Saturday 22 July 2006

For the love of God (24): Why I love Dorothee Soelle

A post by Kim Fabricius

This is my fourth post in the series. I admit it: I’m a promiscuous pilgrim who likes to sleep around! I can also be fickle. Dorothee Soelle is a good example: while I love her dearly, she also gets on my nerves. But then so does my wife!

I discovered Soelle in the late seventies when I came across her little Political Theology (1971) in a second-hand bookshop. She did not come well recommended, as my main man Barth had said of her “that that woman should keep silence in church!” Nevertheless, there was something passionate and powerful about this working mother who would not shut up.

Soelle was certainly a persona non grata in the German theological establishment: never was she offered a chair in her homeland. But then Deutschland’s loss was New York’s gain, as Soelle became a professor at Union Theological Seminary (1975-1987). She thrived in the cultural pluralism and social activism of the Big Apple, which markedly influenced her theology, an eclectic mix of politics and poetry, mysticism and ecumenism. No ivory tower academic, Soelle visited both Vietnam and Nicaragua in the cause of her praxis of peace and justice.

Sure, Soelle’s fragmentary work lacked academic rigour and failed to engage both with tradition and with the theological heavyweights of her time. And, yes, her obsession with the Holocaust clouded her judgement when it came to contemporary Israeli politics. But the theological scene of the last three decades of the twentieth century would have been the poorer without this godly gadfly, who died in 2003, aged 73, while leading a workshop in Bad Boll. Just hours before, Soelle had read some protest poetry on the war in Iraq, but ended with words she had written to her grandchildren: “Don’t forget the best!”

Juxtaposing Soelle’s flawed theology with her political instincts and commitments, I am reminded of a conversation between Karl Barth and Martin Niemöller. Barth: “Martin, I’m surprised that you almost always get the point despite the little systematic theology that you’ve done!” Niemöller: “Karl, I’m surprised that you almost always get the point despite the great deal of systematic theology that you’ve done!”


Anonymous said...

Speaking of Barth and American political theology, somebody really should write a post called, "Why I love William Stringfellow."

When Barth was visiting America, he pointed Stringfellow out and said, "This is the man America should be listening to." I think those words are just as true today as they were in 1962.

Anonymous said...


Can you verify when and where Hauerwas said that regarding worshipping your theory. I would love to know. Thanks.


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