Moltmann Monday: Christ of Victims and Perpetrators

Hello all. As an extension of the post I wrote last week about victims, I want to extend the conversation with today’s selection from The Ethics of Hope. It’s in his chapter on “Divine and Human Righteousness and Justice” and he discusses how Christ is for both victim and perpetrator.

Life at the expense of others is organized in the systems we have described. They make everyone who exists in them guilty towards the poor, the earth, and the children. In these systems it is not so much the evil we do which accuses us as the good we leave undone. It is true that the systems have become fixed in the form of objective powers which rule us through violence and fear, but they are man-made, so they can be changed by men. Like the dictatorship systems of the twentieth century, they can collapse like a pack of cards if men and women outside them and within them rise up and together demand righteousness and justice…

According to the gospels, Jesus’ gaze ¬†was directed first of all to the poor, the outcasts of his people–that is to say to the victims of injustice and violence, not to the perpetrators. His message brought the kingdom of God ‘to the poor’, not the rich; his healing commitment was to the sick, not the healthy; his friendship embraced the outcasts, sinners and tax collectors,; we see him among the lost, not ‘the good people.’..

…In his sufferings and dying, he brings God close to the suffering and dying in this world. He himself entered into God-forsakenness on the cross in order to bring God to the forsaken, so as to become their brother in their extremity…The justice and righteousness of God manifested in Jesus is victim-orientated: God creates justice for those who suffer injustice and violence…

So this is step one, where we must begin. We begin with realizing that Christ is on the side of the victim first and foremost. But it does not end there. Christ is not only for the victim. Christ is only first for the victim. Christ has also come to bring justice and righteousness (and yes, salvation) to the perpetrator. Moltmann continues,

I believe that no one who has become guilty can live with a clear view of his guilt. Once he recognizes it, he begins to hate himself. Consequently we ward off reproaches and suppress our unpleasant insights because they are unbearable. If we see ourselves through the eyes of the victims, the guilt debases us to the depths…

No one can ever undo what has been done or ‘make good’ a wrong. All guilt fetters a human being to his past, and robs him of the freedom for his future. Even God cannot undo what has been done…But God can break the fetters of guilt for what has been done…and in this way he can bring about a new beginning. That happens when God like Christ on the cross ‘bears’ the sins…

For the perpetrators of injustice and violence this means nothing less than the dying to the power of evil, whose servants they have been, and breaking with the systems of injustice, in order to live the new righteousness with the risen Christ… Because perpetrators always have only short memories, they are dependent on the long memory of the victims if they are to arrive at self-knowledge. They find themselves when they look at themselves through the eyes of their victims

Finally the perpetrators only arrive at a just community with their victims if they do everything they can to eliminate the damage they have caused.

Two things worth highlighting here. The first is our universal tendency to want to reject the gaze of the victim on us when we are perpetrators. Who wants to be declared guilty?! A brief scroll through Facebook will show you the reactionary nature of people on all sides who feel judged. It’s not a helpful tendency, and it’s definitely not a Christian one. It’s our job to have a posture of openness, even when that means confronting things about ourselves that make us uncomfortable or defensive. Especially then. And it’s important to note that much of what we do to perpetrate injustice is not obvious. It’s not our direct actions, but our silence or inaction. It’s not what we have done, but the vast pile of things we have left undone. We don’t want to feel on the hook for that because it’s so conveniently overlooked. But if we allow the gaze of Christ to settle on us, and by extension, the gaze of the victims, we realize our hands are not clean and our silence has condemned us.

Connected to that is the idea (and I think he’s right) that we have to acknowledge there is really no freedom or forgiveness for us unless we are seen by the gaze of the victim. We want to forget our own offenses and move on, but the victim must live always with the damage of our choices. If we want to be saved, if we want to live in justice and righteousness, there is no other way. When we allow the eyes of the victim to rest on us, we find ourselves. And, of course, we always find ourselves when we remember that God gazes upon us with love, even when that love breaks our heart and makes us realize we must change. The beloved gaze of God gives us strength to confront what we must.

Most of American Christianity talks of forgiveness in a personal way, and needs to shift the perspective from only personal to personal, social and global to see how far forgiveness and repentance and discipleship expands. American Christianity has spent the majority of its time relieving perpetrators of personal guilt and has relinquished its prophetic responsibility to call Christians to social repentance as well. And then, when social repentance is practiced, the church is called to make good on its change-of-direction by working actively toward justice and righteousness in the public square. You want to prove you’re sincere? Do all you can to actively undo the injustice you’ve helped cause.

Short version: a prayer of confession is good. A prayer of confession including social sins is better. A prayer of confession including social sins in a faith community that is actively involved in justice is the goal.

Moltmann concludes,

Christians are on the side of victims, because Christ became a victim himself; but the traditional churches are still more interested in the justification of the sinner than in justice and righteousness for victims.

I think that’s what we have to ask ourselves, and our communities of faith. What kind of freedom are we offering? God gives freedom, both to victims and to perpetrators, but that freedom is not a blanket feel-good release valve. It is a release God gives us to move actively toward justice and shalom for all.

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