At their convention in Bremen, the Lutheran Church in Germany denounced Martin Luther´s Christian anti-Semitism. A special statement issued at the convention declares the awareness of this guilt produces a special sense of responsibility to take a stand against any form of hatred of Jews.
On occasion of 500 Years of Reformation in 2017, the Lutheran Church in Germany (EKD) wants to learn even more lessons from Martin Luther´s Jew hatred. In a unanimous declaration in Bremen the EKD Synod distanced itself from the anti-Semitic statements of Luther and other reformers. Luther‘s recommendation on how to treat the Jews included revilement and demands for a complete deprivation of rights and banishment of the Jews.
“In preparation of the anniversary of the Reformation, we simply cannot overlook this historic guilt any longer”, the text reads. It further states that the extensive failure of the Lutheran Church towards the Jewish people is reason for mourning and shame. The shock of theological error and the awareness of this guilt in contributing to the suffering of the Jews produces a special sense of responsibility to take a stand against any form of hatred of Jews.
Repentance and Renewal
The anniversary of the Reformation offers the opportunity for repentance and renewal. “Luther‘s view of Judaism and his slander against the Jews contradict our understanding today that believes in the One God who revealed Himself in the Jew Jesus”, the statements reads. Until 2017, the Lutheran Church was going to clarify its stand on the controversial issue of mission to the Jews, the President of the Synod, Irmgard Schwaetzer, announced at the closing of the annual convention of the Church Parliament.
At the opening of the Synod, the President of the Central Jewish Council, Josef Schuster, demanded that the Lutheran Church clearly distance itself from mission to the Jews. Schuster complained of the fact that this topic was crucial for the Jews, and yet it was only treated “very vaguely” in the Synod’s declaration.
Late Admission of the Truth
Luther‘s Jew hatred is considered a great liability in the history of the Lutheran Church and is counted among the dark sides of the reformer. In his letters and writings, Luther repeatedly gave his attention to the Jews. In a letter dated August 1514, the reformer still backs the humanist Johannes Reuchlin who opposed the burning of Jewish writings. In 1523, Luther published the pamphlet “That Jesus Christ be a born Jew”. In 1538, this was followed by the pamphlet “Against the Sabbathers”, in 1543 by the infamous manuscript “On the Jews and Their Lies”. And even if there were no simple and clear continuations, it was possible to draw on “Luther in the 19th and 20th Century for theological and Church anti-Judaism, as well as for political anti-Semitism”, the Synod declaration said.
Only after 1945 the Church started its learning process concerning the church’s failure towards Judaism. In redefining their relationship to Judaism, the EKD rejected any form of hatred of Jews, it said. The constitutions of many of the regional Lutheran Churches reflected this in corresponding statements.
In two years‘ time, the Lutheran Church will commemorate the posting of Dr. Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses. October 31st, 1517 is considered the starting point of the worldwide Reformation.