Transgenderism and the Reformation: How Martin Luther Blew It

It's not every day – ideally, it's not any day – that an American Thinker contributor argues in favor of transgenderism.  To my dismay, Ryan Walters did just that yesterday in an unfortunate article (here) lionizing Martin Luther, the notorious 16th-century preacher of heresy and co-founder with Henry VIII, minus multiple headless wives, of most of Protestantism.

Walters's is a piece about speaking truth to power, about a voice in the wilderness confronting an evil institution.  The problem is that Walters tries to skip the theological substance of the Protestant revolt, begs the question on what's true, and thus pulls a false god called "personal interpretation" out of Pandora's Box.

Walters paints a bleak 16th century, where "conventional wisdom was not a politically correct moral relativism, but the orthodoxy of the Catholic Church."  (This is portrayed as bad.)  He equates the Church of medieval times with the P.C. leftist thought police of today and extols Martin Luther for speaking "for truth [sic] at a time when truth [sic] could cost him his life."

If one really wants to glorify Martin Luther, a generalized "bold reformer" archetype is about all there is to work with.  The man has little to boast of in character, temperament, or exegesis.  He, an Augustinian monk, claimed that Jesus Christ Himself was guilty of fornication (see "Tischreden" from the Weimar edition of Luther's works) and that "[i]t is not in opposition to the Holy Scriptures for a man to have several wives."  "To kill a peasant is not murder," he said, when the logical conclusions of his catechesis spurred the peasants to popular revolt.  "Let whoever can [do it] stab, strangle, and kill them like mad dogs."  Of the Jews he said, "[T]hey are nothing but thieves and robbers who daily eat no morsel and wear no thread of clothing which they have not stolen and pilfered from us by means of their accursed usury."  His hacking out seven books of the Old Testament was based on a Bible canon dreamed up by a possibly fictional council of Jews, those thieves and robbers, that occurred after the foundation of apostolic Christianity, where authority to determine the composition of the Christian Bible should naturally lie.  (Also, he didn't like longstanding Church doctrines on purgatory, the institutional priesthood, and good works, so 1 and 2 Maccabbees, the epistle to the Hebrews [!], and the epistle of James [!!], respectively, were put on the chopping block.)

He also really wanted to get busy – so he broke his willingly professed vow of priestly celibacy and proceeded to do that, with a nun he enticed out of the convent.

In modern times, Luther doesn't even make a very good Protestant.  He preached (at least in 1527) that the Blessed Virgin Mary's "soul was effected without original sin," and he believed not that the Eucharist is some sort of symbol, but rather that Jesus Christ is truly present in the consecrated bread and wine.  He wasn't even much of a fan of personal interpretation of the Bible: "Who, but the devil, has granted such license of wresting the words of the holy Scripture?  Who ever read in the Scriptures, that my body is the same as the sign of my body? or, that is is the same as it signifies?  What language in the world ever spoke so?  It is only then the devil, that imposes upon us by these fanatical men."

So what's left is to bleed the color from the man and make him as vague as possible: Vague Hero who opposes Vague Institution.  That makes for an inspiring story – like a 1500s George Washington.

The problem is that the Catholic Church and secular government, which Walters puts in parallel, are about as different as two institutions could be.  Walters attempts to sidestep theology – "[l]ooking beyond theological differences in the Protestant Reformation" – yet the matter of who has the authority to interpret Scripture is theology.  The Federal Trade Commission doesn't care about what's true; it just imposes its will.  The Catholic Church, on the other hand, cares a lot – in fact, it claims exclusively to know what's true – and that makes a huge difference in how the two institutions should be expected to operate.

The Catholic Church says, Only Christ and His Magisterium – that is, the Church – can interpret Scripture, because it makes logical sense, and because Christ Himself said so in Matthew 16:18, John 20:23, and elsewhere.  The United States government, on the other hand, appeals to consent of the governed, the general welfare, etc., setting truth as a matter above its pay grade.  So putting these two in the same "evil institution" category is untenable.  In fact, to equate the Church with the U.S. government, which emcees the murder of several stadiums' worth of unborn babies every year, is an outrageous insult to one's Catholic neighbors.  Uncle Sam has no ground to stand on when he fines a bakery $135,000 for refusing to endorse sodomy.  The Church, in stifling heresy (which can send people to Hell!), has two thousand years' worth of ground.

Walters can't justify his portrayal of good Luther and bad Church without first proving who's qualified to interpret the Bible – which, incidentally, Catholics compiled at the Councils of Hippo (393) and Carthage (397).  So he just begs the question on "truth."  To conclude from go that Luther is right and the Catholic Church is wrong makes Luther an easy hero, but look an inch deeper, and there is a better parallel.  Think of the "commonly held belief" that there are two sexes, man and woman, determined by the individual's DNA.  The evil, evil, very wrong Catholic Church professes and enforces this "commonly held belief," even against withering popular criticism and outright oppression, while the (Protestant) Church of England just declared its intention to "welcome and affirm" males who mutilate themselves in order to pretend to be girls.  Methodists, the "United" "Church" of "Christ," and...well...Lutherans are getting in on it, too. If personal interpretation is such a good thing when it comes to Scripture (that is, God's Word revealed to man, or What Is True), why not personal interpretation on "transgender" people?  Who's the defender of Walters's vaunted "truth" here: the Church, with its "commonly held beliefs" like "male and female He created them" and "abortion is evil" (see paragraph 64) and "contraception will lead to the commodification of women" – or Martin Luther, who enticed every man to become his own pope, who got every Protestant to disagree with the Protestant right next to him about "what truth means to me"?

Walters could have talked about legitimate abuses in the medieval Church – for example, the sale of indulgences.  But Catholics like Pope Boniface IX; Pope Martin IV; and the bishops who ratified the Councils of Clovesho, Lateran IV, and Ravenna had been fighting indulgence abuses for hundreds of years.  What they didn't fight was the central purpose of the Catholic Church.

The short version: There certainly are times when it's appropriate to speak truth to power.  Think Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn or Pope Pius XII (yes, that one) or even Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  But in order to qualify, you have to actually be speaking truth, and the power has to be wrong.  In the case of Martin Luther and who has the right to interpret Scripture, neither applies.

Generally, Americans love the concept of separation of Church and state.  Ryan Walters would have been well served to keep that separation in mind in telling his tale of heroic rebellion.  He would have been still better served to pick a different protagonist.  And a different antagonist.  And a different story.

Drew Belsky is American Thinker's deputy editor.  Contact him at drew@americanthinker.com.

It's not every day – ideally, it's not any day – that an American Thinker contributor argues in favor of transgenderism.  To my dismay, Ryan Walters did just that yesterday in an unfortunate article (here) lionizing Martin Luther, the notorious 16th-century preacher of heresy and co-founder with Henry VIII, minus multiple headless wives, of most of Protestantism.

Walters's is a piece about speaking truth to power, about a voice in the wilderness confronting an evil institution.  The problem is that Walters tries to skip the theological substance of the Protestant revolt, begs the question on what's true, and thus pulls a false god called "personal interpretation" out of Pandora's Box.

Walters paints a bleak 16th century, where "conventional wisdom was not a politically correct moral relativism, but the orthodoxy of the Catholic Church."  (This is portrayed as bad.)  He equates the Church of medieval times with the P.C. leftist thought police of today and extols Martin Luther for speaking "for truth [sic] at a time when truth [sic] could cost him his life."

If one really wants to glorify Martin Luther, a generalized "bold reformer" archetype is about all there is to work with.  The man has little to boast of in character, temperament, or exegesis.  He, an Augustinian monk, claimed that Jesus Christ Himself was guilty of fornication (see "Tischreden" from the Weimar edition of Luther's works) and that "[i]t is not in opposition to the Holy Scriptures for a man to have several wives."  "To kill a peasant is not murder," he said, when the logical conclusions of his catechesis spurred the peasants to popular revolt.  "Let whoever can [do it] stab, strangle, and kill them like mad dogs."  Of the Jews he said, "[T]hey are nothing but thieves and robbers who daily eat no morsel and wear no thread of clothing which they have not stolen and pilfered from us by means of their accursed usury."  His hacking out seven books of the Old Testament was based on a Bible canon dreamed up by a possibly fictional council of Jews, those thieves and robbers, that occurred after the foundation of apostolic Christianity, where authority to determine the composition of the Christian Bible should naturally lie.  (Also, he didn't like longstanding Church doctrines on purgatory, the institutional priesthood, and good works, so 1 and 2 Maccabbees, the epistle to the Hebrews [!], and the epistle of James [!!], respectively, were put on the chopping block.)

He also really wanted to get busy – so he broke his willingly professed vow of priestly celibacy and proceeded to do that, with a nun he enticed out of the convent.

In modern times, Luther doesn't even make a very good Protestant.  He preached (at least in 1527) that the Blessed Virgin Mary's "soul was effected without original sin," and he believed not that the Eucharist is some sort of symbol, but rather that Jesus Christ is truly present in the consecrated bread and wine.  He wasn't even much of a fan of personal interpretation of the Bible: "Who, but the devil, has granted such license of wresting the words of the holy Scripture?  Who ever read in the Scriptures, that my body is the same as the sign of my body? or, that is is the same as it signifies?  What language in the world ever spoke so?  It is only then the devil, that imposes upon us by these fanatical men."

So what's left is to bleed the color from the man and make him as vague as possible: Vague Hero who opposes Vague Institution.  That makes for an inspiring story – like a 1500s George Washington.

The problem is that the Catholic Church and secular government, which Walters puts in parallel, are about as different as two institutions could be.  Walters attempts to sidestep theology – "[l]ooking beyond theological differences in the Protestant Reformation" – yet the matter of who has the authority to interpret Scripture is theology.  The Federal Trade Commission doesn't care about what's true; it just imposes its will.  The Catholic Church, on the other hand, cares a lot – in fact, it claims exclusively to know what's true – and that makes a huge difference in how the two institutions should be expected to operate.

The Catholic Church says, Only Christ and His Magisterium – that is, the Church – can interpret Scripture, because it makes logical sense, and because Christ Himself said so in Matthew 16:18, John 20:23, and elsewhere.  The United States government, on the other hand, appeals to consent of the governed, the general welfare, etc., setting truth as a matter above its pay grade.  So putting these two in the same "evil institution" category is untenable.  In fact, to equate the Church with the U.S. government, which emcees the murder of several stadiums' worth of unborn babies every year, is an outrageous insult to one's Catholic neighbors.  Uncle Sam has no ground to stand on when he fines a bakery $135,000 for refusing to endorse sodomy.  The Church, in stifling heresy (which can send people to Hell!), has two thousand years' worth of ground.

Walters can't justify his portrayal of good Luther and bad Church without first proving who's qualified to interpret the Bible – which, incidentally, Catholics compiled at the Councils of Hippo (393) and Carthage (397).  So he just begs the question on "truth."  To conclude from go that Luther is right and the Catholic Church is wrong makes Luther an easy hero, but look an inch deeper, and there is a better parallel.  Think of the "commonly held belief" that there are two sexes, man and woman, determined by the individual's DNA.  The evil, evil, very wrong Catholic Church professes and enforces this "commonly held belief," even against withering popular criticism and outright oppression, while the (Protestant) Church of England just declared its intention to "welcome and affirm" males who mutilate themselves in order to pretend to be girls.  Methodists, the "United" "Church" of "Christ," and...well...Lutherans are getting in on it, too. If personal interpretation is such a good thing when it comes to Scripture (that is, God's Word revealed to man, or What Is True), why not personal interpretation on "transgender" people?  Who's the defender of Walters's vaunted "truth" here: the Church, with its "commonly held beliefs" like "male and female He created them" and "abortion is evil" (see paragraph 64) and "contraception will lead to the commodification of women" – or Martin Luther, who enticed every man to become his own pope, who got every Protestant to disagree with the Protestant right next to him about "what truth means to me"?

Walters could have talked about legitimate abuses in the medieval Church – for example, the sale of indulgences.  But Catholics like Pope Boniface IX; Pope Martin IV; and the bishops who ratified the Councils of Clovesho, Lateran IV, and Ravenna had been fighting indulgence abuses for hundreds of years.  What they didn't fight was the central purpose of the Catholic Church.

The short version: There certainly are times when it's appropriate to speak truth to power.  Think Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn or Pope Pius XII (yes, that one) or even Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  But in order to qualify, you have to actually be speaking truth, and the power has to be wrong.  In the case of Martin Luther and who has the right to interpret Scripture, neither applies.

Generally, Americans love the concept of separation of Church and state.  Ryan Walters would have been well served to keep that separation in mind in telling his tale of heroic rebellion.  He would have been still better served to pick a different protagonist.  And a different antagonist.  And a different story.

Drew Belsky is American Thinker's deputy editor.  Contact him at drew@americanthinker.com.