BY STEPHANIE FOX
Mt. Olivet Lutheran Church in South Minneapolis, with a membership of 12,000, is the largest Lutheran Church in the country, perhaps in the world according to some accounts. It’s not the kind of church that actively courts controversy. Located on 50th Street in a liberal section of a liberal city, the church has decided to mostly stay out of politics.
Mt. Olivet bills itself as a “servant church,” a congregation dedicated to creating change, both locally and globally, supporting food drives and other services to the community. While they did encourage members of the congregation to vote against the ban on same-sex marriage on a statewide ballot, their “political” involvement is mostly serving the poor, the disabled and the elderly.
So, when a church worker, plowing the parking area during a blizzard in February, noticed graffiti spray painted on the 10 pillars leading to the administration building, it wasn’t business as usual. The police were called, just before midnight on a Saturday. Those who had caused the damage were long gone.
Some of the graffiti included anti-Semitic and racist symbols including a swastika, “KKK” and “faggot.” But, there was also “pussy,” “dick” and other indications that this may have had little to do with the social or political but was instead probably just a youthful prank. The report to the police included the vandalism and people doing “donuts” in the parking lot.
A local artist who was once part of graffiti subculture said that spraying private property such as homes or churches was deeply frowned upon. “These were,” he said, “obviously dumb kids with nothing to do.”
Laura Trubowitz, the education director of the Anti-Defamation League Midwest said there was a 49% increase from 2016 to 2017 in anti-Semitic incidents involving teens. But that doesn’t mean that teens utilizing the Nazi salute or other symbols of hatred necessarily leads to them identifying with or joining hate groups. The real problem, she said, was that these symbols have become normalized and with the normalization comes the idea that using them is OK.
Child psychologist Julie Steck, in an interview in the Indianapolis Star on hate symbols used by teens, said that there are some teen participants who think something was funny in the moment and later in retrospect see they did something stupid and they regret it.
And, they simply may not understand these symbols’ implications. People born in the 21st century who are now teenagers and who have little or no experience with Holocaust survivors or World War II veterans, see the age of Nazi Germany as real as they do the Revolutionary War—basically ancient history. Even some of their parents have little understanding of the history of 75 years ago. One-fifth of millennials have either not heard of, or are not sure if they have heard of, the Holocaust, according to one study. But, historical ignorance may not be the only problem.
“The problem, instead, is the cartoonification of Hitlerism,” said Zack Beauchamp in an article on Vox, an online news site. “The Nazis are less of a real-life villain [and more of] a stand-in for overall villainy, the go-to insult if you want to call a political movement evil but one devoid of actual content.”
“It’s related to a problem that scholars and advocates call ‘Holocaust trivialization’: the minimization of one of the most profound historical evils through cheap and commonplace references to it,” he said.
Mt. Olivet’s response to the graffiti is not unusual. Many schools and churches have responded to increasing numbers of offensive or hate-filled graffiti by taking a discreet route. At Mt. Olivet, the graffiti was obscured immediately, with the hope that none of the congregation would have to see it.
Contacted about this, no one at the church wanted to make a statement except to say, ‘We really don’t want this in the newspaper.” Calls to the church asking for comment have still not been returned.