“Christ is not against the Muslims. He died for them.” This was perhaps the most profound and timely statement from Moltmann during the live Homebrewed Christianity podcast interview at AAR in Atlanta on November 20th (the audio is now available to listen to online here). With all of the recent heated headlines about terrorism and Muslims (and the various responses from political and religious leaders), I thought now would be a good time to share this quote along with its extended context.
In the interview, Tony Jones had just remarked that The Crucified God seems to bring together the best of the two basic types of atonement theories, i.e., the objective (something happens with God) and subjective (something happens with us).
Moltmann added that something also happens “with the others,” and explained:
I remember it was a special hour in the German Parliament during the Cold War when a famous Protestant Minister, Gustav Heinemann, stood up and made a speech, and he was saying “Christ is not against the communists!” And the Christians protested against him. And he continued, “He died for them.” And there was silence in the parliament.
And so today we should say, ‘Christ is not against the Muslims. He died for them.” And we should accept Muslims as persons for whom Christ died. This is not to accept the Islam and the Koran etc… But meet the person with respect as a potential sister and brother of Christ.
You can listen to the audio of this exchange starting around the 37 minute mark over at Homebrewed Christianity. One of Moltmann’s most famous students, Miroslav Volf (who has written an excellent book on Islam), tweeted a similar sentiment about loving Muslims this morning, seemingly in response to the recent news that a Wheaton professor has been suspended for claiming that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. Not long ago I read Volf’s book, Allah: A Christian Response (which in part makes a case for this claim), and I plan to share some helpful insights from it here in the near future.
On Sunday Jürgen Moltmann was honored at AAR with a session titled “Moltmann and the Future of Theology”, with Douglas Meeks presiding. This was the final publicly scheduled event during Moltmann’s recent visit to Atlanta. Unfortunately I was not able to make it to AAR, so I had to rely on the ears of others to find out what transpired during this, and some of the other Moltmann-related sessions. Mark French Buchanan, author of the recently published book Embraced (which I reviewed here), was present for the event and sent me this summary:
What a terrific tribute was given to Dr. Moltmann today at the AAR seminar “Moltmann and the Future of Theology”. Some of the best theologians in the country presented short reflections on Moltmann’s contributions over the last 45 years. Miroslav Volf, Kathleen Keller, Chris Morse, Willie Jennings and Amos Yong all lifted up different aspects of Moltmann’s theology. The significance of the event grew as a combination of thoughtful reflections and personal memories were shared. Keller and Volf spoke with great insight, while sharing the formative influence of Jurgen the man had on their own theological development. In response Moltmann vigorously pointed all who were in attendance to “listen to earth”, “find a new covenant with it”, “keep a new Sabbath and a new Jubilee” as all people unite together. Confirming a theme that Keller proposed, Moltmann called those presented to receive the contributions of all “the religions of earth”. Moltmann stressed that it was in the earth that the crucified Christ lives and his way into the future can be found, Douglass Meeks closed the event by reminding us that Dr. Moltmann’s 90th Birthday celebration is coming up in just a couple months. In response a capacity crowd spontaneously rose to its feet and broke out in applause.
I’m intending to find out whether this session was recorded via audio / video and will advise my readers with any such info if/when it comes available. For now, here are some of my favorite quotables from the session that were shared by others via Twitter:
Today I stumbled upon this recent video of Jürgen Moltmann published by the Yale Center for Faith and Culture. It was recorded in New York at a private consultation that took place in June directly after Moltmann’s participation at the Barth Conference. The topic of this project is “God and Human Flourishing” and the essay delivered by Moltmann was titled “Expectation and Human Flourishing.” Enjoy!
For Moltmann’s previous contribution to a previous YCFC event on Theology of Joy, see Moltmann’s essay here and his corresponding interview with Miroslav Volf here.
Below is a little Easter egg from “Love: The Foundation of Hope.” This clip appears after a little dead space after the end credits in the VHS tape. It features Moltmann talking about the need for “contestation” in theology – It is better for us to dialog in disagreement than to accept “cheap reconciliation” where we accept differences but do not talk at all. For Moltmann, the case in point here is the need for Western theologians to hear the voices of contestation in Latin American Liberation theology. This clip closes with some words from an important Latin American liberation theologian, José Míguez Bonino, on the “non-necessity” of the present evil. (The part with Bonino appeared in the part 4, but – unless I missed it – Moltmann’s words in this short video do not appear elsewhere)
Some of you may be aware that Jürgen Moltmann participated in a Trinity Institute Conference at Trinity Church in 2007 (which, by the way, can be found online and is one of the best bits of free Moltmann video around!). I recently discovered that about twenty years prior to that, in 1986, Jürgen Moltmann and his wife Elisabeth Moltmann-Wendel were honored guests at a previous Trinity Institute Conference, titled “Love: The Foundation of Hope.” And like the more recent one, it too was recorded! Highlights were nicely edited into four fifteen minute sections and published as a VHS tape designed for individual or group study at local churches as a companion to a book published under the same name. The opening paragraphs from the book provide helpful background information about this conference:
This volume focuses on the life and work of two distinguished theologians, Jürgen Moltmann and Elisabeth Moltmann-Wendel. The chapters were presented in April 1986 at a transcontinental festival in their honor in New York, St. Louis, and San Francisco sponsored by Trinity Institute. The occasion for the celebration was the Moltmann’s sixtieth birthdays, which occurred in 1986.
Trinity Institute is a national program of theological renewal supported by the parish of Trinity Church in New York City. Its primary purpose is the stimulation of theological inquiry for the practice of Christian ministry. Each year since 1968, Trinity Institute has brought together renowned theologians and church leaders with clergy and laity from the Episcopal church to explore issues of critical importance to church and society.
In 1986, the Institute’s national conference featured the Moltmanns and ten other Christian scholars from across the continent and around the globe: Jose Miguez Bonino (Buenos Aires, Argentina); Frederic Burnham (New York City); Hans Frei (New Haven, Connecticut); James Kaluma (Namibia, Africa); Charles McCoy (Berkeley, California); Douglas Meeks (St. Louis, Missouri); Christopher Morse (New York City); Letty Russell (New Haven, Connecticut); Stephen Sykes (Cambridge, England); and Susan Thistethwaite (Chicago, Illinois). The conference was a gathering of theological colleagues who shared an appreciation of the profound contribution that the Moltmanns have made in the past three decades to the worldwide Christian community’s understanding of itself and its mission but who also sough to extend those insights into new theological territory.
I’ve obtained permission from the parish to digitize and publish the content in this VHS tape. My plan is to publish one segment a day this week until they are all online, complete with the notes for group discussion.
This first session includes contributions from Jürgen Moltmann, Christopher Morse, Stephen Sykes, and Hans Frei! Below the embedded video you’ll find the group discussion content (introductory and for session 1) from the pamphlet. Continue reading Love: The Foundation of Hope (Part 1)
I’ve shared a bit before about Jürgen Moltmann’s relationship to death row inmate (and fellow theologian!) Kelly Gissendaner (which received national attention via a story in the New York Times, and later other news outlets). On Monday, June 22, at the 2015 Karl Barth Conference, Jürgen Moltmann participated in a panel discussion with Eric Gregory and Dan Migliore. At the end of this conversation (prompted by Migliore), he shared a prepared statement telling the heartfelt story of how he came into friendship with Kelly Gissendaner. This portion begins at about 1:52:13 in the video embedded below. I’ve also typed up a transcript of his words for easy access, which you’ll find below the video. In the final paragraph he expresses a profound disgust for the retributive justice of the American prison system, offering a concise summary of his critique of the death penalty. Moltmann has long been firm in his opposition to the death penalty (see here and here), seeing this opposition as an expression of “protest hope“.
Panel Discussion with Moltmann, Migliore, and Gregory at the Karl Barth Conference
Transcript of Moltmann’s Comments on Gissendaner and the Death Penalty
I learned to know Kelly Gissendaner by chance or providence (which is very much the same). In 2005, I gave a lecture in Charlottesville and met Jenny McBride in Charles Marsh Bonhoeffer House. She had written an excellent dissertation on Bonhoeffer and was asking what to do after years of academic life. My advice was go to Atlanta to the Open Door Community and work with the jobless and homeless people and with prison chaplaincy. After a year she was engaged with a theology studies program in prison, and taught Bonhoeffer and Moltmann in a woman’s prison. And there she met Kelly Gissiendaner who was for the murder of her husband since many years on death row. And Kelly wrote a paper on Bonhoeffer which Jenny sent to me. It was astonishingly good. And then Kelly asked if she could write letters to me. And so a theological correspondence emerged. Up to now there are at least 30 letters and cards on theological and personal questions. But not of confessions of her side. I denied that. The prison chaplain heard her confessions, and I admired Kelly’s strengths of faith under the burden of a stone on her shoulders with the guilt of murdering her husband. My desire was to build her up as a theologian in prison, to be a pastoral caretaker for her fellow prisoners. She was developed from a bitter and self-centered human being into a mentor and mother figure in the women’s prison when I met her (“Momma Kelly”, as the younger prisoners called her).
In October 2011 I was invited to speak at the graduation ceremony at the Arrendale women’s prison for her class. I saw an American prison for the first time from the inside – no inhumane signs, no human signs either. Kelly gave a speech and her tears of what theology meant to her. And a Muslim girl who attended the biblical classes spoke of how much the biblical stories meant to her. And I gave a speech on the church behind barbed wire, because I remembered my own 3 years as a prisoner of war behind barbed wires, the temptation to give oneself up, to become bitter and cynical, and the consolation to find christ behind barbed wire. Afterwards Jenny and I had an hour to talk to Kelly privately in a room without handles. She had a real hunger for theology, and I had to send all of my books in English to her for examination. She wrote a spiritual book for her fellow prisoners on the journey of hope in faith.
And then in December last year, she received the date of her execution, February 25, 2015 at 7PM. I wrote some words of consolation and as a sign of solidarity sent a hankercheif with the words, “When the tears are coming, take my hankercheif”. She answered the hankerchief you sent was the most heartfelt thing that I have gotten in my 18 years that I have been locked up. And then came February 2015, and the board of parole and pardon denied clemency, because the family of the husband demanded retribution or revenge. I was deeply disappointed, also of God, because I had prayed daily for her life. I wrote a letter to prepare her spiritually for death by execution. And when the time came on Febuary 25, I lit a candlight and thought of Kelly. But the first surprise came next morning. There was an overnight snowstorm in Georgia and they couldn’t transport the prisoner to the men’s prison in Jackson where they had the facilities for execution. The time of execution was shifted to Monday March 1 at 7PM. I lit a candle again, and prayed for her. And the second surprise came next morning, because the execution drug had spoiled they switched the execution to indeterminate time. She wrote to me: “God is so good, so good.” And I blamed myself for not trusting God more. His providence can be so tricky and clever. But she was 3 hours before her execution twice, had her last meal, and was prepared, and now is still healthy in her mind and full of trust in her heart. I hope that next time clemency is granted and she can follow her calling to take spiritual and personal care of the inmates of the prison, and of the prisoners and the wardens.
The result: I am disgusted at the inhumanity of the American prison system. It is pure punishment, not educational justice. I am unconditionally against death penalty after the crucifixion of Jesus Christ for all the sinners. We cannot condemn sinners to death. And a democracy is a government of the people, by the people and for the people. And the people are told “thou shall not kill.” The government of the people shall not kill. Only dictatorships today use the death penalty. And people can change. There is always for everybody hope to change. And we must not nail a person down to the crime once committed. We condemn the sins but we love the sinners. So we must separate the person from the deed, and give the person a new chance.
Updated post-conference (6/24) to include links to individual videos instead of the live stream.
Jürgen Moltmann delivered the opening lecture at the 2015 Karl Barth Conference at Princeton Theological Seminary. Other speakers included Bruce McCormack, Daniel Migliore, and Richard Bauckham. I was there, and it was an incredible event! Video was live streamed via the PTS Ustream channel, and (for the most part) can now be replayed. I have embedded Moltmann’s lecture below, and have included links to the others I could identify. Unfortunately as of now I am unable to find the video of Migliore’s lecture, but I will update this post with better links when it is made available. (I am told that the videos will be cleaned up and reposted by PTS at a later date). Enjoy!
Jürgen Moltmann on “Predestination: Karl Barth’s Doctrine of the Election of Grace”
“We shall only put antisemitism behind us when we succeed theologically in making something positive out of the Jewish “no” to Jesus Christ’.” (F.-W. Marquardt, as quoted by Moltmann, The Way of Jesus Christ (WJC), Kindle Loc. 647)
Since Trinity and the Kingdom at least, Moltmann has been arguing that the divide between Christian and Jew is the first “schism” among the people of God, one that we should seek to overcome rather than simply accept (see previous post, “Overcoming Schismatic Thinking“). The divide between Christian and Jew centers around the question of what to do with Jesus. As Moltmann articulates at the beginning of his section on “Christology in Jewish-Christian Dialogue” in WJC: “At the centre of all Jewish-Christian dialogue is the inexorable messianic question: ‘Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?’ The messianic hope leads us to Jesus, but it also hinders Jews from seeing Jesus as the expected messiah who has already come.” (Kindle Loc. 546) Continue reading The Jewish ‘No’ to Jesus is a ‘Yes’ to the Messianic Future
As last time, the transcript for this portion is below the video.
Miroslav Volf: Who is God for you?
Jürgen Moltmann: Jesus Christ is the human face of God. And without Jesus Christ I would not believe in God. Looking at the catastrophes of nature, and the human catastrophes of history, I would not come out with the idea that a God exists and that this God is love. This was unthinkable for me. But with Jesus Christ and his message and his suffering on the cross and his resurrection from the cross, my feeling that God is present in the midst of suffering is a firm trust of my heart.
Miroslav Volf: So you are not speaking right now simply as a theologian. You are speaking from personal experience, of discovery. Or being discovered by God. When you were… can you say more about this experience? Which was experience of anxiety, or aftermath of terror, a place where joy would not normally find an entrance?
Jürgen Moltmann: Well, when I was 16 I was drafted in the German army in 1943, and experienced the destruction of my hometown of Hamburg. In the midst of Hamburg there was an anti-aircraft battery, and we schoolboys had to serve in this battery. Well, the operation, called by the British was “Operation Gomorrah”, the destruction of the sinful city of Hamburg. And I was in the midst of it, and at that time I cried out to God for the first time. And later I was in prison in a prison camp in Scotland. There I read with consciousness for the first time the Gospel of Mark and then I came to the cry with which Jesus died: My God why hast thou forsaken me I felt, there is my brother who feels the same as I was feeling at that time. And this saved me from self-destruction and desperation. And so I came up with hope on a place where there was no expectation to come home soon. The imprisonment lasted for three years.