The Church and Politics (Moltmann Style)

I’ve been on a bit of an “ethics” kick over the last couple months, having tackled Ethics by Deitrich Bonhoeffer, The Politics of Jesus by John Howard Yoder, and The Violence of Peace by Stephen Carter.

I’m trying to squeeze in at least one more book on Christian political ethics before the election: On Human Dignity: Political Theology and Ethics by my 2012 favorite theologian, Jurgen Moltmann.

A certain line of Moltmann’s thought provides an interesting contrast to something that came up in popular media last week: Pulpit Freedom Sunday, championed by (among others) Wesleyan pastor Jim Garlow (here is an interview Garlow did on the Colbert Report). Just yesterday, thousands of pastors across America “stood up for their right” to free political speech from the pulpit by endorsing specific American political philosophies, platforms, parties and candidates to their respective congregations. You know, as a way of thumbing their noses at the IRS for making their tax-exempt status contingent on not doing such things.

Like Garlow, Moltmann thinks that political freedom for the church is important… but for an entirely different reason:

“What is Christian is the championing of the neighbor’s right, the defense of the other, thus the renouncing of one’s own rights.” (On Human Dignity, p 10)

There’s nothing uniquely Christian about standing up for our own rights. Everyone does that. What is Christian is to put our neighbor’s rights above our own, leveraging what “religious freedom” we have towards the liberation of others. This, says Moltmann, is Christian witness to the triune God.

Christianity understands itself as witness to the triune God who liberates human beings from inward and outward inhumanity, who allows them to live in his covenant, and who leads them to the glory of his kingdom. Christians therefore stand up for the dignity of human beings out of which emerges their rights and duties. For the sake of God they will stand up with all means at their disposal, acting as well as suffering, for the dignity of human beings and their rights as the image of God. For their service to the humanity of persons they need the right to religious freedom, the right to form a community, and the right to public speech and action.
~On Human Dignity, p 35