Moltmann’s Biblical Hermeneutic and the Gay Debates

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I’ve shared here previously some of Moltmann’s comments about homosexuality and gay marriage from the Emergent Village Theological Conversation with Moltmann from 2009. I thought his comments were helpful just to illustrate where Moltmann stands on that subject (which calls into question the divisive nature of it in the American church). However, one thing you don’t get from that brief exchange is “how he got there” (i.e. coming to the conclusion that “homosexuality is neither a sin nor a crime”) in terms of his biblical hermeneutic and theological method. Below is another short clip with transcript* where Moltmann reflects on why simply quoting the Bible against LGBT people doesn’t cut it. It’s not exactly an extensive exegesis of the relevant passages (far from it!), but it does seem to give us a clue. For other excerpts that I’ve shared from the Moltmann-Emergent conversation, visit here

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Protest Hope

In my previous post I shared a clip from the Emergent Village Theological Conversation with Jürgen Moltmann, where he is asked about whether atheists might be “closer to God than most theists”. Here Moltmann is asked about his concept of “protest hope”, in contrast with the “protest atheism” of his previous answer. Moltmann explains how he interprets “to wait and to hasten” (2 Pet 3:13) as “to resist and to anticipate” the coming kingdom of God. The churches must not only pray but “pray and watch”, which in his view should involve direct resistance against injustice in the world, including capital punishment, for, “after the capital punishment that Jesus suffered, there can be… no justification for capital punishment.”

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A “Theocratic” basis for Democracy

I stumbled upon this short-ish (two paragraph) section in Jürgen Moltmann’s Ethics of Hope, which summarizes his argument for “theocratic democracy”. I realize that “theocracy” is something of a loaded word in our day and age, so many of us would be hesitant to use it the way he does for fear of being misunderstood. But I think Moltmann’s argument is worth hearing out.

Today the word ‘theocracy’ is used for religious dictatorships which want to dominate everything in the name of God. That is wrong. Literally speaking, ‘theocracy’ says that all power and force belong to God alone and that it is therefore in principle withdrawn from human scope. No one has the right to rule over other human beings, for God alone is the Lord. If human beings are to rule over the earth, they have to be given the charge by God (Gen. 1.26), since ‘the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness theof, the world and those who dwell therein’ (Ps. 24:1). Understood this way, in a theocracy the fear of God permits no one to rule by the grace of God. If human beings act as representatives of other human beings, and thus exercise rule, that rule must be humanely based and answerable to God, to whom all power belongs.

Through the influence of Christianity, the cult of the God-emperor came to an end in Europe and was replaced by intercession for the ruler, for whom power was a danger and a temptation. Under the absolutism of Louis XIV, the sovereign was not answerable to the people. In the Nazi dictatorship, the Führers’ will counted as law. In the Communist totalitarian state, the party ‘was always right’. Calvinist theocracy taught absolute and total resistance to these absolute and total deifications of the state, providing the justification for the alternative of modern times: constitutional democracy. The prohibition of images and the fight against idolatry had lasting political consequences. In America, democracy is always viewed as the Christian form of the state and put in relation to the kingdom of God. It was only in the old countries of Europe that democracy counted as atheistic or relativistic, because in France it had to prevail not only against political absolutism but also against the clericalism and papism of the Roman Catholic Church. True tolerance, springing from concern for other people, is rooted in the theocracy which withdraws human beings from the absolutist claim of others or of a state. Since modern democracy was founded on the basis of universal human rights, it has a charge for humanity and a missionary character of its own: ‘To save the world for democracy.’ In this slogan parables of God’s universal kingdom of peace and his righteousness are evident.

Ethics of Hope, p. 23-24 

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

Finding our political/religious (non)identity

Nowhere is the church’s “christological identity crisis” more evident than in the political arena. I thought this particular section of Moltmann’s famous book, The Crucified God, was thought-provoking on this issue. Is it possible that with much of our “God and politics” talk (from both the “Christian right” and the “Christian left”), we have lost sight of our identity with the Crucified one? 

Bonhoeffer’s ‘existence for others’, which so much appeal has been made, becomes meaningless if one is no longer any different from others, but merely a hanger on. Only someone who finds the courage to be different from others can ultimately exist for ‘others’, for otherwise he exists only with those who are like him. And this is not much help to them. Thus we must say that, ‘as the result of the debate about [political] organization, these communities are faced with the theological question of their Christian identity as churches’. Because this question is posed not merely by the ancient traditions and institutions from which they have separated themselves, but also by those others with whom they have associated themselves in solidarity, it must be taken seriously and answered.  The identity in question here is the identity of the object of faith, for the sake of which individuals and whole groups have accepted self-emptying and non-identity and a solidarity which allows no distinction. When a Christian community feels obliged to empty itself in certain social and political actions, it must take care that its traditional religious and political identity is not exchanged for a new religious and political identity, but must sustain its non-identity. Otherwise a church which, seeking for an identity and not preserving its distinctiveness, plunges into a social and political movement, once again becomes the ‘religion of society’. It is of course no longer a conservative religion of society, but the progressive religion of what may perhaps be a better future society. It then follows those who criticize the old religion from a political point of view, only to make a religion of their new politics. But can a Christian community become the ‘political religion’ of its existing or future society, without forgetting the man from Nazareth who was crucified, and losing the identity it has in his cross?

~Jürgen Moltmann, The Crucified God (p. 16-17, my emphasis)