Luther’s Anti-Semitism Back to Life

by Petra Heldt
August 25, 2016

Lutheran Churches worldwide are getting ready to honor the 500th anniversary of their founder Martin Luther. Martin Luther’s well-known anti-Semitic diatribes and biblical commentaries have been worked through and are in disrepute with many Lutheran Christians. A generation ago, in 1994, the Lutheran leadership in the US, “in concert with the Lutheran World Federation” (LWF) condemned Luther’s anti-Semitism and expressed its desire to “love and respect” the Jewish people:

“In concert with the Lutheran World Federation, we particularly deplore the appropriation of Luther’s words by modern anti-Semites for the teaching of hatred toward Judaism or toward the Jewish people in our day. Grieving the complicity of our own tradition within this history of hatred, moreover, we express our urgent desire to live out our faith in Jesus Christ with love and respect for the Jewish people.”

At that time the LWF was under the leadership of President Gottfried Brakemeier, a Brazilian of German origin, and a Professor of theology. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) was headed by the Presiding Bishop Herbert W. Chilstrom. Both clergy are still well-respected men of faith who have set the Lutheran Church on a recognizable Christian track. Now, that effort seems to be lost under the influence of two present Lutheran leaders, LWF President Munib Younan and ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton.

Lutheran anti-Semitic hatred of old against the Jewish people is back to life. This became clear, again, at the triennial assembly of the ELCA in New Orleans, August 8–13, under the title “Freed and Renewed in Christ: 500 Years of God’s Grace in Action.” Celebrating such an acclaimed kind of freedom and renewal, the assembly approved of the destruction of Israel in the Memorial on “peace with justice in the Holy Land.” There were two resolutions, one to end all US aid to Israel and one to divest from Israel. Both resolutions, de facto, intend the destruction of the State of Israel. The anti-Israel character of the resolutions fits the old-style Lutheran anti-Semitic diatribes.

The resolutions were spearheaded by a group within the ELCA called “Isaiah 58.” It is a self-described “group of Lutherans working for peace and justice in the Holy Land.” The head of the group is named as Jan Miller, a Rocky Mountain Synod member. Information about Jan Miller leads to the initiative “Peace and Walls” where he is listed under the “Rocky Mountain Synod Peace and Walls Working Group” and as a “trip planner” for June 2016 to the Holy Land.

The website informs:

“Peace and Walls connects ELCA members to our Palestinian Lutheran companions — promoting dignity, full respect for human rights, healing and reconciliation. With our companions in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL) and the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), we also accompany Palestinians and Israelis, Jews, Christians and Muslims working together for peace with justice.”

There are two sources recommended for a successful trip. One is the book by Bethlehem Lutheran pastor Mitri Raheb, Faith in the Face of Empire (2014), which recommends Islamic sharia law as the remedy against Israeli occupation. The other is the 2009 Kairos Palestine Document of the World Council of Churches (WCC), which aims for the elimination of the State of Israel. One of its authors is the Head of the Lutheran World Federation, who is also the presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL). It is precisely that connection between the ELCA Synod and ELCJHL plus LWF that Miller wished to consolidate with a trip in June 2016. This was the mental boost given to successfully lobbying those two anti-Semitic ELCA resolutions.

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