Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Only Nativity Scene I've Ever Felt Comfortable With

What follows is a post I recently wrote for my Christian Discipleship in a Consumer Society journal, a semester-long assignment regularly making entries for a course at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, where I'm currently in my last year of a Masters of Divinity program. Please comment! I'd love to hear what you think!

As we celebrate the Feast Day of Christ the King and begin preparations for the expectant, hopeful season of Advent, many folks (both Christian and otherwise) are probably not looking forward to the fact that Advent/ "the holiday season" is a time of the year when America's ongoing culture wars are probably the most pronounced. Things like fights over whether a child can mention the birth of Jesus in a public school, debates about whether a Christmas tree or even a nativity scene is allowed on the local town green and a common Christian lament about "the secularization/ commercialization of Christmas" around this time of the year are all too common.

While different understandings of the American concept of church/ state separation, concerns about the commercialization of Christmas and the skipping over of Advent are legitimate and thus are rightfully subjected to "spirited" public debate in our culture, there's one humble suggestion I have for my fellow sisters and brothers in Christ that would lessen tensions around this time of the year... if you have a nativity scene outside your church, make sure it conveys the good news of Christ that it's supposed to. With the exception of the nativity scene Saint John's Lutheran Church on Christopher Street in NYC had up last year, I can't really think of a particular outdoor nativity scene that does a good job of proclaiming the gospel (with some of those "living nativity scenes" as notable exceptions). Now I may think this because I haven't seen enough nativity scenes to make an honest judgement, but I do know that most of the non-Christian friends I talk with about the subject (if they notice them at all) tend to think one of two things about the nativity scenes they see sprouting up around town: 
  • Nativity scenes are sometimes offensive. This is because the human characters in nativity scenes are frequently all European American (especially odd since Jesus and everyone else except for perhaps the three kings/ magi would have been West Asian).
  • Nativity scenes are sometimes oppressive. For folks whose primary brushes with Christianity have been extremely oppressive, judgmental and perhaps even hateful, a nativity scene that doesn't proclaim the radical hospitality that Jesus is all about can simply become another reminder about all the sinful aspects of Christian history. For folks how have a sort of neutral view of Christianity but don't know the Biblical stories behind the nativity, such scenes can simply look like a bunch of pious "perfect people" standing around an empty manger with a bunch of farm animals instead of a display that proclaims God lovingly frees and welcomes in us sinners of all shapes and sizes.
So, with all that in mind, the two photos you see here are of the nativity scene outside Saint John's Lutheran Church last year in the heart of Greenwich Village. It depicts the nativity in a way that culturally translates... occupiers, a drag queen, a business man, hip-hoppers and a beat poet are all gathered around the manger with Mary and Joseph, expectantly waiting the coming of the Christ-child. What an amazingly creative way to get noticed and more importantly proclaim the gospel in a way culturally translates what Christ's coming is all about!

Many thanks to Pastor Erson for sending these pictures to me, but all the writing above reflects my thoughts and my thoughts alone. Please don't take this post as a challenge at all... I bet there's a bunch of really great nativity scenes out there! Rather, read this as an invitation to share some of those creative ways your faith community has discerned how to proclaim the gospel during Advent and Christmas.

God's peace,

Dustin is currently in his final year of a Masters of Divinity program at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, having recently completed a year as Vicar at the Lutheran Office for World Community and Saint Peter's Church in New York City. While seeking ordination in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, his focus is on the intersection between worship, service and justice in de-centralized faith communities unencumbered by a traditional church building. In his free time, Dustin likes playing frisbee, hiking and pretending to know how to sing.

LWF Youth Desk: A Journey to Climate Justice

What follows is a video presentation on sustainable development and climate justice I recorded for the Lutheran World Federation Youth Desk's recent "A Youth Journey to Climate Justice" online quiz game. For more information and to play the entire game yourself, click here. "A Youth Journey to Climate Justice" is an AWESOME resource for helping your youth group or individual teen think about the intersection between climate change and faith. Presenters in the quiz game are young adult Lutherans from around the world.

Dustin is currently in his final year of a Masters of Divinity program at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, having completed a year as Vicar at the Lutheran Office for World Community and Saint Peter's Church in New York City. Recently approved for ordination in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, his focus is on the intersection between worship, service and justice in faith communities seeking to translate the rich and ancient traditions of the Church to proclaim the good news of Christ in a post-modern world. In his free time, Dustin likes playing frisbee, hiking and pretending to know how to sing.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Martin Luther's Anti-Semitism

What follows is a book summary and review of Martin Luther's Anti-Semitism: Against His Better Judgement by Eric W. Gritsch that I recently wrote for my Church and the Holocaust course at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia. The review is meant to assist educators in congregations prepare an adult forum or in-depth study series on the sin of historic Lutheran anti-Semitism. I hope you find this helpful and I'd love to hear what you think!

As I discussed at length in my film review of The Cross and the Star earlier this month, we are at a unique point in the history of Jewish/ Christian relations. While still living under the shadow of the Holocaust, we know the horrific, sinful consequences of following many traditional Christian lines of anti-Judaic if not outright anti-Semitic thinking. Indeed, many church bodies have publicly confessed these sins, and extremely productive relationships between Jews, Christians and their respective organizations continue to thrive on all levels. Yet, as apartheid-like conditions in the Occupied Palestinian Territories worsen and as an increasing number of our Arab Christian sisters and brothers are forced to emigrate, Christians are also called to carefully, responsibly, yet boldly work for a just and lasting peace in the Holy Land. If we are to engage with this important, complex social justice issue in a responsible way, and indeed with many of our likeminded Jewish allies, we as Christians must also continue to learn about, recognize, and confess the anti-Judaic sins of our collective history.

Particularly in Lutheran congregations, Martin Luther’s Anti-Semitism: Against His Better Judgement will prove an invaluable resource for pastors and lay members preparing to lead an adult forum or even an extensive course on Christian anti-Semitism. The book is researched and authored by notable Lutheran historian Eric W. Gritsch, who despite his affiliation with the Hitler youth as a young boy grew up to be an active participant in Christian-Jewish dialog, particularly during his tenure at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg (Gritsch xiii). Through three relatively short chapters and a brief conclusion, Gritsch guides the reader through the difficult concept of anti-Semitism, the most notable of Luther’s anti-Semitic texts and finally how those texts were used by subsequent generations of Lutheran scholars. Written in an academic yet easily approachable style, Martin Luther’s Anti-Semitism allows Luther to speak on his own terms through robust and frequent quotations, all the while showing how the 16th century reformer was writing “against his better judgement.” Following a summary of its arguments and evidence, this review will briefly highlight particular strengths and weaknesses of Martin Luther’s Anti-Semitism, concluding with suggested discussion questions for use in the parish.

In the first chapter of Martin Luther’s Anti-Semitism, Gritsch provides a concise background discussion of the concept of anti-Semitism itself. After a brief etymological  history of the word, Gritsch cites a variety of sources in search of a definition. The Roman Catholic historian Edward H. Flannery for instance identifies four historic forms of anti-Semitism: the political and economic anti-Semitism of Cicero and Charles Lindberg, the theological or religious anti-Semitism of “anti-Judaism,” the nationalistic anti-Semitism of Voltaire and the racial anti-Semitism of the Nazi Holocaust (Gritsch 2). The European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia on the other hand defines a variety of actions as anti-Semitic, including an overly critical view of the modern Israeli state and one’s complete rejection of Zionism (Gritsch 4). The chapter then delves into the relationship between anti-Semitism and race, particularly highlighting Ludwig Schemann’s late 19th century adoption of Arthur de Gobineau’s concept of race to justify societal hatred of Jews (Gritsch 6).

In his discussion of scapegoating and the Scriptures, Gritsch identifies three specific Christian teachings of contempt: “1) that the Jews were deprived of a homeland and had to live in dispersion, 2) that the Jews were superseded by Christians in the promise of salvation by a new covenant, and 3) that Jews committed ‘deicide’ by crucifying Jesus who, as the ‘son of God,’ was God” (Gritsch 10). Gritsch disproves each teaching by citing scriptural evidence, most notably Paul’s teaching that there is a “one and only covenant that unites Christians and Jews” in Romans 11:27 (Gritsch 11). In a brief yet detailed history of Christian anti-Semitism/anti-Judaism, Gritsch mentions some less well-known examples of the phenomenon, including Ambrose’s defense of arsonists who burned down a synagogue and John Calvin’s belief that the promise of salvation still belonged to the Jews, but only if they converted (Gritsch 17, 26). The first chapter then concludes with Gritsch’s working definition of anti-Semitism, which he identifies at its core as “hatred of the Jews” or “the projection of stereotypes on the Jewish people as a whole that portray them as essentially evil” (Gritsch 31).

The second chapter of Martin Luther’s Anti-Semitism begins with a section on Luther’s hermeneutics. Martin Luther, who by today’s standards would have been considered a “Professor of the Old Testament,” nonetheless preached nearly thirty times more sermons on the New Testament throughout his career than on the Hebrew Scriptures (Gritsch 34). Despite his love for Genesis and especially the Psalms, Luther largely ignored early humanist historical-critical hermeneutics and thereby “intensified the traditional view of the church that Christ was prefigured in the “Old Testament” (Gritsch 35). Reading Christ into the Hebrew Scriptures in turn led Luther to distinguish between the faithful Israel of old and later “Talmudic Judaism,” cursed by God for rejecting Christ (Gritsch 35). Gritsch then delves into Luther’s commentary on Romans in detail, specifically discussing how by ignoring Paul’s teaching that Jews and Christians will be reunited by God on the Last Day , the reformer went against his better scholarly judgement and principles of interpretation (Gritsch 41). The concept of Mosaic law as leading to Christ through terrifying the conscience, the so-called “second use of the law,” is also briefly touched upon in Gritsch’s discussion of Luther’s view of Moses as doing the “alien” work of God (Gritsch 45).

Gritsch then follows the historical arc of Luther’s changing attitude towards Judaism and the Jewish people, primarily by citing textual evidence from the reformer himself. In his earlier work Luther’s anti-Semitism was grounded in the traditional Christian polemics of the day, albeit with uniquely colorful language. In his “Lectures on the Psalms” for instance, Luther employs scatological imagery to describe the Jewish rejection of the Messiah while commenting on Psalm 78:66:
But at this place, what seems to be more expressly denoted is that the recta, their innermost bowels, are sticking out through the rear, because their rear is different from the buttocks on which we sit… Their recta stick out, that is, the innermost feelings of their heart and their desires in opposition to Christ they display to the present. Therefore, the recta sticking out means that their will to harm and do evil appears, since they are not able to vomit the feces of evils against Him (Gritsch 50).
In this same period however, Luther disagreed with the medieval missionary practice of forced conversions and additionally supported a converted Spanish Jewish Hebraist’s call to the Wittenberg faculty (Gritsch 51). By 1519 Luther began preaching against the usury of his day by linking it to Judaism: “Look at those who lend wine, wheat, money, or whatever, to their neighbors, the oppress them with annual interest rates that are high than the sum of money borrowed. These are the Jewish little tricks” (Gritsch 57). Yet, in a sermon given the Saturday before Easter of 1521, Luther also spoke out against using the Passion of Christ as an occasion to be hostile to Jews.

Following his appearance before the Diet of Worms in 1521, Luther’s anti-Semitism moderated as he moved into a period described by Gritsch as “pastoral evangelism.” In “The Magnificat, Translated and Expounded,” Luther wrote, “We ought, therefore, not to treat the Jews in so unkindly a spirit, for there are future Christians among them, and they are turning everyday… If we lived Christian lives, and led them [the Jews] with kindness to Christ, there would be the proper response” (Gritsch 60). Luther’s anti-Semitism moderated in relation to practical concerns as well, as indicated in “The Estate of Marriage” in 1522: “Marriage… is like any other worldly undertaking. Just as I may eat, drink, sleep, walk, ride with, buy from, speak to, and deal with a heathen, Jew, Turk, or heretic, so I amy also marry and continue in wedlock with him. Pay no attention to the precepts of those fools who forbid it (Gritsch 61).” During this period its clear Luther believed his reforms would make Jewish mass conversion more likely, and further that such a conversion would signal the imminent eschaton (Gritsch 63). Luther even mentioned to dinner guests that he discussed messianic prophecy in the Hebrew Scriptures with three learned rabbi, likely in 1526 (Gritsch 68).

However, as the years went by with few Jewish conversions, Luther became extremely frustrated. He increasingly spoke of the Christian Church as “the new Israel,” a term brimming with supersessionism. After hearing rumors of Jewish proselytizing in 1530, he approved of Jewish/ Christian segregation in the city of Prague. By 1536, Luther even agreed with Elector John Frederick’s decision to remove Jews from his territory (Gritsch 69). By the late 1530s, Luther became convinced Jews, along with Muslims, “papists,” unitarians and radicals were part of Satan’s plan to destroy the Christian foundations of the world (Gritsch 70). In response to new reports in 1538 of Jewish proselytizing and a Christian movement committed to following the Jewish sabbath, Luther authored his first radically anti-Semitic work, “Against the Sabbatarians: Letter to a Good Friend.” In this treatise he argues there is a new Christian covenant because Jews the failed to keep their first covenant with God. Most notably, Luther concludes God is actively punishing the Jews with exile because they have rejected God’s new covenant through Christ:
In brief, since these fifteen hundred years of exile, of which there is no end in sight, nor can there be, do not humble the Jews or bring them to awareness, you may with good conscience despair of them. For it is impossible that God would leave his people, if they truly were his people, without comfort and prophecy so long… it is evident that he [God] has forsaken them, that they can no longer be his people, and the true Lord, the Messiah, must have come fifteen hundred years ago (Gritsch 73).
At a key juncture in his argument, Gritsch concludes that when Luther assumed he knew the historical fate of the Jews in “Against the Sabbatarians” and subsequent works, he went against his better judgement, namely that one should speculate about deus absconditus, the “hidden God” which God has not ordained to reveal (Gritsch 73 - 74).

Gritsch then discusses Luther’s most notable anti-Semitic work, “On the Jews and their Lies,” published in 1543. After warning his readers to expect nothing but a “den of devils” in synagogues, Luther affirms a Christ-centered reading of the Hebrew Scriptures before citing the most egregious of medieval anti-Semitic claims, including that Jews contaminate wells and kill Christian children (Gritsch 81 - 83). In a final desperate attempt to convert the Jews through what he termed “sharp mercy,” Luther encouraged Christian action that foreshadowed the horrors of Kristallnacht nearly four centuries later: “… set fire to their synagogues or schools and to bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn, so that no man will ever again see a stone or cinder of them. This is to be done in honor of our Lord and of Christendom…” (Gritsch 86). This, unfortunately, was only the first of seven similar actions Luther advised. After writing additional anti-Semitic treatises in his remaining years, Luther, although too weak to finish preaching on February 15, 1546, gave an “Exhortation Against the Jews” in which he described Jews as “public enemies,” “poisoners,” and “blood-suckers.” These were his final public words before dying three days later.

Gritsch’s final chapter summarizes how subsequent scholars used Martin Luther’s anti-Semitic writings. Only one reference to the Jews as “the prime example of divine punishment” made it into the normative Lutheran teachings of the second generation reformers, the “Formula of Concord” (Gritsch 98). Although Luther’s anti-Semitic tracks were occasionally re-published until the early seventeenth century, there were no subsequent reprints until Luther became a role model for German nationalism under Hitler (Gritsch 101). Although cited by some anti-Semitic writers, Luther’s earlier, more moderate missionary years tended to be the focus of most scholarly works. Lutheran Pietists such as Philip Jacob Spener and Count Nicholas of Zinzendorf even used Luther’s earlier writings to support their respect for Judaism (Gritsch 103). Although anti-Semitism was frequently critiqued during the Enlightenment, Luther was rarely criticized for his most egregious works until the late nineteenth century (Gritsch 105 - 111). Moving forward to Nazi Germany however, the Lutheran bishop Martin Sasse celebrated the burning of synagogues on Kristallnacht by calling for “the liberation of Germany from Jewish economic oppression” and praising Luther as “the greatest anti-Semite of his time” (Gritsch 117).

Following his third chapter, Gritsch summarizes his conclusions, which in addition to those alluded to above include that Luther moved away from his famous “theology of the cross” into a “theology of glory” in his anti-Semitic works. Indeed, perhaps the greatest strength of Gritsch’s book is that he holds nothing back from properly criticizing the reformer, even stating that “Luther’s anti-Semitism… dimmed the light of the gospel he rediscovered as part and parcel of the ancient covenant between God and Abraham” (Gritsch 141). Gritsch’s emphasis on allowing Luther to speak through his own words is extraordinary, as his discussion of how Luther’s Christo-centric hermeneutics for the Hebrew Bible partially led to his anti-Semitism. The extensive bibliography provided, including multiple film suggestions, is also helpful for those readers wishing to do further research. Finally, Gritsch’s brilliant discussion of anti-Semitism and summary of anti-Semitic Christian history allows Martin Luther’s Anti-Semitism to serve as a “one-stop shop” for those clergy and lay leaders preparing to organize an adult forum. The only weakness of the book was that although briefly alluded to on page forty-five, there was little discussion of the inherent anti-Judaism of Luther’s tight law/gospel dichotomy. Overall however, Martin Luther’s Anti-Semitism proves an amazing work Reformation scholarship, one that all Lutheran leaders should read during this unique point in Jewish/ Christian relations. We conclude with three suggested questions for group discussion:
  1. How did Luther’s reading of Christ into the Hebrew Scriptures lead to his later more vehement anti-Semitism? Is it possible for Christians to not read Christ in the Hebrew Scriptures?
  2. How did Luther’s anti-Semitism veer from “a theology of the cross” to a “theology of glory? How do we in our own churches interpret Scripture with a “theology of glory?”
  3. Knowing what you know now about Martin Luther’s anti-Semitism, what responsibilities do we have as contemporary Lutherans to move past this sinful aspect of our past?
Dustin is currently in his final year of a Masters of Divinity program at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, having recently completed a year as Vicar at the Lutheran Office for World Community and Saint Peter's Church in New York City. While seeking ordination in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, his focus is on the intersection between worship, service and justice in de-centralized faith communities unencumbered by a traditional church building. In his free time, Dustin likes playing frisbee, hiking and pretending to know how to sing.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Cross and the Star: A Resource for Unpacking Lutheran Anti-Semitism

What follows is a film review of "The Cross and the Star - Jews, Christians and the Holocaust" that I wrote this past week for my Church and the Holocaust course at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia. The review is meant to assist educators in congregations discuss Lutheran (and general Christian) anti-Semitism, especially with young people. I hope you find this helpful and I'd love to hear what you think!

Some time ago, during my first year of seminary, a member of a youth group I was working with told me a story I will never forget. A couple years ago in history class he learned about Lutheran anti-Semitism and even outright support for Nazi policies during the 1930s and 1940s. Embarking on further research, he discovered the virulent anti-Semitism of Martin Luther, particularly in the reformer’s later writings. Being in confirmation class at the time, he brought the issue up with his teacher, who in turn simply responded by saying it was no longer a problem. From that point on, the young adult told me, he did not think he could ever again consider himself a Lutheran.

We live in a time when the Church is increasingly called to carefully and responsibly work for an end to apartheid-like conditions in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and in a time when young people are better educated with easier access to global conversations than ever before. In such a context Lutherans in particular must continually work to name, confess and move forward from the anti-Semitic elements of our collective history. Although the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America officially confessed these sins in a statement to our Jewish sisters and brothers as early as 1994, congregational resources for discussing Lutheran anti-Semitism remain somewhat limited. After reviewing a number of films, I believe The Cross and the Star - Jews, Christians and the Holocaust, a documentary released in 1994 and available on Netflix, is the best resource currently available due to its concise history of Christian anti-Semitism and its use of engaging interviews with Holocaust survivors. What follows is a synopsis of the film, an evaluation of its strengths and weaknesses and a list of suggested discussion questions for use in the congregation.

Produced by John Michalczyk, a former Jesuit priest and current Chair of the Fine Arts Department at Boston College, The Cross and the Star begins by confronting the viewer with a number of provocative statements. For example, Rabbi Harold Kushner argues Christianity has regularly throughout history improved its standing in the public by denigrating Jewish communities. Rabbi Joseph Polak, a Holocaust survivor, moves even further by suggesting the New Testament’s many anti-Judaic passages should simply be de-sanctified and removed from the Bible. He does however soften this statement with recognition that such an action would leave Christian theology “in shambles.” The film then explores anti-Judaic theology of the early Church Fathers, including John Chrysystom’s characterization of Jews as “a plague” and Augustine’s belief that there is “no salvation outside the Church.” The Lateran Council, which foreshadowed future Nazi policy by requiring Jews to wear yellow stars, is also mentioned.

Moving forward in history, The Cross and Star briefly refers to the indiscriminate murder of Jerusalem’s Jews during the Crusades before discussing the anti-Semitism of Martin Luther.* After alluding to his earlier hope that Jews could be converted, Luther’s more later, more hateful words are read as “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” plays in the background: “… next to the devil himself, a Christian has no enemy more cruel, more venomous, more violent than a true Jew.” The film then forms a link between Kristallnacht and Luther’s encouragement to burn and destroy Jewish homes and synagogues. The general theological tenets of anti-Judaic Christianity are also summarized, including the beliefs that Jews deserve to suffer because they bear “the mark of Cain” and that all Jews are guilty of deicide.

Following its summary of historic Christian anti-Judaism, the film next discusses religion under Nazi Germany in detail. Although the 1933 Concordat and the weakness of the Barmen Declaration are aptly criticized, there is a glaring overemphasis on the persecution of Christians under Nazi Germany. Most notably, the Nazis are described as “at war with the Catholic Church” and clergy are listed as a major group of victims along with Jews, Roma and differently abled persons. However, there is helpful exploration of how the faith lives of both Jews and Christians were affected by the Holocaust. Dr. Vera Laska, a Jewish resistor, gives a heart wrenching interview about how she lost her faith entirely, while the poet Sonia Wetz argues we should ask “Where was man?” rather explaining how in no way did the Jews “simply go as lambs to the slaughter.”

The final portion of The Cross and the Star begins with the stories of various Christian rescuers and resistors. For instance, Kaj Munk, a Danish Lutheran pastor and playwright, was martyred for opposing the Nazi occupation in Denmark. In France, Pastor Andre Trocme led the Huguenot villagers of Le Chambon in assisting between 3000 - 5000 Jewish refugees. Pope Pius XII, while heavily criticized for not doing more to stop the Holocaust, instructed Vatican Radio to tell Catholics in Vichy France not to make distinctions between Christians and Jews. Additionally, during the Nazi occupation of Rome, many Jews were hidden directly in the Vatican. Contemporary efforts to atone for Christian complicity with the Holocaust are also discussed, including the liturgical reforms of Vatican II and Pope John Paul II’s visit to Auschwitz. Finally, the films concludes by stating the policies of “the Final Solution” did not form in a vacuum, but rather grew out of centuries of Christian anti-Judaic and anti-Semitic sentiment.

The Cross and the Star has many strengths, particularly for use with young adults. With a short fifty-two minute runtime, the film could easily be watched and discussed over two confirmation classes or youth group sessions. In packing a great deal of history and first-hand accounts into a short timespan, it serves as a strong introduction to Christian anti-Semitism without requiring additional background knowledge. Although the focus on Luther is especially useful in a denominational context, the film could provide a basis for rich ecumenical and interfaith dialogue as well. The stories of rescuers and resistors are inspiring, as are the stories of Jewish survivors struggling with their faith. The rabbis’ statements and the film’s uncompromising conclusion will jar most Christian viewers in a useful way. In a time when so few first-generation Holocaust survivors remain, the film’s many personal accounts make it an invaluable resource.

The Cross and the Star suffers from a number of weaknesses however. There is a clear Roman Catholic bent, particularly in its neglect to mention Protestant efforts to make amends and its casting of the papacy in a decidedly over-positive light. The assertion that a stronger stand by Pius XII could not have helped prevent the Holocaust seems overly pessimistic. As mentioned above, there is an over-emphasis on Nazi persecution of the Church, and particularly its clergy. Now nearly two decades old, the film is also beginning to show its age. Since the early 1990s, the myth that Hitler “brainwashed” the German population has largely been disproven by recent historical research… most bystanders did indeed know something was wrong. Furthermore, the notion that low-level conspirators were “forced” to take part in the Holocaust is simply generally untrue.

In a time when the Church is called to carefully work for justice in the Holy Land and when our global community (and especially are young adults) are more connected than ever before, it is particularly important that we as Lutherans confess and address the anti-Semitism of our collective story. Whether viewed in confirmation class, an adult forum or in an interfaith setting, The Cross and the Star can provide the necessary basis for such confession and dialogue through its concise overview of Jewish/ Christian history and its stories from first-generation Holocaust survivors. This review concludes with related discussion questions for use in the congregation:
  1. What aspects of Christian anti-Semitic history were you surprised about? What did you know before watching the film?
  2. How do you affirm your Christian faith and follow Jesus’ call to share the Good News without implicitly putting down Jews and Judaism?
  3. Do you think God was present amidst the Holocaust? If so, how? Is that even the right question to ask?
  4. Why do you think so many Christians and Lutherans in particular, both in Germany and elsewhere, showed such complicity with Nazi policies towards the Jewish people?
  5. How can we continue to make amends and strengthen our bonds with our Jewish sisters and brothers, both locally and around the world?
  6. Could something like the Holocaust ever happen again? Has it or is it already? What does Christ say to us amidst such horrible events?
* Throughout this review I carefully minded the difference between anti-Judaism, the religious opposition or hatred of the Jewish faith one finds in some New Testament passages, for example, and anti-Semitism, the racial opposition or hatred for the Jewish people.  While “race” did not exist as a category for human beings until at least the 17th century, and 
the concept of “anti-Semitism” did not exist until the 19th century, many of Luther’s diatribes are squarely leveled at the Jewish people themselves (including the quote above) and thus could be described as anti-Semitic.

Dustin is currently in his final year of a Masters of Divinity program at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, having recently completed a year as Vicar at the Lutheran Office for World Community and Saint Peter's Church in New York City. While seeking ordination in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, his focus is on the intersection between worship, service and justice in de-centralized faith communities unencumbered by a traditional church building. In his free time, Dustin likes playing frisbee, hiking and pretending to know how to sing.