November 2, 2011


Reformation Day keynote: 'Condemn evil acts but respect human dignity'

Martin Luther taught that faith alone was enough to garner a sinner's forgiveness from God, but he did not go far enough, according to theologian Jürgen Moltmann, who spoke at Candler School of Theology on Oct. 27. 

"The perpetrators of sin have the sacrament of penance – confession, contrition and sanctification. For victims of sin and injustice, we have nothing comparable," Moltmann told the standing room-only audience during his keynote address at Candler's 24th annual Reformation Day.

This year's event was themed "Luther and the Translation of the Bible" in acknowledgment of the 400th anniversary of the King James Version of the Bible.

Moltmann, who served as the Robert W. Woodruff Distinguished Visiting Professor of Systematic Theology at Candler from 1983 to 1993, described the opportunity to lecture at Reformation Day as "a kind of homecoming."  His talk was titled "'Sun of Righteousness, Arise!' The Justification of Sinners and Victims, from Martin Luther to Martin Luther King."

While Luther may have reassured the faithful that good works and indulgences were unnecessary to finding salvation in God, what did that leave those who were victims of these sinners? Moltmann asked.

"Everyone who suffers injustice has dreams of revenge," Moltmann said. "We also know that retaliation of evil only increases the amount of evil suffered." God's type of justice, he claimed, was "more creative" than simple eye-for-an-eye reprisal. Instead, Moltmann said, victims must take comfort in a God that ached with them and a Christ who suffered for them, and rise above pain and self-pity to begin living their own lives again.

Victims, Moltmann advised, should not consider themselves victims forever, but neither, he counseled, should evildoers be forever associated with their deeds.

"We call a person who once told a lie a liar," he said. "We call a person who once committed murder a murderer. We are tying them forever to what they did, but we must distance them from their evil works.

"We must condemn evil acts but respect the human dignity of every person quite irrespective of whether they're sitting in prison, or in the House of Representatives," he said. "When we do that, we give them a chance to change their lives."

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