Moltmann: 2 Sides of Oppression

Happy Moltmann Monday, all. Today’s selection is from Experiences in Theology where Moltmann will engage mirror images of liberation theology (p.183). Before he does that, though, he reminds us of a basic precept that must undergird all our talks about ethics and justice if it is to be properly Christian (bold words mine):

The oppression of human beings by other human beings has many different faces. It can take the form of political oppression, economic exploitation, social exclusion, cultural estrangement and sexist humiliation. It takes other forms too. But it is always a crime against life. For human life is life in community and communication. Life means ‘loving your neighbor as yourself’, not ‘subdue him and make him submissive.’ To oppress other people means to cut oneself off from God too, ‘for if a man does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?’ (1 John 4:20)

Oppression always has two sides. One the one side stands the master, on the other side stands the slave. On the one side is the arrogant self-elevation of the exploiter, on the other the suffering of his victim. Oppression destroys humanity on both sides. The oppressor acts humanely, the victim is dehumanized. The evil the perpetrator commits robs him of his humanity, the suffering he inflicts dehumanizes the victim…

Because oppression always has these two sides, the liberation process has to begin on both sides, too. The liberation of the oppressed from their suffering must lead to the liberation of the oppressors from the evil they commit; otherwise there can be no liberation for a new community in justice and freedom. The goal of these reciprocal liberations cannot be anything less than a community of men and women, free of fear, in which there are no longer any oppressors, and no longer any oppressed.

The unique aspect of Christian justice is that the goal is not punishment or even a ceasing of oppression but a total reconciliation, evidenced by the creation of a community of beloved people. Justice is not about a sentence, or a verdict, or imprisonment. It’s not complete with sanctions or laws. All of these things may play an important role in the road TO justice, because as we all know, oppressors sometimes need to be contained or reconfigured to prevent them from doing further harm. But Christian justice cannot stop there, because God seeks the redemption even of the oppressor.

God’s goal is human life, vital and whole and free, lived in community with God. It is everyone seated at the table together at God’s feast, reconciled. This is why we come to the Table of communion. We live into the reality that we anticipate, where the world will be reconciled to God. We go there because it’s important for us to live into that reality now, even as we seek to be practical people of justice in the gritty today.

As always, our news feeds are flooded with stories of wars, violence, bloodshed, slavery, victimhood, oppression, economic disparity, discrimination, abuse. And as Christians, we’re allowed to be angry about that. Indeed, something’s wrong with our understanding of the gospel if we’re NOT angry about all that. But we can’t let our anger overtake us. We can’t let our anger cause us to forget that oppression has two sides, and that to truly follow the way of Jesus, we must also pray for the liberation of the oppressors who are causing harm. If we love what Jesus loves, then we must love the humanity of all people, and seek to see it restored.

So this week, let us lift up the forgotten, the oppressed, the downtrodden. Let us raise our voices for them and fight for them and seek to heal the systems that do violence to all of us. But let us also remember to pray for our enemies, because the love of God is waiting to see the redemption of their full humanity, too.

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