I am a Lutheran, an ELCA Lutheran. I am an ELCA Lutheran of German heritage. I am also a first-generation American.
My father immigrated to the United States from Canada, where German was his mother tongue, raised by parents who emigrated from Germany. My grandfather fought in the Boxer Rebellion for the Kaiser.
Dylan Klebold, one of the two shooters who planned and executed the Columbine High School massacre, was also an ELCA Lutheran. So was Dylann Roof, who sat at a Bible study with nine members of Mother Emanuel AME church before pulling out a gun and killing them all.
Both Klebold and Roof claimed some level of allegiance to the neo Nazi movement and expressed admiration for Adolf Hitler. Hitler, as students of history will recall, used his own interpretation of anti-Semitic writings of Martin Luther to justify his genocide. And sadly, at the time, many Lutherans — clerics and laity — went along with and even spoke out in support of Hitler’s actions.
However, there have not been recently calls to ban German Lutherans from entering the U.S. And no one is talking about infiltrating confirmation classes to root out extremism. I mean, it’s laughable, isn’t it?
How would you know if someone was a Lutheran? How would you identify them? By searching their pantries for a telltale casserole pan with their named marked on it in masking tape? The idea is utterly ludicrous.
So why it any less ludicrous to support a ban on Muslims entering the U.S. or suggest surveillance of their mosques? To isolate or blame an entire religion for the actions of a radicalized few?
Lutherans have long since repudiated the anti-Semitic writings of Luther, and the very basis of Lutheran theology disavows the kind of hatred Hitler espoused, as well as it’s bastardization to support his acts of horror.
The same is true for the Islamic faith and its corruption by extremists. At its core, it is a religion that espouses peace. Have people used it to justify acts of war — jihad? Absolutely. In the same way, the Bible was used to justify the crusades or Luther’s works were used to justify the Holocaust. Or more recently attacks on the GLBTQ community or bombings of abortion clinics. But people perverting a religion should never be confused with the religion itself.
As our nation deals with extremism, it is too easy to make it about a religion. Simple answers for complex situations. But it’s not about a creed. Or an ethnicity. Or a nationality. It’s about hate. It’s about radicalization. It’s about fear. (It’s also about the failure to ban semiautomatic assault rifles, but that’s a topic for another day.)
At their core, hate crimes and terrorism are about a desire to divide and to see those who aren’t like as “other.” To fail to recognize the humanity we all share. And when we respond to those acts with fear and suspicion of those who differ from us, well, then the bad guys win.
I am deeply grateful that I don’t have to live in fear of reprisal in the event that another ELCA Lutheran of German heritage with pro-Nazi leanings commits a horrendous crime or be held culpable because two already have.
But it is not enough to be grateful that “they” aren’t coming after me. Unless I stand in solidarity with my peace loving Muslim brothers and sisters who are being marginalized and living in fear of retaliation, I am complicit.
Now, more than ever, we can’t look away or ignore what is happening as the Islamic religion, and not the isolated extremists within it, are being targeted. United we stand. Divided we fall. And the consequences are staggering.