Martin Luther was and remains a controversial figure whose contentious legacy has been used to serve a variety of agendas over the centuries. Nowhere is this better seen than in the use of Luther as symbol during the Cold War years in the United States. As American Protestants responded to the social, cultural, and political changes that defined this period they re-interpreted Luther in surprising ways to suit their own needs. Drawing on film, Roman Catholic responses, debates among scholars, Pentecostal, ecumenical, and political representations, this essay argues that Luther’s memory, as a lieu de mèmoire, was used during the Cold War era to promote whatever cause or concern interpreters wanted to associate with his name and legacy.
This essay analyzes Christian laypeople and church leaders who hoped for a new age of political, racial, social, and religious cooperation at the beginning of the twentieth century. This new age was centered on a belief that the global rise of nationalism combined with the transformational qualities of Christian missions and ecumenical cooperation would spur a new camaraderie among diverse peoples and nations that would lead to peace and prosperity for the world. The essay explores how this pre-First World War idea for a new oikoumene arose out of a desire for reconciliation among Christian denominations and the call for the “evangelization of the world in this generation.”