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Video | Stanley Hauerwas on Prayer

Dr. Stanley Hauerwas, a widely acclaimed Christian theologian, discusses his understanding of prayer.

Sojourners’ interview with Hauerwas:

Dr. Stanley Hauerwas is Gilbert T. Rowe professor of theological ethics at Duke Divinity School and the author of many books including The Peaceable Kingdom, After Christendom, and most recently With the Grain of the Universe. He has sought to recover the significance of the virtues for understanding the nature of the Christian life. This search has led him to emphasize the importance of the church, as well as narrative, for understanding Christian existence. Time magazine named Hauerwas “America’s Best Theologian” in the September 17, 2001, issue, saying he “has been a thorn in the side of what he takes to be Christian complacency for more than 30 years.” Hauerwas was interviewed by Sojourners editor Jim Wallis on November 8, 2001. A transcript of that interview follows.

Wallis: Is “pacifist” a word that you use to describe yourself?

Hauerwas: I oftentimes say in public that I’m a pacifist, but I don’t like the word for two reasons. One, it’s just so passive, and I think Christian nonviolence is very active confrontation with violence. Second, I think the word pacifism sounds like you have a position that is somehow separate from your worship of the crucified Savior. Christian nonviolence is entailed in the very heart of what it means to worship a crucified God. So I don’t like the idea that pacifism has some further implication for my belief in Jesus.

Wallis: Let’s use “Christian nonviolence” then for this conversation. As somebody who tries to live out Christian nonviolence, how did you respond to Sept. 11? What did that do in your heart and your mind?

Hauerwas: The first thing you feel is just overwhelming sadness. You’re stunned like everyone else is stunned, whether you are a pacifist or not. I did a presentation about some of my reactions at another university recently, and one of my friends was there — and he is not committed to nonviolence at all. He said to me, “You pacifists have nothing to say. Just say you’re a pacifist and shut up.” Some people think that if you have a position of Christian nonviolence, you don’t have anything to say because you’re excluded from making discriminating political judgments. In a sense that is right. I always say I represent the “Tonto principle of Christian ethics.” When Tonto and the Lone Ranger found themselves surrounded by 20,000 Sioux, the Lone Ranger turned to Tonto and said, “This looks pretty tough. What do you think we ought to do?” Tonto replied, “What do you mean ‘we,’ white man?”

The assumption is that our reaction should be one that identifies a “we” that combines both the American and the Christian. Yet “we” Christians are called to respond to this terrorizing event in a way that is different from that shaped by American presuppositions. I want to be very clear. Nothing that the United States has done in its foreign policy — and it’s done some very wicked things — can justify what was done at the World Trade Center. We have to step back and ask what we Christians have done that we find ourselves so implicated in that world that we cannot differentiate our response as God’s people from the American people’s response. Then that also creates a kind of sadness in me in the sense that I don’t want to be alienated from my other non-Christian brothers and sisters, as well as my Christian brothers and sisters, who think that we’ve got to go kill the bastards. But if that alienation is required, then it’s required. There’s a kind of loneliness that one cannot help but feel when you feel that you can’t do anything other than take a different perspective on these matters — it seems so out of step today.

Wallis: If we don’t say “go kill the bastards,” what do we say instead? How do we respond to people who committed not only one horrendous act of destruction, but — unless we’re naive — are planning on doing some more?

Hauerwas: I think anyone that is committed to Christian nonviolence realizes you’re in it for the long haul. You’re not going to have an immediate policy response. To ask us to do that makes it sounds like Christians are not nonviolent because we think nonviolence is a strategy to end the world of war. But in the world of war, we cannot imagine anything other than nonviolence as faithful disciples of Christ. So that means that we must go on, as [Karl] Barth said in 1933, as if nothing had happened. Which means that we must work all the harder to build those forms of life that can witness to others that there’s an alternative to violence.

If you want me to say, “What’s the best possible response that can be made now to this immediate circumstance?” I think something like a just war response makes a lot of sense, but that’s the reason you have to be so careful about the language you’re using to describe this. I don’t like calling it “terrorism” because it’s completely uncontrollable — it doesn’t do work that you need it to do for moral discrimination. I think you need to call it murder — and insofar as it’s murder, you want to arrest the perpetrator.

So the whole war language seems to me overblown and misleading at this time because B52s turn out to be very crude police officers. In the most recent Catholic Worker newspaper, they have a column by Jean Vanier about the World Trade Center bombing, and he ends by saying, “Let us give our hand to all those around the world who suffer, who cry out and are fearful. Be one in prayer. Let us remember that the smallest gesture of beauty and tenderness done with humility and confidence will bring unity to the world and break the chain of violence.” I think that is what we have to believe. If you don’t believe that, then nonviolence is surely evil and wrong. But what we can do is go on enacting in life small gestures of beauty and tenderness as a witness to the world that we do not have to be driven by revenge. My best hunch right now is that the allies of nonviolent people are political realists. Political realists have a sense that bombing a Stone Age country back to the Stone Age is exactly what bin Laden wants us to do. So you’re just recruiting for the next 20 years. That doesn’t seem smart to me on political realist ground.

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