Today in my class on the history of Christianity, I learned that the reformer Martin Luther was a horribly amoral person. To be fair, he was distressed by the church’s selling of indulgences, which exploited the poor. However, he also advocated for Christians to burn down Jewish synagogues or schools, burn down Jewish houses, and kill or torture rabbis.

Yep, one of the primary figures of the reformation advocated murder.

Luther promoted what he called “sharp mercy” toward the Jews, which can be summarized in the following seven points:

(1) burn their schools and synagogues; (2) transfer Jews to community settlements; (3) confiscate all Jewish literature, which was blasphemous; (4) prohibit rabbis to teach, on pain of death; (5) deny Jews safe-conduct, so as to prevent the spread of Judaism; (6) appropriate their wealth and use it to support converts and to prevent the lewd practice of usury; (7) assign Jews to manual labor as a form of penance.

You can read more about it here.

Violence is humanity’s drug of choice, and church’s relapses throughout history show just how strong our addiction is. Thomas Aquinas, for example, advocated the death penalty as a justified punishment for heresy. This, of course, aligns with Jesus’ famous teaching that “If someone teaches things that aren’t true, it’s probably best to cut off their head” (sarcasm).

As distressing as these advocations may be, we must also keep in mind that many other Christians throughout history, such as Erasmus, who was a contemporary of Luther’s, have bravely combatted the violence of their day and sought to bring a message of nonviolence as inseparable from the gospel and the Kingdom of God.

Unfortunately, we too often give attention to theologians who attempted to use the name of Christ to advocate or justify violence. However, I believe it’s time for us Christians to do our homework and give voice to our brothers and sisters throughout history who were courageous peace makers. Whenever we come across writings by our predecessors that speak out against violence and oppression, we ought to share these statements to demonstrate how the Holy Spirit works throughout history to combat one of humanity’s gravest temptations. We may need to do extra research and find the voices of those who were squelched by lovers of violence, but I think it’s a task well-worth the endeavor.

I shall conclude by a selection from Desiderius Erasmus:

And it happens many times, that the brother fights with the brother, one kinsman with another, friend against friend; and in that common furious desire often times one thrusts his weapon quite through the body of another that never gave him so much as a foul word. Truly, this tragedy contains so many mischiefs, that it would abhor any man’s heart to speak of it. […]

But we run headlong to destroy others, even from that heavenly sacrifice of the altar, whereby is represented that perfect and ineffable knitting together of all Christian men. And of so wicked a thing, we make Christ both author and witness. Where is the kingdom of the devil, if it be not in war? Why do we draw Christ into war, with whom a brothel-house agrees more than war? Saint Paul disdains that there should be any discord so great among them. What if he should come and behold us now through all the world, warring for every light and trifling cause, striving more cruelly than any heathen people, and more cruelly than any barbarous people? Yea, and you shall see it done by the authority and exhortations of those that represent Christ, the prince of peace. […]

There is one special precept, which Christ called his, that is,charity [love]. And what thing is so repugnant to charity as war? Christ saluted his disciples with the blessed fortune of peace. To his disciples he gave nothing except peace. […] In those holy prayers, he specially prayed the Father of heaven, that in like manner as he was one with the Father, so all his, that is to say, Christian men, should be one with him. Lo, here you may perceive a thing more than, more than amity, more than concord. [1]

[1] Exploring Christian Heritage: A Reader in History and Theology edited by C. Douglas Weaver, Rady Roldan-Figueroa, and Brandon Frick. pg. 83-84.