Lutheran Churches charged with Anti-Semitism

holocaust-monument-in-wittenbergAccording to JNS News (8/17/2016), Special Envoy to the United Nations Laurie Cardoza-Moore criticized the ELCA’s resolution that the U.S. stop giving military aid to Israel.  She said, “The Lutheran Church’s decision to single out the Jewish State for rebuke is nothing short of anti-Semitic heresy based on its anti-Semitic roots.  It would seem that the Lutheran Church has chosen to follow in the path of their founder Martin Luther, who, later in his life, became a vehement anti-Semite.”

Her statement exhibits some common opinions among the general public.  Yet it reveals serious misunderstanding on many levels.

  • The ELCA does not speak for the Lutheran Church. They speak only for the ELCA.
  • The Lutheran Church was not founded in the 16th century by Martin Luther. Lutheran churches belong to historic Christianity and advocate biblical, creedal Christianity.
  • Lutheran churches should not pontificate on politics in the Middle East. The political scene over there is extremely complex, and the church has no special wisdom on that topic.  Nor is that the church’s calling.

While all of the above points are very important, the biggest point to be made is simply this:  Lutheran churches normed by the Scriptures and focused on Jesus, Israel’s Messiah, are not anti-Semitic.  The following observations come to mind.

  • We thank the God of Israel for the many Jewish Christians throughout the world.
  • Toward non-Christian Jews according to the flesh, our view is that of the Apostle Paul in Romans 10. It is not hostile anti-Semitism.
  • In the fullness of time the God of Israel sent forth his Son to be Israel’s Messiah, the fulfillment of Moses and the Prophets. The gospel is good news for the Jew first, and also for the Gentile.
  • We Gentile Christians have been grafted into God’s Israel (Romans 11). We did not create our own Gentile religion.
  • The God of Israel continues to speak to us through Moses and the Prophets. We require our seminary students to learn Hebrew so that they can teach Moses and the Prophets with accuracy.
  • Martin Luther was not anti-Semitic. He even specialized in Moses and the Prophets.
  • He wrote commentaries on Moses and the Prophets, and he translated them from Hebrew into German so that the common people could understand them.
  • Lutheran churches do not affirm everything Martin Luther ever said or every tract he ever wrote. We are not about hero worship.  We evaluate everything on the basis of the Scriptures as the norm.
  • In terms of history, the Reformation in the 16th century did not give rise to Adolf Hitler.

The ELCA should clarify to the U.N. in the strongest terms and without qualification or mitigation that Lutheran churches are not anti-Semitic.  Lutheran churches must reject this charge in no uncertain terms.  We are not a heretical sect!  The gospel is still good news to the Jew first.

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5 Comments

  1. Pr Schneider August 22, 2016
    Reply

    Perhaps a first place to deal with this mis-naming or grouping together would be in the headline of this post. Miss Cardoza-Moore clearly pointed out a single church body in her complaint. Shouldn’t this headline reflect that, or was it written this way for the click value it holds by being broad and sweeping?

    • Paul Raabe August 22, 2016

      She said “the Lutheran Church” without qualification in her indictment.
      And her statement does reflect the opinion of many in the general public. I am reacting to that general perception. On a charge like this, the general public does not readily distinguish among the different Lutheran church bodies.

  2. Matt Smuts August 22, 2016
    Reply

    The ‘Special Envoy’ is missing the rest of her credentials which implies that she represents the US or Israeli governments. She does not. She represents private, rather non-mainstream groups.

    It is not Anti-seminitism to criticize the policy of the Israeli government.

    I do agree with the writer that the ELCA speaks for the ELCA and no one else. I don’t believe the ELCA is claiming otherwise, but obviously the media is not always so savvy.

    I have a few objections to the initial 3 bullets but will focus on the last one. The ELCA as a member of the Lutheran World Federation, headed by President Bishop Munib Younan of the Lutheran Church in the Holy Land and Jordan, absolutely has deep knowledge and extensive experience relevant to the conversation. In addition, the LCMS Concordia system has a relationship with the Lutheran college in Bethlehem headed by Pastor Mitri Raheb who speaks tirelessly about the need for justice towards the Palestinian people. We need to be speaking up for our Palestinian sisters and brothers (Lutherans even!) just as we did on South Africa and elsewhere. Not only do we need to, but we are called to speak out. Surely, the witness of Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminds us that to be silent is to be complicit.

    The last thing I’ll mention here is that in his later years, Martin Luther was a raging Anti-semite. Certainly we have denounced his comments as such. Repentance is key to forgiveness.

  3. Rev. Paul T. McCain August 23, 2016
    Reply

    Thank you, Dr. Raabe. It is always unfortunate when the media fails to do its due diligence in distinguishing precisely which Lutherans they are referring to when writing these kinds of articles.

    In 1983, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod adopted in convention this excellent statment on Luther’s views about the Jews, which I believe is still one of the finest responses available from any Lutheran Church.

    Here is a post from the Synod’s official Reformation 500 website explaining the Synod’s action, the text of the resolution follows the preface.

    From http://www.LutheranReformation.org

    While The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod holds Martin Luther in high esteem for his bold proclamation and clear articulation of the teachings of Scripture, it deeply regrets and deplores statements made by Luther which express a negative and hostile attitude toward the Jews. In light of the many positive and caring statements concerning the Jews made by Luther throughout his lifetime, it would not be fair on the basis of these few regrettable (and uncharacteristic) negative statements, to characterize the reformer as “a rabid anti-Semite.” The LCMS, however, does not seek to “excuse” these statements of Luther, but denounces them (without denouncing Luther’s theology).

    In 1983, the Synod adopted an official resolution addressing these statements of Luther and making clear its own position on anti-Semitism. The text of this resolution reads as follows:

    WHEREAS, Anti-Semitism and other forms of racism are a continuing problem in our world; andWHEREAS, Some of Luther’s intemperate remarks about the Jews are often cited in this connection; and

    WHEREAS, It is widely but falsely assumed that Luther’s personal writings and opinions have some official status among us (thus, sometimes implying the responsibility of contemporary Lutheranism for those statements, if not complicity in them); but also WHEREAS, It is plain from scripture that the Gospel must be proclaimed to all people–that is, to Jews also, no more and no less than to others (Matt. 28:18-20); and

    WHEREAS, This Scriptural mandate is sometimes confused with anti-Semitism; therefore be it

    Resolved, That we condemn any and all discrimination against others on account of race or religion or any coercion on that account and pledge ourselves to work and witness against such sins; and be it further

    Resolved, That we reaffirm that the bases of our doctrine and practice are the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions and not Luther, as such; and be it further

    Resolved, 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; and be it further

    Resolved, That in our teaching and preaching we take care not to confuse the religion of the Old Testament (often labeled “Yahwism”) with the subsequent Judaism, nor misleadingly speak about “Jews” in the Old Testament (“Israelites” or “Hebrews” being much more accurate terms), lest we obscure the basic claim of the New Testament and of the Gospel to being in substantial continuity with the Old Testament and that the fulfillment of the ancient promises came in Jesus Christ; and be it further

    Resolved, That we avoid the recurring pitfall of recrimination (as illustrated by the remarks of Luther and many of the early church fathers) against those who do not respond positively to our evangelistic efforts; and be it finally

    Resolved, That, in that light, we personally and individually adopt Luther’s final attitude toward the Jewish people, as evidenced in his last sermon: “We want to treat them with Christian love and to pray for them, so that they might become converted and would receive the Lord” (Weimar edition of Luther’s Works, Vol. 51, p. 195).

    Source:
    http://lutheranreformation.org/history/luther-and-the-jews/

    • Paul Raabe August 23, 2016

      Thank you for reminding us of that fine statement.

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