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Stanley Hauerwas: Faithful Pacifism May Fuel "More Violence"
Eric LeMastersJanuary 10, 2011
Duke University theologian Stanley Hauerwas, at a recent gathering at Indiana Wesleyan University, entreated a group of students to show their Christian witness by embracing pacifism.
Speaking on the topic of what it means to be a “public theologian” in America, Hauerwas cited nonviolence as a key way to differentiate Christians from the world. Part of what makes Christianity a changing agent in society, he argues, is its capacity to subvert societal norms and to challenge the world’s fundamental assumptions about morality.
“Christians are called to be nonviolent, not because we believe our nonviolence is a strategy to rid the world of war,” Hauerwas said, “but [because] in a world of war, as faithful followers of Christ, we cannot imagine being anything other than nonviolent.” Hauerwas added that the consequence of this stance necessarily means we may have to “endure a more violent world.”
“If you’re committed to truthful nonviolence, you better be ready to know how to endure,” he said.
Hauerwas, a vocal critic of American culture and foreign policy, has developed a reputation among those on the political left and right as a contrarian – often espousing views that sit well with neither side. He has specifically come under fire for allegedly promoting a public theology that embraces specifically Christian vocabulary, which his critic and former mentor James Gustafson of Yale University warned would delegitimize Christianity in public discussions.
On the contrary, said Hauerwas, secular society asks Christians to comment on contemporary issues involving justice and war with the assumption that Christians “have something [unique] to say.”
“We Christians have the most interesting story in the world as long as we refuse to let that story be transmuted into other vocabulary that betrays the gospel itself,” Hauerwas said. Developing a “third language” in order to maintain public relevance bleaches Christianity of its ability to change the world, he argued.
Hauerwas referenced a piece he was asked to write for Time magazine in which he questioned the moral coherence of American involvement in Iraq, while criticizing Bush’s application of the word “evil” to Saddam Hussein as a pretext to launch a war campaign. “Bush's use of the word evil comes close to being evil – to the extent that it gives this war a religious justification (which Christians should resist),” he wrote. “It's presumptuous for humans to assume that our task is to do what only God can do.” Hauerwas further pleaded that “we free our imaginations from the presumption that the only alternative [to Saddam’s dictatorship] is capitulation or war.”
“The identification of cross and flag after Sept. 11 needs to be called what it is: idolatry,” Hauerwas added in his article.
Hauerwas also revisited an illustration he posed in the early 1990s to place the debate over whether homosexuals should serve in the military in his Christian pacifist context. His article, contentiously titled “Why Gays (as a Group) Are Morally Superior to Christians (as a Group)”, attempts to reframe the whole question to ask why Christians shouldn’t also have the good fortune to be banned from the military for their ostensibly un-warlike values.
“As a Christian you should never lie, even to the enemy – so you have to tell the enemy the truth,” said Hauerwas. “And as Christians you’re always obligated to pray for your enemy and even would like to be reconciled with your enemy – none of this sounds like good military strategy, does it?”
Hauerwas said he presented this analogy to indirectly comment on how Christians should approach the morality of homosexuality.
“Ask yourself: if Christians were seen as problematic enough to get ourselves banned from the military as a group, what would the arguments about gays look like?” he said. “We could say to gay people as we say to ourselves, ‘Look, we’re not interested in your sexual fulfillment. We Christians have a much headier task ahead of us, because we’re trying to make war less likely. If Christians were trying to make war less likely we don’t have time to worry about your sexual fulfillment. We’re going to give you something to do that’s far more interesting than what you do or do not do with your genitals.’”
Hauerwas concluded by imploring his audience, mostly young seminary students, to take their vocations as theologians and ministers seriously. Part of what differentiates the study of theology from other secular disciplines is that theologians have a true public to speak to, he said.
“The very demand for public intellectuals out of the modern university is ironically a demand because the university has lost its calling,” said Hauerwas. "And that is why schools like Indiana Wesleyan – you’d better make hay while the sun shines, because you still got a public, and you’re it. You’ve got to care deeply about the kind of scholarship that is being done at Indiana Wesleyan University.”
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