St. John’s Baptist Church

Worship | Sundays @ 10:30am

A Truth-Teller Passes on Ahead of Us

Last week, one of the most influential theologians of the twentieth century passed on ahead of us. His name was Jurgen Moltmann. He was a truth-teller. He warned against efforts to merge Christian faith with nationalism. I was introduced to his writing in 1977 by one of my theology professors in college. Part of what drew me to Moltmann was his story.

He wrote, “In my youth, I lived in extreme nationalism, patriotism, and the Nazi dictatorship. When Hitler came into power in Germany in 1933, I was seven years old. My larger family was divided into anti-Hitler socialists and pro-Hitler Nazis. When I was ten years of age, my parents had to send me to a Hitler youth organization. I disliked it because of its militarism.” In 1937, Moltmann’s father was given a choice; he could join the Nazi party or face dismissal as a teacher. He was forced to join the Nazi party, but only as an external act, not with ‘wholehearted devotion.’ He did so to save his family from poverty.

As a teenager, Jurgen was conscripted into the Nazi army. He was forced to serve in the Hitler Youth and the German Army as a ‘patriot.’ However, he followed the example of his father and was never a devotee of Naziism, nationalism and the horrors caused by Hitler’s regime. He chose to be a truth-teller. 

During World War II, in 1943, Moltmann worked in an anti-aircraft battery during the bombing of his hometown of Hamburg by the Royal Air Force. That air attack killed 40,000 people, including a friend standing next to Jurgen. Ordered to the German forest at the front lines, he refused to fight for Naziism and surrendered under cover of darkness to the first British soldier he met. From 1945 to 1948, he was confined as a prisoner of war and moved from camp to camp in Belgium, Scotland, and England. While in Scotland, he worked with other German Prisoners of War to rebuild areas damaged by bombing. He was impressed by the hospitality of the Scottish people toward the prisoners. He sensed them to be truth-tellers.

After the war, Moltmann studied theology and received his doctorate in 1952. After serving as a pastor for five years, he became a professor in 1958, a role from which he retired in 1994, although he continued to teach and write in his latter years. From 1983 to 1993, he was the Robert W. Woodruff Distinguished Visiting Professor of Systematic Theology at Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.

Professor Jurgen Moltmann told the truth based upon his experience of nationalism being elevated above commitment to Christ. He confronted anyone attempting to mix Christ with nationalism. His simple message was this: “The Church of Christ is present in all the people on earth and cannot become ‘a national religion. The Church of Christ ecumenically embraces the whole inhabited earth. She is not a tribal religion, nor a Western religion, nor a white religion, but the Church of all humanity.” Moltmann was concerned about this new wave of nationalism taking root in today’s world. He warned how nationalism is a setback for humanity. He taught “humanity precedes nationality.” Moltmann was a truth-teller in the line of other prophets like Micah.

Last week, new banners of proclamation were hung on the portico of our sanctuary. St. John’s is a truth-telling congregation. Therefore, we are offering a message to all passersby that our world needs to find its way by following God’s way; the Living God of Micah and Moltmann who requires us to “Do Justice with God,” “Love Kindness with God,” and “Walk Humbly with God.”

When Professor Jurgen Moltmann passed on ahead of us last week, on June 3rd at the age of 98, we lost a strong prophetic voice. His life reminds us of the need to tell the truth by speaking out against Christian nationalism.

Amen – Let it be so!