Prof. Wüstenberg's guest lecture "Theological and Political Reconciliation in South Africa and Germany" (16th December, 2016)

 Wüstenberg Lecture Dec 2016  Conference Confronting Violent Past 2016  15493945_10158024649585235_631445854_n

Jena Center for Reconciliation Studiesat Friedrich Schiller University Jena is proud to have hosted Prof. Dr. Ralf K. Wüstenberg, Chair for Systematic and Historic Theology at Europa-University Flensburg, as a guest speaker in the class "Reconciliation and Culture in Palestinian Society", instructed by Dr. Zeina Barakat and directed by Prof. Dr. Martin Leiner.

Prof. Wüstenberg's accumulated experience and knowledge are formidable. His lecture titled, "The Theological Implications in Political Reconciliation: The Cases of South Africa and Germany" discussed the importance of forgiveness (Vergebung) emphasizing three aspects:

I. Reconciliation and Forgiveness in Theology

II. Political Reconciliation in Germany and South Africa

III. Theological Implications of Political Reconciliation

The lecturer explored the political dimensions of forgiveness and reconciliation in light of the transitions to democracy in Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall and in South Africa after the end of Apartheid. He proceeded in three steps: First, he started by offering some remarks about the theological understanding of reconciliation and forgiveness explaining that the difference between Political reconciliation and theological reconciliation, as well as what does the word 'reconciliation' mean in theological understanding, namely, it is basically the relationship between god and mankind that was good in the beginning, broke up through sin and was restored through Christ. He argued that reconciliation has to do with "change" that the Apostle Paul introduced in the well-known passage in 2 Corinthians: "God … reconciled us to himself through Christ and has given us the ministry of reconciliation: that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us" (5:18-19) and how it played a key role in complex diplomatic processes, e.g., when hostile cities made peace with each other again.[1]

Second, the lecturerexplored the political options in transition societies (like amnesty or truth commissions); and, third, he analyzed extensively the implications of moral and theological values (like truth-telling or repentance). He argued [Office1] that there is no straight path leading from political reconciliation to its theological meaning. There is instead an ontological breach at the point where we enter the theological understanding of the process. However, coming from the theological angle enables us to discover "connections" between a theological and a political understanding of reconciliation and to explore the power of forgiveness that we introduced through our New Testament citation in the introduction of this lecture. "Reconciliation through truth" does not mean theologically being stuck in moral accusations; what it does is highlight the overcoming of moral guilt. Truth is truth only when it sets one free as made clear in the saying of Jesus, "The truth will make you free," quoted in the Gospel of John (8:32). Free for what? Free to make journeys from the self to the other and back and to see our common history from their perspective as well as ours, rather than closing ourselves off; free to live a truthful life and hence be a self-effecting witness to truth rather than fabricating our own 'truths' and imposing them on others; free to embrace others in truth rather than engage in open or clandestine acts of deceitful violence against them. [2]

In the lecturere view, to make reaconciliation happen there is a need for frame conditions in the political reality. Truth commissions as political instruments can help to provide such framework conditions as they provide save room in which victims and perpetrators come together and in which both parties share "their" truth and allow the other person to participate in this with a trustful moderator, such as Desmond Tutu.

Finally, Prof. Wüstenberg suggested a number of criteria or conditions that would allow for forgiveness or reconciliation to happen.


[1] See Cilliers Breytenbach: Versöhnung. Eine Studie zur paulinischen Soteriologie (Neukirchen: Neukirchener Verlag, 1989). Breytenbach argues with some force that when Paul transferred the concept of reconciliation to the theological field in order to express the relationship between God and human beings, it had lost its social and political dimension. On the other hand Breytenbach seems to fail to see the rich possibilities that his exegetical results open up for reconstructing the theological dimension of reconciliation in politics.

[2] Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation (Nashville: Abingdon, 1996), pp. 272f.