Emeritus Professor of Systematic Theology, University of Tübingen, Germany
Heavenly Blessings Associate Professor (Theological Studies), CGST
Photos taken by Yeung Kwan
Louie: You talk a lot about justice in your books. The church in Hong Kong and China is a minority. When we talk about issues like justice, sometimes it is dangerous, not just personally but for the church too. If I am the leader of the church and speak against the injustice of the government, I may get silenced and my church may get silenced. When we see some problems in justice in the society, people have to balance between speaking out and risk being silenced. Sometimes if I do not speak out that explicitly, I can serve longer and keep my church. What is the balance between speaking out the prophetic voice and keeping a place so that I can still serve the people?
Moltmann: Pray, and tell the truth to God. Tell the truth to the government in love and respect, for the government is from God. They will listen to you if they are not afraid of you overthrowing the government. The Confessing Church in Nazi Germany prayed and told the truth of the persecution of the Jews to God. When you are used to tell the truth, you will tell the truth in your daily life.
Louie: You talk a lot about telling the truth. In your Theology of Hope, after the Second World War, it seems to me that you assume the content of the Christian hope is a common sense to people. But in our age, the Enlightenment liberal ideal seems to be fading away – whether in Mainland China or in America. People perceive the world as a “dog-eat-dog” world: you need to be strong to protect yourself. So the traditional ideal of equality – those type of things – if they become a weakness to society, then we do not talk about it. Strength is all we want. In this situation, do you think it is still good to talk about hope? What kind of hope do we talk about?
Moltmann: Greed. Everyone for themselves. We need solidarity with one another. Do not fall back onto unregulated capitalism. I am a socialist and a democrat. I believe in the solidarity of humankind. We need solidarity to overcome the dangers of humankind: the atomic threat did not stop on the borders of America or Germany. The climate change will endanger humankind in 10 years – at least. Therefore, we must work together and between nations to overcome the threat of humankind. This leads to the question: whether the humankind should be on earth or not. We can vanish in a great atomic war in seconds. We can vanish in decades if the climate change go on and on. We believe that God became human and say “yes” to humanity. So we can still hope even if the hope is vanished.
Louie: It is very true we need solidarity. But at this point we do not have solidarity, for example, the trade war between USA and China. You compete in everything. The zerosum- game mentality is quite common today. How do we build solidarity in this difficult time?
Moltmann: We are building solidary up in the European Community in politics. We achieve solidarity on national level in Germany. In your country Christian congregations and communities practice solidarity with the sick, the lost, and the poor. Christian congregations are famous for the solidary and mercy.
Louie: So the church should start building up solidarity. About the issue between church and society, much of your theology addresses issues in society. The Chinese church is a minority in society. Sometimes the society is not interested in listening to the church – unlike the German church, which has been the leader of society for a long time. Why should the society care about what the church is saying?
Moltmann: The early church had a membership of 12 but they spread around and made the prophetic voice listened. The gospel and solidarity occurred.
The truth is not with the majority. The truth can be with the minority as well.
Louie: To follow up. People would ask – there are poor people in the world. We ask the economist how to solve the problems. We ask the socialist what are the social factors for poverty. The question is – what is the distinctive voice of the church? What are the things that we can contribute to society?
Moltmann: The personal encounter with the outsiders.
In Korea, for example, the missionary women inviting people, counselling people. So person-to-person contact is the strength of minority churches. You should not take examples from the state church in Germany or America. You will find the way of Jesus Christ in China and it will be your own way.
Louie: We have to find our own way.
Moltmann: Yes. Do not imitate.
Louie: A lot of your theology addresses the society at large. You emphasize that atheists and theists have many commonalities. There are theologies today that emphasize the distance between the church – the church is an alternate community. It has a separate discourse from the secular discourse. It seems to be quite a different type of theology than the theology you are doing. I am wondering. What do you see the discourse of the church versus the discourse of the world? How does the discourse of the church interact with the discourse of the secular world?
Moltmann: The New Testament discourse is love, brotherhood and sisterhood, solidarity without violence. In the old East German Republic socialism, the churches were the places where people could speak freely and honor the truth.
Louie: Now I want to focus on pastoral issues. You emphasize that the church should speak the truth. This is an ideal picture. In actuality, the church has a lot of different interests and does not speak out as freely as we should be. In Hong Kong’s, this leads to much disillusion among the young people. They are saying the church wants to protect their own interest. The main concern of the church is to build a bigger church building. Some of the young people are leaving the church, or have the internet church. For the younger generation who feels that the church is too disappointing, too enmeshed with the existing power, what would you say to them?
Moltmann: I am only a guest in Hong Kong. I do not know the situation of young people in Hong Kong. But I do know the young people in Germany. In Germany, I would like to say: If you are disappointed by the church, hope in the kingdom of God. Thy kingdom come. It is a kingdom of life, vitality, freedom, justice, and truth. So engage yourself. Do not look at others – you will be disappointed. Disappoint not yourself.
Louie: Try to persist in your faith.
Let me ask you a question about Europe. It reflects about what I said before the struggle among different parties. Germany took in a lot of refugees in the past few years. It was portrayed as an example of charity. However, the other side of the coin is that, a few of the refugees did something bad and the society is getting nervous. When you talk about solidarity: the solidarity among Germans, and the solidarity with the world. How do you balance the two?
Moltmann: Host the foreigners maybe you are hosting angels. Like Abraham and Sarah. They hosted the three foreigners and they revealed themselves as angels.
Louie: We need much faith to embrace this.
Moltmann: Beyond your ability, you are not demanded. Ultra posse nemo obligatur. It is an old Latin word. Beyond your possibilities, you are not on duty to help the foreigners. If you destroy yourselves because of the love for the poor, there may be nobody to love them.
Louie: Some sense of protecting ourselves is needed. But also expect to see an angel in the foreigners. Let me end with a more personal question. You are 92 now. A fact of our society is aging. The church is asking, what can the older generation contribute?
Moltmann: Old and young does not count in years. Old and young are attitudes towards life. Some young people look very old. Some old people are very young.
Louie: You are associated with the theology of hope. God has many attributes. As we are in the beginning of the 21st century, what attributes of God do we need the most today?
Moltmann: I wrote a book on the life-giving spirit – The Spirit of Life. Because so many people do not love life. The terrorists of the Taliban said, “Your young people love life. Our young people love death.” Death wish is very widespread.
Love life and live life with “hope”. I wrote a little treatise on the patience of hope, which I learned during the sickness of my wife– patience of love, patience of hope, patient of faith.
Louie: If we do not have patience, people turn violent. If they do not see any change, whatever the method, they would take it – even violence.
Moltmann: Those who exercise patience have time. Those who are impatient have no time. We are rich in time and faith.