“Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. […] A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
(John 13:12-17, 34-35 NIV)
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
(Matthew 20:25-28 NIV)
For most Christian traditions, today is Maundy Thursday, the day in Holy Week where we remember Jesus’ last day with his disciples before the crucifixion, especially the Last Supper. This was when, according to John’s Gospel, Jesus exemplified his character as a servant by washing his disciples feet. I remember very vividly participating in foot-washing ceremonies at church that were meant to remind us that following in the way of Jesus means serving others. While my tradition does not do foot washing with any regularity, my experiences of this did leave a profound impression on me.
When I reflect on what this means for Christians in today’s world, I wonder whether – especially when it comes to our political advocacy – we have a tendency to apply this principle only as far as our moral comfort zone will allow (which often doesn’t extend far beyond the church door). We worry about the infringement of our rights in a world that doesn’t seem to any longer share traditional Christian values. And so we have pastors thumbing their noses at the IRS (and jeopardizing their organizations’ tax exempt status) each election cycle on “Pulpit Freedom Sunday“, and Christians backing legislation that guarantees the rights of traditionally-minded people to refuse to do business with LGBTQ folks (Indiana is the state currently taking heat for this sort of thing, but they are by no means alone).
With the culture war reaching a fever pitch (ok, it’s been there for a while), many are concerned that freedom of speech and freedom of religion may be in peril. But whose freedom? When Christians “take a stand for freedom” in our country it almost always means taking a stand for the freedom of people like us, especially for other Christians and their freedom to stand against anything in our culture believed to be wrongheaded or sinful.
Yesterday The New York Times featured Jürgen Moltmann for the unlikely friendship that has been forged between he and Kelly Renee Gissendaner, a death row inmate in Georgia who is scheduled to die by lethal injection tomorrow. Gissendaner learned of Moltmann through a prison theology program, finding Theology of Hope to be especially inspiring. Since Gissendaner first wrote to Moltmann in 2010, they’ve exchanged many letters, and Moltmann made it a point to travel to Georgia in 2011 order to speak at Kelly’s graduation from the program. A friend of Kelly’s who is a member of the Jürgen Moltmann Discussion Group on Facebook shared there that in January professor Moltmann sent Kelly one of his own hankerchiefs “for the tears.” Moltmann told the New York Times that “If the state of Georgia has no mercy, she has received already the mercy of heaven.” He is clearly hoping and praying that the state will be merciful to Kelly, as am I. If you haven’t had a chance to learn about Kelly, I encourage you to read the Times article, and watch this video about Kelly’s story. Continue reading Jürgen Moltmann on the Death Penalty
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.
Below are two sources where Jürgen Moltmann expounds on the importance of community when it comes to political engagement. Here Moltmann offers reflections on how the early Jerusalem church in the book of Acts gives us an example of how a another (better) world is possible when we live not as individuals but in community with one another. The first is an extended quotation from Ethics of Hope that includes this powerful statement: “The opposite of poverty is not wealth, but community. In community individuals become rich, rich in friends who can be trusted, rich in mutual help, rich in ideas and powers, rich in the energies of solidarity.” Below it I’m including another clip with transcript from the Emergent Village Theological Conversation with Moltmann from 2009, where Moltmann is asked about this same topic. You can view other clips I’ve shared from that event here.
“Metz is always good for a surprise”
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.
This post is part of what I hope will become an ongoing series on Moltmann’s political theology. You can check out my first post in this series here. Since we are coming up on one of the most important American patriotic holidays this weekend – Independence Day – I thought it might be a good time to share what Moltmann has to say about the American Dream. What we find here is, I think, both a powerful affirmation of the American Dream as an ideal, and yet a sobering reminder of what it means for the rest of the world if the American Dream is only for America.
In On Human Dignity, Jürgen Moltmann has an essay called “America as Dream”, where he states: “Before there was the American dream, there was America as dream.” (p. 147) In other words, what we today call “the American dream” was a human dream long before it was identified with a certain place. It may be identified particularly with the United States as an important experiment and expression, but its aims are for everyone. It is both particularist (the mission of America) and universalist (for the good of mankind). Continue reading The American Dream is the Human Dream
Responsible participation in the just order of things in industry, society, culture and politics – or consistent undivided discipleship of Christ in economic, social, cultural and political decisions: that is the basic ethic question. There are three options. To put it pictorially: to turn swords into Christian swords, or to use only ploughshares without swords, or to make ploughshares out of swords. The time of ‘Christian swords’ in the Holy Roman Empire is past, so only the other two options are left. Must we see these as alternatives or can they also act together in a complementary way?
Jürgen Moltmann, Ethics of Hope, p. 204
I’m going to try to do a series of posts on Moltmann’s political / ethical theology over the next few months. This aspect of Moltmann’s thought has had a profound impact on me since I discovered his writing a few years ago.