Peacemaking Is Political

Stanley Hauerwas
Stanley Hauerwas, a theologian and Christian ethicist, is professor emeritus of theological ethics and of law at Duke University. He is the author or editor of more than fifty books, including Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony (1989), which he co-authored with William H. Willimon. His lower middle-class upbringing informed his later approach to theological and ethical questions (at one point, he was apprenticed to his father, a bricklayer). In 2001, Time Magazine named Stanley Hauerwas “America’s Best Theologian.” He replied that “best” is not a theological category.

Plough: Stanley, you’re a Christian ethicist – what makes Christian ethics Christian?

Stanley Hauerwas: Jesus.

P: Yes, Jesus. But which Jesus?

SH: It is the Jesus of the Gospels that makes Christian ethics Christian. Of course, part of the difficulty of contemporary Christian ethics is that it tries to be an ethic for anyone, everyone. That’s not only a mistake but tragic. Jesus didn’t espouse some “universal ethic”; if he had, he wouldn’t have been crucified. No, what determines our way of negotiating with the world is not some rational ethic but a life based on Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.

That makes Christian ethics somewhat embarrassing. Didn’t Paul say, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God”? (1 Cor. 1:18). Anyone baptized into the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus has the possibility of living the way God would want anyone to live.

P: So there’s a difference between a Jesus-centered ethic for his followers and some kind of universal ethic approachable and applicable to everybody else.

SH: So-called universal ethics are actually someone’s ethics disguised as for anyone. When that happens, “Jesus” ends up being what Kierkegaard described as our hobby-horse. That’s why I can’t advocate pacifism or some abstract principle of nonviolence. Whose pacifism? Whose nonviolence?

Continue reading at Plough Quarterly.