Not everything about Martin Luther is to be celebrated. Luther’s opinions regarding Jews, many of them written in his book, On the Jews and Their Lies, are disturbing. “Set fire to their synagogues or schools… Jewish houses should be razed and destroyed… prayer books and Talmudic writings, in which such idolatry, lies, cursing, and blasphemy are taught, [should] be taken from them… their rabbis [should] be forbidden to teach on pain of loss of life and limb… all cash and treasure of silver and gold [should] be taken from them.” What Jews could do was to have “a flail, an ax, a hoe, a spade” put into their hands so “young, strong Jews and Jewesses” could “earn their bread in the sweat of their brow.” Not unlike Hitler’s “Work brings freedom” which is welded on the gates of Dachau.

Was Luther anti-Semitic? Did his attitudes pave the way for the emergence of Hitler? Was he the father of the still present anti-Semitism among western Christians?

I visited Dachau concentration camp in 2008 and again in 2013—they were sobering visits. Most of us prefer to distance ourselves from people like Adolf Hitler, who is seen by many as one of the most evil people in history. One quote I encountered there kind of jolted me and spurred me to read some more of what Hitler wrote and spoke. It seems he saw himself as a Christian leading out of Christian convictions. We do not like to think of him as “our kind of Christian” but I think it might be good for us if we looked inside and saw the same potential for evil within all of us. Here’s that quote:

There is a road to freedom. Its milestones are Obedience, Endeavor, Honesty, Order, Cleanliness, Sobriety, Truthfulness, Sacrifice, and love of the Fatherland.

It sounds like a list of North American Christian values does it not? And here’s another one that might surprise you it’s Hitler.

Today Christians stand at the head of this country… We want to fill our culture again with the Christian spirit … We want to burn out all the recent immoral developments in literature, in the theater, and in the press – in short, we want to burn out the poison of immorality which has entered into our whole life and culture as a result of liberal excess during the past few years.

It makes me shudder how much like a modern day evangelical preacher he sounds. Not only Jews were tortured and killed, but also the disabled, homosexuals, immigrants, liberals, artists, journalists, and any who would dare to resist or speak out. They were all categorized, vilified, dehumanized, and then they could be exterminated.

The fear of human difference persists in all places, including our own hearts. Do we still couch it in terms of immorality? Whom do we categorize, vilify, and dehumanize today? The Gospel is about humanization; God became a human being in Jesus Christ and those of us who claim to believe in this God are called to be human as Christ was human and to treat others as we are.

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