Rev. Stephen Marsh wrote this commentary on the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation for the newsletter at Lake Edge Lutheran Church on Madison’s east side, where he is co-pastor.
Protestants in general and Lutherans in particular have been recognizing this year 2017 as the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the historical period known as the Reformation.
In 1517, Martin Luther’s insistence on speaking truth to power to the Catholic church and its benefactors resulted in the beginnings of what became—and still are—various Protestant factions and denominations (a “protestant” originally being one who “protests”). As the influence of these various factions grew in practically every area of ordinary life, the Christian Church as a whole—both Protestant and Catholic—had a huge role in the building, shaping and identity of the world humanity has inhabited for the past ve hundred years.
As a pastor in a faith community whose values and vision include inviting diversity into an ever-widening community, sowing seeds of God’s love and mercy, and embracing the challenge to move from fear to faith to action, I would be remiss if I did not remind us at this commemorative time that the past 500 years has been a living hell for people of color in this world.
And it has been a living hell that the Christian Church—both Protestant and Catholic—had a huge role in supporting, legitimizing, and even giving theological and ecclesiastical blessing to. And in the wake of that support, legitimization, and blessing, people of color all around the world have been invaded, overpowered, captured, tortured, slaughtered, enslaved, raped, dis- possessed, disenfranchised, de-culturalized, de-legitimized, dehumanized, belittled, denied, discriminated against, legislated against, and consigned to hell—both here and in the afterlife. All in the name of Jesus!
It was allowed and carried out in part by Christian people of European descent and their descendants who had inherited a strong, non-pluralistic belief in their own superiority, and crowned themselves the standard-bearers of the human race— with the blessing of the God that was discerned to have purposed it so.
There are many Christians today who can begin to discern some of the many things that are wrong with that picture.
One of them is that both the Christian Church and the ecclesiastical Reformation started by Luther and others were supposed to be agents of freedom, love, inclusiveness, moral authority, cultural cooperation, a widening of spiritual boundaries, contextual interpretation of the Bible, and attention to the justice agenda of Jesus. Instead, we nd the Christian Church today to still be one of the most segregated and sexist institutions we have, with roots planted deeply into the soil of racial and cultural oppression, misogyny, and heterosexism.
And so, 500 years later, the question of the hour can scripturally be “What then shall we say to this?” (Rom.8); or it can practically be “what then shall we do about this?”
We are blessed to have a team concept of ministry here at Lake Edge that is becoming less and less afraid to name and explore some of the things that we know divide us as a society and a community, and in the process are learning more and more about things we didn’t know— but need to know—if we are to be- come the wounded healers, the justice-bearers, and the peace-makers that the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ encourages and empowers us to become.
As we seek to continue to move from fear to faith to action, let us pray to also be moved from reformation to transformation to actualization in our visions and values of diversity, inclusiveness, and love.
So that 500 years from now, our biological and ecclesiastical descendants won’t have to have these same conversations.
In Faith and Struggle,