On July 23, 1968, just a few short months after Martin Luther King’s death, Jürgen Moltmann gave the opening lecture at the World Student Christian Federation Conference in Turku, Finland. The title of his lecture was “God in Revolution”, in which Moltmann offers a series of theses (the text of this lecture can be found in Religion, Revolution and the Future). A while back, The PostBarthian shared an excellent selection from this lecture: Thesis 5, on the dialectic of siding with the oppressed. In that section, Moltmann used Martin Luther King Jr. as a prime example of why Christians are to side with the downtrodden:
Martin Luther King, Jr., sided with the blacks and the poor. He organized protest movements and strikes. These actions were directed against the white racism and the capitalistic society in his country. But at the same time he was constantly concerned about the white people, unredeemed and enslaved by their pride and anxiety. He mobilized the marches of the blacks and the poor, not for revenge against the whites but for the redemption of the black and white alike from their mutual estrangement.
Below is Thesis 6 from this same speech, which I offer as a supplement to today’s post on James H. Cone’s critique of nonviolence. Moltmann, like Cone, is cautious about urging oppressed people to embrace total nonviolence. Instead, he encourages people to be mindful of justified vs unjustified violence. If the oppressed must take up arms against their oppressors (which has happened so many times in history) they must be very careful lest they become oppressors too! Continue reading Moltmann on Justified vs Unjustified Use of Force
For some time, I have had a strong sermon-on-the-mount (pacifist? nonviolent?) impulse when it comes to my political theology. While a few years ago I might have gone so far as to identify as something of an Anabaptist on this issue (what can I say? I was listening to a lot of Greg Boyd podcasts!), I’ve since found Moltmann’s more nuanced approach to be helpful: The Kingdom of God is not a peaceable kingdom (jib-jab at Hauerwas!) but a peacemaking kingdom. Moltmann shares that when he returned home from the prison camps after WWII, he vowed to never pick up a weapon again – but if he was given an opportunity to kill a tyrant, he would do so!
The method of nonviolent resistance is something I’ve always admired in Martin Luther King Jr. In Stride Toward Freedom, King describes his approach this way:
My study of Gandhi convinced me that true pacifism is not nonresistance to evil, but nonviolence resistance to evil. Between the two positions, there is a world of difference. Gandhi resisted evil with as much vigor and power as the violence resister, but he resisted wi th love instead of hate. True pacifism is not unrealistic submission to evil power, as Niebuhr contends. It is rather a courageous confrontation of evil by the power of love, in the faith that it is better to be the recipient of violence than the inflicter of it, since the latter only multiplies the existence of violence and bitterness in the universe, while the former may develop a sense of shame in the opponent, and thereby bring about a transformation and change of heart.
As you may gather from my previous post, James Cone is a big fan of Martin Luther King Jr. When I first started to read Cone, I was surprised to rather quickly discover that one area where he differs from his hero MLK is on nonviolence, an area of King’s thought that I (like many others) have found to be so compelling. Cone claims that King’s “dependence on the analysis of love found in liberal theology and his confidence that ‘the universe is on the side of justice’ seem not to take seriously white violence in America.” In this probing passage of God of the Oppressed, Cone explores the topic of violence vs nonviolence in America as it relates to the black struggle for liberation, offering a scathing critique of nonviolence (which I should point out is not quite the same as defending violence). I’m inclined to agree with Cone at least on this point: it is especially problematic for oppressors [including all who benefit from systems of oppression] to urge the oppressed to keep their cool and walk in the nonviolent way of love.Continue reading James H. Cone’s Critique of Nonviolence
Martin Luther King Jr’s name doesn’t seem to come up much in scholarly theological conversation these days, and that’s too bad. He is frequently discussed as an important figure in history, an inspiring civil rights leader, even as an amazing Christian pastor and preacher…. but theologian?
It also became clear to me between 1975 and 1980 that I personally could not authentically frame a “theology in context” and a “theology in movement” (liberation theology, black theology, feminist theology), for I am not living in the Third World, am not oppressed, and am not a woman. In those years, I tried as best I could to let the voices of silenced men and women be heard in the world too – the world in which I myself live. I initiated translations and provided them with commendatory prefaces. I wrote essays supporting liberation theology and feminist theology, African theology and Korean Minjung theology. But all this did not blind me to the fact that my life and my context are not theirs.
Jürgen MoltmannThe Trinity and the Kingdom, p. vii.
Before reading Moltmann, I was almost completely unfamiliar with liberation theology, aside from an outside reference here or there (generally not in a favorable light!). I found that Moltmann would write frequently on themes of liberation, sometimes in direct conversation with liberation theologians (some of whom he calls “friends”). Though Moltmann himself could not be a liberation theologian (as he explains in the quote above), he has devoted a considerable amount of energy into making sure that the cry of the oppressed for God found in liberation theologies be heard by a broader audience.
So, based on Moltmann’s commendations, I decided to check out a book by a black liberation theologian – God of the Oppressed, by James Cone.