Many Evangelical Left elites have embraced pacifism and anti-Americanism as an easy way to differentiate themselves from the supposedly idolatrous patriotism of religious conservatives. A chief architect of this new fad is Duke University ethicist Stanley Hauerwas, who recently boasted he hopes to be as “toxic” as Jeremiah Wright.
Once hailed by Time magazine as America’s most influential theologian, Hauerwas is a United Methodist who worships at an Episcopal “peace” church but whose primary following is probably about the new Evangelical Left.
Hauerwas was recently interviewed by Religion News Service and reiterated that the Afghan and Iraq Wars, like World War II, failed to live up to traditional Christian Just War standards. Of course, for pacifist absolutists like himself, no war or act of violence can ever fulfill the ostensibly unattainable Just War check list. For them, violence in defense of the “empire” is especially pernicious and anti-Christian.
In an interview immediately after 9-11 with enthusiastically approving fellow-pacifist and Evangelical Left Sojourners chief Jim Wallis, Hauerwas asked: “How in the world are you going to have a just war when you have a Pentagon and a State Department built on national self interest? Just war isn’t built on national self interest, but the Pentagon and our State Department’s foreign policy are built upon political realism informed by national self interest.”
Actually, traditional Christian Just War teaching does recognize “national self Interest” in that every government is providentially tasked to defend its own people, no less so than parents are called to protect their own children. But just as pacifist absolutists would insist, at least in theory, that a parent must only disapprovingly watch while a child is assaulted, so governments must not respond to aggression with anything other than high hopes for peace and reconciliation. Hauerwas’s claim of non-violence as the central doctrine of faith would have surprised nearly all the biblical prophets and apostles.
Naturally, in his recent interview, Hauerwas is critical of President Obama’s new Afghan war surge. “Afghanistan was understood to be part of the war against terror, and that was a decisive mistake because as soon as you said we are at war, you gave Osama bin Laden what he wanted—he became a warrior, and not just a murderer,” Hauerwas opined. “I would be much happier with a whole reconsideration of our involvement there—not as a war, but as a police function, and how the police might intervene to arrest bin Laden.”
Hauerwas admitted that “police” action against al Qaeda sounds “utopian” but no less than “thinking you’re going to win a war in Afghanistan. I can’t imagine anything more utopian than that. Ask the British. Ask the Russians. It’s never going to happen.” Of course, as a pacifist absolutist, Hauerwas would oppose any military feat in Afghanistan even if victory were easily attained within minutes.
In his post-9-11 Wallis interview, Hauerwas predictably condemned any possible U.S. military response and instead suggested referring bin Laden to an “Islamic court.” In his view, “We would have been much better off trying to be patient and working with all the complexities that that might have meant – to see if they could have brought him to some justice.” Of course, Islamic courts are not typically pacifist. What would Hauerwas, or Wallis, have said if such a court had beheaded or dismembered bin Laden? In fact, such pacifists are never very concerned about Islamist violence, only American military violence. Still, Hauerwas emphasized to Wallis that he did not think the Taliban and bin Laden are “nice people.”
“Not nice” is about as harsh as Hauerws will get with radical Islam. Hauerwas would prefer to aim at purportedly more nefarious Christians who do not share his absolute pacifism and anti-Americanism. In his recent interview, he characterized the response by American Christians to 9-11 as “awful” because they refused to distinguish themselves from the imperialistic American “we,” from which Hauerwas emphatically and distastefully does distinguish himself. With more purported discernment than average church goers, he insisted that the Afghan War was “so deeply ambiguous” that it could not possibly qualify as just, not that he thinks any war could be.
All Christians must be pacifist, Hauerwas further insisted to his recent interviewer. And they should start by confronting military personnel in their own congregations. “I have high regard for people in the military, but very seldom are they asked to justify what they’re doing,” he lamented. He urged President Obama to confess that the “war on terror was a mistake and we’ve got to start, as Americans, learning to live in a world that we don’t control.”
Hauerwas gleefully admitted that his counsel to Obama would be politically poisonous, “just like Jeremiah Wright. I hope I’m absolutely as toxic as Jeremiah Wright,” because “I think what I’m saying is what Christians should be saying.” Fortunately, most Christians outside of insulated academia and some pulpits do not share Hauerwas’s nearly idolatrous insistence on non-violence at all costs or his contempt for America.