“By 1543, Luther was … utterly frustrated by the Jews’ refusal to convert to Christianity: ‘A Jewish heart is as hard as a stick, a stone, as iron, as a devil.’ Luther did not, however, hold Jews responsible for the death of Christ. As he wrote in a hymn, ‘We dare not blame … the band of Jews; ours is the shame.’ And he felt that at least a few Jews might be won for Christ. Yet rabbinic teaching was madness and blindness that blasphemed Christ, Mary, and the Holy Trinity. Luther could not ‘have any fellowship or patience with obstinate [Jewish] blasphemers and those who defame this dear Savior.’ Blasphemy was a civil crime. To allow it to continue, Luther feared, meant Christians would share in the guilt for it. Thus, Luther now proposed seven measures of ‘sharp mercy’ that German princes could take against Jews: (1) burn their schools and synagogues; (2) transfer Jews to community settlements; (3) confiscate all Jewish literature, which was blasphemous; (4) prohibit rabbis to teach, on pain of death; (5) deny Jews safe-conduct, so as to prevent the spread of Judaism; (6) appropriate their wealth and use it to support converts and to prevent the lewd practice of usury; (7) assign Jews to manual labor as a form of penance. Luther advised clergy, their congregations, and all government officials to help carry out these measures. Since most Jews had been expelled from Germany before 1536, Luther’s counsel was implemented by few officials. Yet a harsh anti-Jewish measure in 1543 mentioned Luther’s On the Jews and Their Lies. Both Luther’s friends and his foes criticized him for proposing these measures. His best friends begged him to stop his anti-Jewish raving, but Luther continued his attacks in other treatises. He repeated as true the worst anti-Semitic charges from medieval literature. Jews killed Christian babies; they murdered Christ over and over again by stabbing Eucharistic hosts; they poisoned wells. Luther now thought what he had accused Catholics of thinking in 1523: Jews were dogs. ‘We are at fault for not slaying them,’ he fumed shortly before his death. … Luther was not an anti-Semite in the racist sense. His arguments against Jews were theological, not biological. Not until a French cultural anthropologist in the nineteenth century held that humankind consisted of ‘Semites’ and ‘Aryans,’ were Semites considered inferior. Alfonse de Gobineau’s views were quickly adopted by European intellectuals and politicians, and Jews became the scapegoats of a snobbish colonialist society in England, France, and Germany. The rest is history—including the Jewish holocaust perpetrated by Adolf Hitler and his regime. National Socialists used Luther to support their racist anti-Semitism, calling him a genuine German who had hated non-Nordic races.” Eric Gritsch
“There is neither Jew nor Gentile,
neither slave nor free,
nor is there male and female,
for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Moving From the Head to the Heart
- Can you imagine something like this happening today, as it did then? Here is the U.S., as it did in Germany?
- Would people in your church or religious tradition know how to correct these racist views from a Biblical point of view? Would you?
- Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Niemöller and many others stood up against the Nazi’s in their day–risking their citizenship, income, career, family and lives. Will you have the courage to do that if a similar test occurs in your day?
Abba, strengthen me, not only as I clasp my hands in prayer against the disorder of the world, but as I speak unpopular truth and stand with hated victims.
Thanks for reading and sharing my blog. I appreciate it! – Bill (Psalm 90:14)