The command “Resist!” screams at me daily now from my Facebook feed. Since the election of President Trump, the word has steadily returned to our collective vocabulary. And there seems to be no end to the popular icons used to ask me to resist: Smokey Bear, Princess Leia, and Uncle Sam appear on posters under the same heading… Resist!
Which leads me in a roundabout way to Martin Luther. Until recently my view of Luther was an inspired reformer and resistance leader who took the indulgences and atrocities of the Roman Catholic Church to task with his 95 theses, fueling the Reformation. In other words, a very simplistic, generalized Protestant view. Last year, I expanded this view when reading the actual theses and some pieces of his other works at the Morgan Library’s exhibit Word and Image: Martin Luther’s Reformation. Viewing the sparring of Luther and the Pope through words and images (against my backdrop of the US election season) was poignantly timely. I began to see the human, culpable side of Luther… the other side of the coin. This expanded even further when viewing the Thomas More exhibit last month in DC. Viewing endless examples of anti-Catholic rhetoric and violence quickly turned the Reformation into a multi-faceted issue for me.
A few weeks later, when watching the documentary The Cross and the Star: Jews, Christians, and the Holocaust I heard Luther quoted “Next to the devil himself, a Christian has no enemy more cruel, more venomous and violent than a true Jew.” WTF? Next, I heard how Hitler used Luther as a German hero to support his rhetoric, and undermine the Confessing Church. So I checked out selections from Luther’s 65,000 words On the Jews and their Lies. Suggesting burning synagogues? Forbidding rabbis to preach? I’m led back down the rabbit hole of anti-semitism and Christian triumphalism from the mighty church fathers. Selected readings of St Augustine, John Crysostom, and Tertullian accompanied me back into the “Jews killed Christ” bullshit. Meanwhile, the news on my modern tv set seemed to scream “Make Christianity great (and superior) again!”
Breathe. Breathe. Breathe...