I was in a church discussion group recently where someone (older, white, male) said, “some people say Martin Luther was anti-Semitic BUT…” and then proceeded to attempt to justify this fact and brush it aside.
I seethed. I’m still seething. I, probably wisely, said nothing at the time and excused myself as soon as possible. But it’s still bothering me. I should have said something, wisdom be damned. It’s worse than just not cool. Letting things like this slide is part of why “Progressive” Mainline churches are dying, maybe need to die. There’s no good news in obfuscating reality to save a few old dudes from a little discomfort.
And there is no excuse for
shit stuff like this to still be said. This is a problem. It’s a problem we have to deal with if we want to have authentic Good News, real Gospel truth. There can be not set-free-by-truth while we’re running from the truth. And in this case the truth is that Luther was nastily anti-Semitic.
Let’s try a better way. Something like, “Martin Luther was anti-Semitic AND we have to grapple honestly with that reality and face it head-on and admit that he wasn’t perfect AND here are some things we can do to deal with our own complicity in the perpetuation of injustice.”
I think it’s not only OK, it’s beneficial and beautiful, to acknowledge that Luther got a few things really right AND that he was only human, still all-saint and all-sinner, and also got a few things really wrong. People aren’t perfect and shouldn’t have to be. It doesn’t invalidate his other work for me to say that he was really, really, really wrong in his view of Jews.
For me, I’ve found that having long talks with Jewish friends and taking classes on Hebrew Scriptures from Jews teachers has been an excellent way to gain a much better understanding of Jesus. It’s good for me, for my faith, to have an open mind and open heart. (Same thing on learning from Muslims and Buddhists but those are other posts.) So often we Christians get
shit stuff twisted up and bassackwards because we aren’t willing to stick a toe out of our comfort zones and learn and grow. This is so sad for us that we miss out on so much. And it’s dangerous for others because it means that too many of us are still covering for anti-Semitic dead dudes or voting for Islamophobic policies. It’s not Good News for anyone.
It’s not Good News and it’s not Jesus-following. Jesus was willing to engage with and learn from all sorts of people. (See Matthew 15:21-28, Mark 7:24-30 for a lovely example of Jesus getting out-argued by the least-likely of people.) It’s not Good News for us or for anyone else when we’re sweeping the truth under the rug or keeping skeletons in the closet.
And I have no idea how to explain all this to an arrogant old white guy who dominates discussions and already seems to be hyper-protective of what his imagines Lutheranism to be. I don’t know. I don’t know how I should have handled the specific situation and I don’t know how to address the larger issue behind it. But I do know that any real truth and any real person is messy and complicated and full of paradox. It might seem like a contradiction to people who want binary answers, who want their hero to be all-good instead of all-human and sometimes Wrong. But it’s not. A willingness to accept paradox is one of the things that draws me back to the Lutheran thing, that basic idea that we are all all-saint and all-sinner all at once. (Or, to paraphrase something a Muslim who’s dear to my heart likes to say, we’re human: we’re part angel and part devil.)
So I don’t know what “The Answer” is. But I know we need to work on this, know that there are many, many reasons why we need to clean up this mess rather than pretend there is no mess. Mostly I know that I’ve felt like puking since hearing that, after finding myself speechless and powerless to confront it. I’m open to suggestions here. But I’m not open to hate with a thin layer of BUT covering it. Some words should never be followed by BUT and those are some words. They should be followed by a long pause, a moment of silence and mourning, and then a huge AND where the truth is faced. But (damn that word!) I don’t know how to be the change that needs to happen here. I don’t know how (or if it’s even possible in this specific instance) to actually go about doing it.