Luther must contend with its namesake’s vile view of Judaism

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As a Luther College alumna, I am enthusiastic to see dialogue — and disagreement! — underway at my alma mater. Luther students have an admirable passion for forming and sharing beliefs. I look back fondly on my time at Luther, during which my friends and I established and explored our own socio-political beliefs.

One of my cornerstone beliefs is this: Any healthy institution must welcome criticism in order to pursue change toward justice. Luther’s community must continue to question Luther College’s relevance in the national dialogue regarding hate speech and racism, including both present positions and historical foundation.

As described in a November 8th Chips article, Martin Luther published a book in 1543 titled “On the Jews and Their Lies”, in which he called for Jewish worship spaces and schools to be burned down; he disparaged the institution of the synagogue using sexually derogatory language directed toward women. Luther spared no expletive or toilet term in his degradation of other humans. This text did not make the reading list in my Paideia class.

Immediately following the Holocaust, antisemitism largely fell out of vogue among white Christian Americans. Newsreels of emaciated Holocaust survivors and concentration camp conditions brought the realities of antisemitic genocide to American viewership. Antisemitism faded from the mainstream, though it survived — predominantly among radical white nationalist groups and through the undercurrent of “off-color” dinner table discussions.

However, since Donald Trump’s rhetoric has gained traction, our nation has seen a resurgence in antisemitic speech and violence. The horrifying shooting at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh reaffirmed my belief that antisemitism must be met with vocal action, specifically from those of us with the privilege of not having to experience it firsthand. Sadly, many narratives mirror Martin Luther’s antisemitic hatred, and I encourage readers to learn more about the multitude of “great leaders” who have excluded and vilified our Jewish community members for centuries.

But, in 2018, Luther College must contend with its namesake’s vile view of Judaism. How do national antisemitic events give institutions like Luther the responsibility of revisiting the past? What opportunity could Luther College create for teaching and learning about Jewish culture and antisemitism?

I welcome any feedback to or conversation; please contact me at [email protected]


Claire Carpenter Henning (‘14)

With support of other alumna

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