April 9, 2013
I don’t speak German. I wish I did. That amazing language wasn’t offered in my Long Island high school or even in any neighboring school when I was growing up. The memories, the wounds of the Holocaust were still very raw. I remember parents of some of my classmates saying they would never buy, or even ride in, one of those new Volkswagens that were becoming popular in the early 1960s here.
When I was selected in 1987 as the first Washington representative of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, I began to get clued in to the German heritage of the LCMS. As part of my responsibilities, I would visit many Midwestern congregations of this confessional church body. Older people in those congregations had grown up in the Missouri Synod at a time when German was used in all church services, in all LCMS parochial schools. They would speak Deutsche to me. I would politely answer them—in Russian.
The LCMS members had fought hard to protect their linguistic heritage. They even went to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1923 to fight back against a xenophobic Nebraska state law that had banned teaching in a foreign language, any modern foreign language.
America had just emerged victorious from World War I and the anti-German sentiment was high. But the Supreme Court in the case of Meyer v. Nebraska sided with LCMS in what became a first important ruling on parents’ rights before the High Court. Shortly thereafter, the Court went further, in the case of Pierce v. Society of Sisters. In that Oregon case, a Ku Klux Klan-inspired referendum had outlawed all private education.
The Court said no, declaring: “the child is not the mere creature of the state.” Pierce is a more far-reaching case than Meyer, to be sure, but what was at issue in Meyer was not just the right of parochial Lutheran schools to teach members’ children in German, it was the right of those kids’ parents to seek the education that comported with their deeply held values.
This is a right not recognized by the modern democratic German government. So admirable in so many ways, the German government nonetheless persecutes home schoolers.
The Romeike (roh-MIKE-uh) family of home schoolers had to flee their native land and has sought refuge here in America. The Obama administration wants to deport this wholly innocent family from their Tennessee home. You can push back against this shameful attempt by visiting the Home School Legal Defense Association’s website. You can help by signing their petition.
Issues of faith and nation were to be seen once again in this amazing story of the Bible of Johann Sebastian Bach. When I would be introduced around Washington as the LCMS’s representative, I would often be teased with: “Ah yes, the Missouri Synod Lutherans—Bach, bier, und Bibel.”
I understood enough German to say, that should be “Bibel, Bach, und bier.” This YouTube video tells the amazing story of the miraculous discovery of Bach’s Bible and its preservation from the clutches of Hitler’s Nazis, as well as the perils of Allied bombing and Russian pillaging.
This much German we can all share: Gottes wort bleibt in Ewigkeit. “God’s Word stands Forever!”