In 1998, marking the 60th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the Lutheran Church of Bavaria issued a declaration on Christians and Jews. This declaration may be instructive to us as Seventh-day Adventists as it is an example of another church's struggle to come to terms with the history of Christian persecution of the Jewish people.
Christians and Jews: A Declaration of the Lutheran Church of Bavaria
I find several statements in the declaration to be especially interesting. The first is an acknowledgement of Christian responsibility for the persecution of Jews.
... there came about the frightful persecutions and murders of Jewish persons, in which Christians participated, which were initiated by Christians or tolerated by Christians.
The path to a fresh start in the relationships of Christians and Jews has to begin with an understanding of the complicity of Christians in the persecution and destruction of children, women, and men of Jewish origin (the Shoah, the Holocaust). The Shoah represents a deep challenge to Christian teaching and practice.
The declaration goes on to acknowledge the anti-semitism of Martin Luther and the necessity for the church to “distance itself” from anti-Judaism in Lutheran theology. Obviously the Lutheran church has closer ties to Martin Luther than Adventism and the Lutheran Church of Bavaria would feel an especially strong sense of responsibility as it is the home of the Nazi party. Nevertheless, Adventists generally look favorably upon Martin Luther as a spiritual forebear; we have not yet been forced by circumstances to confront his anti-semitism.
It is imperative for the Lutheran Church, which knows itself to be indebted to the work and tradition of Martin Luther, to take seriously also his anti-Jewish utterances, to acknowledge their theological function, and to reflect on their consequences. It has to distance itself from every [expression of] anti-Judaism in Lutheran theology.
The declaration describes some specific ways in which this “distancing” should be implemented.
In contrast to the familiar practice, every denigrating contrast of Jewry (also Jewish groups, for example, the "Pharisees") or substantive content of Jewish religion (for example, the "Law") to the Christian gospel must be given up...
Also of great interest is the declarations statement on the continuity of Israel's election.
Israel remains, according to statements of the New Testament (Rom. 11: 1), God's elect people. Its election is not canceled through the election of the church from the Jews and pagans. The Christian faith holds fast to the unrevoked election of Israel. Its reason for this rests in the faithfulness of God to keep God"s promises.
According to the entire biblical evidence, God has fixed the Jewish people in permanent relationship to God. This perspective is confirmed in the New Testament and is especially clearly expressed in Paul"s Epistle to the Romans: "The gifts and calling of God are beyond repeal" (11:29). God"s faithfulness remains inviolable, regardless of human conduct.
A Christian responsibility for fostering and aiding in the crimes of the Third Reich is acknowledged by the declaration.
The Lutheran Church of Bavaria, together with other churches, knows itself to be co-responsible for anti-Jewish thoughts and actions that made possible or at least tolerated the crimes of the "Third Reich" against children, women, and men of Jewish origin... The concrete involvements, neglect, and silence about the murder of the Jews are to be investigated thoroughly.
The Adventist Church of Austria and Germany have also made a statement of apology for the cooperation of the church with the Nazi government. The Adventist statement did not, however, discuss any theological factors or adjustments with regard to that history.