Dorothee Soelle’s Radical Theology of Sin and Liberation

Dorothee Soelle, 1981 (Image Source)

“If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14-15, NLT)

I very much enjoyed Dorothee Soelle’s short theological autobiography, Against the Wind (for a taste of it, see my previous post “A Radical Christian Creed“).   In that book she cited the early work of Johann Baptist Metz and Jürgen Moltmann along with her own Political Theology as core texts for political theology as a movement. This, of course, sent me on a bit of a rabbit trail with my reading… I shared some quotations from Metz’s contribution a while back (here, here and here), and I also recently read Soelle’s book on this topic and have been meaning to share a bit about it.

One of Soelle’s most famous statements is that “every theological statement must be a political statement as well.” This sentiment seems to be a driving force behind the social conception of sin that she articulates in her Political Theology. So we shouldn’t be surprised to find that for Soelle “the sinner is the collaborator (seemingly harmless from the point of view of the natural consciousness) of a structurally founded, usually anonymous injustice. Accordingly, for political theology sin would be collaboration and apathy.” (89) This is in striking contrast to the more popular individualistic conception of sin, which Soelle scathingly criticizes: Continue reading Dorothee Soelle’s Radical Theology of Sin and Liberation

A Radical Christian Creed (by Dorothee Soelle)

Dorothee Soelle (1929 – 2003). Image Source.

On a bit of a whim I recently started reading Dorothee Soelle’s short autobiography, Against the Wind: Memoir of a Radical Christian (Fortress Press, 1999). And I’m glad I did.

In our culture, many people get very uncomfortable with the mixing of faith in politics (in no small part in reaction to the Christian Right in America). But for feminist theologian Dorothee Soelle, our faith  should always be political:  “Every theological statement has to be at the same time a political one.” (38) From what I’ve read of her story so far, this seems to be an apt descrition of the way that she lived and did theology. The type of politics that characterized her theology was decidedly left-of center, which she saw as having resonance with a plain reading of the Bible, especially the Hebrew prophets and the Gospels. For example, she defended her use of Marx this way: 

Later, I often became impatient when Christian believers asked me, “Are you a Marxist?” The best reply that came to mind was this counter-question: “Do you brush your teeth? I mean, now that the toothbrush has been invented?” How could you read Amos and Isaiah and not Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels? That would amount to being ungrateful to a God who sends prophets among us with the mssage that to know Yahweh means to do justice. Do we not have to make use of every analytical tool that helps us both to comprehend the sources of injustice? Should we not recognize  at the same time that the victims of injustice are the possible forces for change that breaks the yoke of oppression of both victim and perpetrator? Could we afford to ignore Marx in a time when it should be clear to every attentive observer of the misery of developing countries that capitalism is neither able nor willing to end hunger? (47-48) 

She also questioned the assumed divide between “religious” and “political” reasons for her activism, and seemed increasingly baffled by people who would make such distinctions:

When asked by a radio reporter from Arizona whether I supported the struggle of sanctuary  for political or religious reasons, I countered by asking wheher he had ever read the Bible. If yes, how  could he ask such a question? Was Jesus, in his opinion, a refugee for political or religious reasons when his parents took him to Egypt in order to save him from the death squads of King Herod? And was Jesus crucified for religious or political reasons? The more I read the Bible, the less I understood such questions. (52)

In the late 1960’s she helped lead prayer services called  “Political Evensongs” that seem to exemplify this undifferentiated blend of religion and politics: 

Our pattern was to provide political information integrated with biblical texts, a brief address, calls for action, and finally, discussion with the gathered congregation. The basic elements of all subsequent Evensongs were informatin, meditation, and action. (38)

Below is a confession of faith that she shared at one such event on October 1, 1968 in Cologne, which roused no small amount of critique (including at least one charge of heresy). i have no doubt that many in our pews would sit uneasy if this were read aloud in our church serviices. But whatever we make of it, it is certainly a great example of theological statements that are also political ones!

CREDO
I believe in God
who created the world not ready made
like a thing that must forever stay what it is
who does not govern according to eternal laws
that have perpetual validity
nor according to natural orders
of poor and rich,
experts and ignoramuses,
people who dominate and people subjected.
I believe in God
who desires the counter-argument of the living
and the alteration of every condition
through our work
through our politics.

I believe in Jesus Christ
who was right when he
“as an individual who can’t do anything”
just like us
worked to alter every condition
and came to grief in so doing
Looking to him I discern 
how our intelligence is crippled,
our imagination suffocates,
and our exertion is in vain
because we do not live as he did

Every day I am afraid
that he died for nothing
because he is buried in our churches,
because we have betrayed his revolution
in our obedience to and fear
of the authorities.
I believe in Jesus Christ
who is resurrected into our life
so that we shall be free
from prejudice and presumptuousness
from fear and hate
and push his revolution onward
and toward his reign

I believe in the Spirit
who came into the world with Jesus,
in the communion of all peoples
and our responsibility for what will become of our earth:
a valley of tears, hunger, and violence
or the city of God.
I believe in the just peace
that can be created,
in the possibility of meaningful life
for all humankind,
in the future of this world of God.
Amen
(39-40)

A Silent Cry – Johann Baptist Metz’s WWII Story

Johann Baptist Metz

“Metz is always good for a surprise”
-Jürgen Moltmann

Until now, my (very limited) exposure to Johann Baptist Metz has been pretty much entirely second hand. I have known that, along with Jürgen Moltmann and Dorothee Sölle, Metz is considered to be something of a founder of what is called “political theology”. John Cobb interacts with these three theologians almost exclusively in his book, Process Theology as Political Theology, which is available to read online in its entirety via Religion Online. For these three theologians (all of whom come from Germany and are members of the generation that was coming of age under the Nazi regime), the events of WWII had a framing effect on their theological development.

Continue reading A Silent Cry – Johann Baptist Metz’s WWII Story