bible is not only a record of God’s past conversations with humanity but it is an “invitation to the conversation” to build faith and find Grace.  

Scriptural authority sure worked well when the only people that could actually read scripture were a handful of clergy. The masses were taught to recite the Pater Noster from memory when they neither spoke nor read the Latin in which it was recited thousands and thousands of times. For that matter, most had never held or even seen a Bible. Mass was in Latin, so they didn’t even understand the words of worship when the gathered in churchs. Wielding scriptural power was pretty easy when the only person that actually read it was the one in power. Unfortuantely there isa 2000 year history of using Scripture and the pulpit to keep everyone else in line. It is extremely easy to use Dynamite when no one else understands the Roshambo rules.

Now if I came out and said, “The Holy Spirit told me that I shall have a tuna melt for lunch today,” I would be the first one to sign the papers to check myself into a psych ward.  But the Holy Spirit didn’t stop speaking 2000 years ago. The Spirit is at work today.   Now I’m not saying go pick up the Book of Mormon or the Anarchist’s Cookbook to find what the Holy Spirit is saying today. But we don’t live in that era where only the learned clergy had access to the scripture. The Bible has been translated into countless languages. It isn’t just someone elses Scriptural Authority that points us toward Grace. We are individually given a roadmap to head in the right direction. Scripture helps us find the Spirit. It is an essential element in that journey of faith.  We need that invitation in to the conversation. We need to use it as a roadmap to Grace. But we also need to ask ourselves, how does the Spirit speak to us today? It is there in our prayers and discernments. The Holy Spirit isn’t trapped in the the first century of the common era.

It is a Twenty-first Century force that continues to help us on that journey of faith, and it isn’t restrained by one version of Scriptural Authority.

And as we each open that wonderful invitation, it the Apostle Peter who warns us about people using their own interpretations of Scripture as a weapon:

15Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. 16He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.  2 Peter 3:15-16 (NIV)

Both sides of an argument will use this passage to claim the other is fallen into the trap that Peter writes of. People like distort Scripture and bend it to their will. The like to use it as Roshambo Dynamite.

Scripture is an invitation to meet God. But reading it cover to cover isn’t the way to find Him. Nor is claiming the Scriptural highground in an argument. Scripture brings us closer to God, but the journey is ours. The Bible will point us in the right direction. But without Faith, without guidance from the Holy Spirit in our day to day lives, the Bible just becomes a book filled with a bunch of words that can be thrown at another as easily as a rock. Christ didn’t intend for it to be used in as a trump in a biblical version of Rock, Paper, Scissors.

I welcome the Bible as an invitation, but I know it I need to find the other roadmaps provided by the Holy Spirit in order to strengthen my face and continue on that Journey with Him.

*No offense intended to either associate pastors or cheese as I like them both.

Today was the second vote held at the Little Church on the Edge of the Prairie. Okay, the moniker is a little misleading, said Little Church is a congregation of 1300 baptised individuals.

Today we voted on the following:

Be it resolved that [Little Church on the Edge of the Prairie] end its affiliation with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Today, the first Sunday after Easter was Fish or Cut Bait Day. A 2/3 majority vote in favor of the resolution would officially end our affiliation with the ELCA.

We had held our first vote back in December 2009. The motion passed by 2/3 plus a little wiggle room. I felt very uncomfortable as the winning group decided there needed to be a round of applause for the measure.

It moved us toward a period of discernment, more like regroup and reorganize. I live in a conservative, rural town, so I knew it would be an uphill battle.  The 2009 Churchwide Assembly’s decision on sexuality and how it impacted clergy rostering and marriage was used as a lightening rod.

Open forums became shouting matches. Sigh. Male privilege was lobbed a few times and I was told, “Look here, young lady.” (for the record, I am almost 40, my cholesterol is 205, I have an MD, two kids, a mortgage,and enough student debt to rival the GNP of a small, third world country. I’m hardly young by any stretch of the imagination.) It turned ugly on more than one occasion.

Needless to say, I didn’t sleep well last night as was nauseated as I walked through the church doors.

I volunteered to be one of the ballot counters to be paired with council members. The election was transparent, and unlike last time around, we were given a parliamentarian. Wonderful guy from another congregation who has taught Robert’s Rules to the local FFA forever. He was trustworthy and kept things in order, even when someone stood up and started screaming today that we were actually following Roberts Rules of Order. I was too nervous to even keep track of the math. We had 402 that registered to vote, and I could not do simple math in my head to determine 2/3.  So I counted ballots, Yes in one box, No in the other. Stacked them in groups of ten.

It wasn’t until we were walking back with the ratified results that it sunk in.

We, and I mean those of us that wanted to remain members of the ELCA, had187 votes.

It wasn’t a mandate, but we had gone from losing by more than a 2 to 1 margin in December to a nearly 50/50 split.

The motion did not carry. W

We are still a congregation in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Of course a woman stood up ans proposed that we do this all over again in six months, because you know, it was so much fun the first time around. Sigh. Luckily she was out of order and no motions were made beyond the vote.

Unlike this time, there was no cheering. We have much healing to do. Can our pastors still function within the ELCA? Will they support it, or will be looking at another vote down the line?

We need to heal. We need to forgive those we were most angry with. We need to remember that the Holy Spirit can lead us regardless of where we stand on the political continuum. God is neither a liberal or a conservative.

It was a victory, but it sure didn’t feel like it. I don’t think there are any winners here. Bridges need to be built. We need to come together once again. All need to return to the congregation if they want to be part of the ELCA and not just a vote.

In closing, the old school Doxology came to mind as I was standing in the shower this morning. It seems fitting, and it has crept into my head several times today.

Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow;

Praise Him, all creatures here below;

Praise Him above, ye heavenly host;

Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

I was baptized an ALC Lutheran, but was raised in an LCMS church as my mother’s family was LCMS. Discovered there was much more out there that I aligned with when I attended Valparaiso University. Though it still had/has a strong LCMS influence, it was there were I really started to embrace the ELCA as my home church.  It’s no secret that the other Lutheran colleges refer to it as That Liberal Lutheran School.

Valpo reallystrived to promote tolerance and acceptance. It welcomed its first GLBTQ student support group when many other relgious-based schools shunned such groups. Thought provoking seminars during the Week of Challenge and Martin Luther King, Jr Day really did bring cultural diversity to the fore.  And it was through student and faculty envolvement where women were finally allowed not to be just silent ministers in the Chapel of the Resurrection but were finally allowed to preach and lead worship as the ordained pastors that they were.

This is what helped mold my views of Lutheranism.

What I didn’t sign up for was Martin Luther’s anti-semitism. Yes, I knew it existed but chose to ignore it forever. It wasn’t until recently that I really explored what it was all about.

There is no doubt that Luther carried much of the old school Catholic Church animosity toward the Jews as Christ killers (sigh) into the Reformation.  Gordon Rupp, a Methodist Luther scholar writes in Martin Luther: Hitler Cause or Cure:

Luther’s antagonism to the Jews was poles apart from the Nazi doctrine of “Race”. It was based on medieval Catholic anti-semitism towards the people who crucified the Redeemer, turned their back on the way of Life, and whose very existence in the midst of a Christian society was considered a reproach and blasphemy. Luther is a small chapter in the large volume of Christian inhumanities toward the Jewish people.

It is no suprise that Luther wanted the Jews to convert to Christianity. There was a simmering animosity that cannot be ignored, but at first Luther seemed much more benign, hoping that it would be God’s will that cause Jewish faith tradition would erode away and yield to Christianity. In his 1514 letter to Rev. Georg Spalatin (Burkhart), Luther writes:

But what am I doing? My heart is fuller of these thoughts than my tongue can tell. I have come to the conclusion that the Jews will always curse and blaspheme God and his King Christ, as all the prophets have predicted. He who neither reads nor understands this, as yet knows no theology, in my opinion. And so I presume the men of Cologne cannot understand the Scripture, because it is necessary that such things take place to fulfill prophecy. If they are trying to stop the Jews blaspheming, they are working to prove the Bible and God liars.

But trust God to be true, even if a million men of Cologne sweat to make him false. Conversion of the Jews will be the work of God alone operating from within, and not of man working-or rather playing-from without. If these offences be taken away, worse will follow. For they are thus given over by the wrath of God to reprobation, that they may become incorrigible, as Ecclesiastes says, for every one who is incorrigible is rendered worse rather than better by correction.

Yet somewhere along the line, the tone became more vicious.  While many a confirmand is familiar with Luther’s Small Catechism, many do not realize that he also wrote the 1543 treatise Von den Juden und Ihren Lügen (On the Jews and Their Lies.) His tone takes a distinctively hateful tone, reducing the entire race of people to something subhuman:

They must assuredly be the base, whoring people, that is, no people of God, and their boast of lineage, circumcision, and law must be accounted as filth…

… For they are full of malice, greed, envy, hatred toward one another, pride, usury, conceit, and curses against us Gentiles. Therefore, a Jew would have to have very sharp eyes to recognize a pious Jew, to say nothing of the fact that they all should be God’s people as they claim…

…So it became apparent that they were a defiled bride, yes, an incorrigible whore and an evil slut with whom God ever had to wrangle, scuffle, and fight. If he chastised and struck them with his word through the prophets, they contradicted him, killed his prophets, or, like a mad dog, bit the stick with which they were struck.

It’ is not bad enough that he views them as subhuman, he goes one step farther to actively encourage Christians to take action against the Jewish people. He promotes the destruction of not only their prayer books, but advocates “to set fire to their synagogues or schools and to bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn, so that no man will ever again see a stone or cinder of them.” 

Yet he did not stop there, Luther had an eight point plan to eliminate the Jewish faith tradition either by conversion to Christianity or by forced expulsion. His plan also included the prohibition of owning money, forced labor and forced expulsion from the country. (“In my opinion the problem must be resolved thus: If we wish to wash our hands of the Jews’ blasphemy and not share in their guilt, we have to part company with them. They must be driven from our country.”)

Quite frankly this sounds terrifyingly similar to the Russian pogroms or Hitler’s Endlösung der jüdischen Frage (Final Solution for the Jewish Question) which led to the Holocaust/Shoah. In fact scholars Berger and Rose both point to Luther’s influence on forging a truly Germanic hatred of Judiasm and its people that may have been a building block in the Shoah. Professor Rose goes on to assert that without Luther’s antisemitic treatises, the German mindset leading up to the Shoah may have been absent.

Not exactly the faith tradition I signed on to when I was confirmed, married and baptized my daughters.

Fortunately mainstream modern Lutheranism has distanced itself and denounced Luther’s hateful rhetoric. Without that, I doubt that I would be raising my daughters in the Lutheran faith tradition and would be embracing a different Church.

It was not until 1982 when the Lutheran World Federation finally encouraged the Lutheran body to move beyond Luther’s hatred and define ourselves as something that is set apart from his anti-semitism and move actively forward in the name of Judeochristian reconciliation by stating, “We Christians must purge ourselves of any hatred of the Jews and any sort of teaching of contempt for Judaism.”

The Missouri Synod was next in its denouncements. In 1983 the LCMS issued a statement denoucing Luther’s “hostile attitude” toward the Jews:

That while, on the one hand, we are deeply indebted to Luther for his rediscovery and enunciation of the Gospel, on the other hand, we deplore and disassociate ourselves from Luther’s negative statements about the Jewish people, and, by the same token, we deplore the use today of such sentiments by Luther to incite anti-Christian and/or anti-Lutheran sentiment.

In 1994, the ELCA followed suit by issuing the following Declaration of ELCA to  Jewish Community:

We who bear his name and heritage must acknowledge with pain the anti-Judaic diatribes contained in Luther’s later writings. We reject this violent invective as did many of his companions in the sixteenth century, and we are moved to deep and abiding sorrow at its tragic effects on later generations of Jews. (Entire text in link above.)

It is clear that the mainstream Lutheran church bodies have denounced Luther’s Antisemitism, and the ELCA has gone one step further (see my previous post) by acknowledging Judiasm in a Judeochristian continuum as seperate and equally worthy facet of worshipping the same God. So why am I posting a history lesson about the ugly underbelly of Martin Luther?

While the recent visit from Jews for Jesus was still fresh in my mind, the choices of scripture translation for Easter Sunday really have stuck in my mind.  There was nothing controversial about the choices of passages, though our pastors in a push to distance themselves in every way from the ELCA refuse to utilize the ELCA’s choices of scripture each week. Each told the story of the Resurrection. The New Living Translation was used for the second lesson and the Gospel. No big deal. It was the Resurrection in modern English. Not my first choice for translation as I am more familiar with the RSV or NIV from my confirmation and college days. The psalm was in that nice cadence of the New King James Version.  (I think everyone would agree that the psalms lose a lot of their lyrical quality if a truly modern translation is used. So again, nothing controversial.

But what really stood out was New Century Version of the first lesson.  A revision of the International Children’s Bible, the NCV is a good choice for bringing the Bible to those with lower literacy skills. But it also known for its conservative and evangelical tone.  Not a surprising choice since my pastors have declared themselves “orthodox” Lutherans are rather involved in the World Alone network and the LCMC. I normally don’t have a problem with NCV, though I don’t prefer the writing style. But what really grabbed my attention and made me wince was the following exerpt from the passage in Acts 10:34-43, in particular verse 39 (bold emphasis mine):

We saw what Jesus did in Judea and in Jerusalem, but the Jews in Jerusalem killed him by hanging him on a cross.

Ouch. And with one translation we are back to blaming the entire Jewish people for killing Christ.

So I did a comparative search of the passage, looking at the  alphabet soup of English Bible translations includng the NLT, NIV, NRSV as well the RSV, NKJV and finally the first English translation the KJV. Each of the other translations makes the one to blame for killing him more vague. They killed him, or they put him to death, etc. Perhaps this is me being too overly sensitive, but the NCV is only one that spells out the Jews killed Christ.

So why did they use this specific translation where the other lesson and Gospel were in the New Living Translation? I certainly don’t want to bear false witness against those chosing the passages (for the record, the ELCA did not include the passage from Acts as part of suggested readings for Easter.) Nevertheless the choice of passages and translations was rather jarring? Why was the passage blaming the Jews picked to be the lesson? And why was the one translation that clearly spells it out the one that was picked instead of the other translations the dull the blame? These are questions I do not have the answers for.

That said, is this return to a more orthordox interpretation of Lutheranism also embracing Luther’s other opinions?  I certainly hope not. The pollyanna optimist in me would like to think this is merely a coincidence. I certainly hope that subtle anti-semitism is not a biproduct of such conservative evangelism and that I am seeing problems where they don’t exist.

Reflections on Good Friday

At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”—which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”     Mark 15:33-34 (NIV)

Today goes by many names. In Greek liturgy it is called he hagia kai megale paraskeue. The Romance languages give it a more reverent name Holy Friday while the Germans refer to it as Sorrowful Friday Charfreitag.

A 1983 article in the highly prestigious science journal Nature used a combination of the biblical and Julian calendars as well as knowledge of the moon phases and lunar eclipses to calculate that the original Good Friday likely occurred on April 3, 33 AD/CE.

Altars were stripped bare or covered in black last night.   Services are solemn and darkened. The LCMS congregation where I grew up had a Tenebrae service where one by one, the candles are extinguished and the sanctuary is filled with darkness. The service was stark, and at the end of the readings, the Bible is slammed shut to signify the moment of death. My undergraduate university Valparaiso has a similarly somber service where the Christus Rex was draped in black. The deafening silence in the Chapel of the Resurrection for quiet contemplation was always such a stark contrast to the cacophony of voices of students, family, faculty and community after the joyous celebrations of the chapel’s Easter Celebration.

Good Friday is a quiet time to mourn the death of Christ and the perceived absence of God through this weekend. He was silent as Christ died, and even his own son felt abandoned.

But even with the stark and stripped imagery, God has never left us. The Easter Vigil that many churches will observe tomorrow night will be a time to renew baptismal promises. A candle will be lit to remind us that we are not alone.

During this time of reflection, I think the perfect symmetry to the passage above from Mark is Psalm 46:10:

Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”

I cannot read ancient Hebrew, but if you look at the Hebrew linguistics of the edict Be Still, a better translation may be Cause yourselves to let go or Let yourselves become weak. In other words: surrender.

So, yes, surrender and trust that regardless of how dark today–or life for that matter–may feel that the candle of faith still burns this weekend, that though Christ was crucified, died and was buried, he is still very much with us. Trust yourself to let go and know that there is someone to catch you.

An author, whose name complete escapes me right now, took Psalm 46:10 and created this:

Be still and know that I am God

Be still and know

Be still

Be

Not a bad way to approach this weekend.

Hebrew
Barukh atah Adonai, Eloheinu, melekh ha’olam
Blessed are you, Lord, our God, sovereign of the universe

This is the opening sequence of the Kadeish, the first element of the Seder commemorating the  Exodus of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. Many families recited this blessing last night as part of the second night of Pesach (Passover.)

This is one of those years where Pesach and the Christian Holy Week coincide, and with it the two two faith traditions often intersect.

Many churches will include something called a  Christian Passover as part of the Holy Week observances. When I was about ten, I attended a one of these Passovers at my grandparents’ church (then an ALC congregation) in Madison, Wisconsin. I had been the dutiful little girl that attended enough Sunday School and knew some of the “bible stories” to understand on, at least a kid’s level, what the Exodus about.  To me it was about  bunch of plagues–boils, frogs, a bunch of creepy-crawlies, blood, etc and the Charleston Hestonesque Let My People Go. It seemed like an extension of Christianity.

Only it wasn’t.

Pesach is a uniquely Jewish experience.  There is no such thing as a Christian Passover. And I mean that in the most positive sense. When we were in junior high, my friend E was preparing for her Bat Mitzvah. It was in the spring of 1985, and was either right before or right after Pesach.  And it was through E that I realized that Pesach was more about her relationship with God, not mine. And I was okay with that. Where she had Pesach and her Bat Mitzvah to affirm that she is a child of God, I had that with my Baptism and Confirmation.

Now I don’t have a problem of attending a Seder to undertand Jewish expressions of faith. It is a great way to understand how our faith tradition evolved from the Jewish tradition as long as you respect the boundaries.

But what I do have problems with is when Christianity tries co-opt the Seder and make it its own. The Seder is not the Last Supper. There is no Gospel in the Seder. The broken piece of matzoh is not a symbol of Christ. Each element of the Seder has a specific meaning in retelling the history of the Exodus.

To give it a Christian spin to the Jewish Seder really diminishes its significance and ignores what the Seder really is about.

The article this week in the Houston Chronicle really emphasized how I feel about this:

The Christianized Seder initially became popular about 30 years ago and seems to be experiencing a resurgence across denominations. About 20 churches in the Houston area will host Passover celebrations this week.

Some in the local Jewish community, however, fear their traditions are being used out of context.

“They take our symbols, our holiday, our ritual and start investing them in Christian meaning,” said Rabbi Stuart Federow, who leads Congregation Shaar Hashalom and speaks out against the evangelization of Jews on his Web site, WhatJewsBelieve.org. “It’s spreading out through the more liberal Christian churches. The Episcopalians, Methodists, Presbyterians are doing this without understanding the hurt it causes to their Jewish friends.”

Fortunately the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America does not push for evanglizing to Jews. It is comforting, at least to me, to know that ELCA has reached out in Christian-Jewish dialog to embrace the similarities and respect the differences.

We as Christians share deep and common roots with Jews, not least books of Scripture revered by both communities. There is much to be gained in exploring those common roots, as well as the reasons for the “parting of the ways” during the first generations of the followers of Jesus. New Testament texts reflect at many points the hostility between the two communities, but also point to ways in which a new spirit of mutual respect and understanding can be achieved.

We as Christians also need to learn of the rich and varied history of Judaism since New Testament times, and of the Jewish people as a diverse, living community of faith today. Such an encounter with living and faithful Judaism can be profoundly enriching for Christian self-understanding. It is to nurture this blessing that we offer these guidelines for honest and faithful conversation and cooperation between Lutherans and Jews.

Furthermore, the ELCA cautions against the practice of a Christian Seder:

Although attendance at Seders in Jewish homes or synagogues is to be preferred, “demonstration Seders” have been held rather widely in Christian churches and can serve a useful educational purpose, in which both common roots and significant differences can be learned. This should be approached with caution, however, and with the awareness that this might be considered “trampling on the other’s holy ground. ” If such demonstrations are done, they should be done carefully, preferably in consultation with, or hosted by, a local rabbi.

Enter Jews for Jesus. Much to my displeasure, as part our pastors’ enthusiatic edict to evangelize and make disciples of all blah blah blah, Jews for Jesus is putting on a Christ in the Passover version of a Christian Seder at my congregation this Good Friday.

So much for not trampling on faith traditions or respecting the true meaning of a ritual.

Don’t let the can’t we just get along sweet name that the organization has. Jews for Jesus isn’t about Jews embracing both Judaism, their heritage and Christianity. It’s strictly about evangelizing to Jews and attempt to convert them to the right team. While the “missionaries” that present this form of a Passover claim to embracing their Jewish herritage, they are preaching right from the playbook of evangelical/fundamentalist Christianity.

There is no respect for the Jewish faith tradition. It is all about converting. And getting money for putting on these bogus Seders. Needless to say, the won’t be getting a dime from me. I have no intentions of attending their performance (because worship service seems to give them more credit than they’re worth.)

From What Jews Believe:

The “Jews for Jesus” are not Jews. Originally founded by a very old organization known as The American Board Of Missions To The Jews, as their San Francisco office, they changed their name to “Jews” for Jesus, as the newest technique in missionizing the Jews to Christianity. Were you to compare the theology of the “Jews” for Jesus with the theology of the Southern Baptist Convention, you would see no difference. Compare the statements of faith of the Messianic “Jewish” Alliance of America (whose original name was the Hebrew Christian Alliance of America), with the statement of faith from the Southern Baptist Convention. Both the MJAA and the SBC have web sites.

Christian missionaries (and this includes the “Jews” for Jesus, the Messianic “Jews,” and the “Hebrew” Christians) claim that this deceptive technique originates with Paul, in I Corinthians 9:20, where he says that it is okay to pretend to be anything, so long as it gets converts to Christianity. One can also see this in Phillipians 1:18. Furthermore, it is expanded in the idea of Indigenous Cultural Evangelism. This is the name to the missionary technique which says so long as you make the targets think that they can be both a Christian and whatever they were before their conversion, then missionizing will be easier. See Understanding Church Growth, by Donald A. McGavran, the chapter on The Sociological Foundation.

So, the “Jews for Jesus” are merely another Christian Missionary organization, which make converts to Christianity by dressing up the Christian theology in Jewish clothing.

The ELCA seems to be on to the scam and warns in its guidelines for Lutheran/Jewish dialog:

Groups such as “Jews for Jesus” or “Messianic Jews” consist of persons from a Jewish background who have converted to Christianity and who wish to retain their Jewish heritage and identity. Lutherans should be aware that most Jews regard such persons as having forsaken Judaism, and consider efforts to maintain otherwise to be deceptive.

My concerns about Jews for Jesus coming to celebrate Christ in the Passover not only continues to trample the Jewish faith traditions, but also sends the message that my church endorses such deceptive behavior.

Jews for Jesus’ mission is a 180° turn from the ELCA’s goal to embrace the differences yet affirm both Christianity and Judiasm as different yet  equally worthy faith traditions:

Our relationship to contemporary Judaism requires both sensitivity to what we have in common and a respect for the independent right of Jews to define themselves as a community. A mature Christian respect for the work of God in Judaism thus affirms the faith and practice of Jews as more than a foil, a footnote, or a problem for our own identity.

So as Pesach and Holy Week converge once again, I challenge those who want to evangelize at any expense to take a step back and realize we are all on the same team.

Then Peter began to speak to them: ‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation, anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.’

Acts 10:34

Let’s not trample one faith tradition in order to raise up another. Let us not dimish the meaning of rite that is millenia old and replace its symbolism with something else. Let us remember the story of the Exodus and how it set God’s people free from slavery, and let us remember how Resurrection set us free as well. But I challenge us all to respect each as unique and blessed gifts from God.

Barukh atah Adonai, Eloheinu, melekh ha’olam, indeed!