I’ve read nearly published word he’s written several times over. Indeed, as CS Lewis is for Tim Keller, Stanley Hauerwas’ work is so much a part of me that, in interviews, I often know how he’ll answer a question before he answers it.
I even know where the pregnant pun or the pretense-clearing curse word will go.
Last night, though, was the first time in 12 years I actually heard Stanley Hauerwas deliver a lecture in person, and what he said- preached is a better word for it- hit me in a way that was more personal than it may have been for others.
Hauerwas’ stated theme was ‘Why Peace Requires Conflict.’
He began, as he often does, by articulating what is the central Christian presumption for nonviolence; that is, in the cross, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ the power of Sin and Death have been defeated once for all.
Christ unmasked the Principalities and Powers, as Colossians puts it.
Christ’s sacrifice is the sacrifice God uses to end all sacrifices, as Hebrews puts it.
The lamb that appears as if slaughtered now rules the nations, as Revelation puts it.
Christians are called then to live according to a reality that is more determinative- if still unseen- than what passes for reality in our world. Better yet, Christians are those people called to make visible the reality that is otherwise unseen by the world. Nonviolence, as Hauerwas likes to say, is not a strategy by which Christians attempt to rid the world of war but rather, in a world of war, as followers of Jesus Christ Christians cannot conceive of any other way to live.
Lest anyone think Hauerwas is an idealist: For Hauerwas, the Gospel contains a bitter, disarming truth:
God’s Peace took flesh among us and we killed him.
That God’s Peace lived among us only to die by us reveals both the depth and propensity to our self-deception; therefore, any commitment to Christian nonviolence requires a correlative commitment to truthfulness.
Because, according to Hauerwas, the violences in our relationships and in the world at large are aided and abetted by the half-truths we tell ourselves, by the illusions we prefer to keep and by the realities that are sometimes too painful to bear.
No where is this more clear, Hauerwas pointed out, than in the fury that erupts in a marriage when there’s no more floor space to avoid stepping on eggshells- when the truth about our spouse can no longer be ignored.
Christian nonviolence then is not merely a discrete decision followers of Jesus bring to bear at times of war.
Christian nonviolence is instead a lifelong commitment that requires the everyday habit of truth-telling.
And an everyday habit of truth-telling
will inevitablyno surely will provoke conflict.
Ask any married person, no spouse wants to hear the ugly truth about themselves. Often it’s simply easier to live with the illusion we hold about our spouse than to deal with the shit storm that comes with facing the truth about them. That same reluctance to hear the truth applies when extended to neighbors, communities, organizations and governments.
Christian pacifists aren’t people who avoid all conflicts; Christian pacifists are those people who are willing to provoke more conflicts than other people.
Accommodating lies and sleepy half-truths are just easier for us and, it seems, a better strategy for survival.
Okay, before the word count gets too high, I promised that this hit me personally and it did so in this way:
Growing up with an alcoholic father, I learned quickly how to step around eggshells with all the delicateness of a ronin. Living the lie and accepting the calm was preferable to the eruptions that any truth-telling would provoke.
Living with someone’s addiction results in everyone else being addicted to avoiding conflict. Which, as I’ve learned in my own marriage, creates habits of conflict avoidance that perpetuate themselves in the next generation.
It’s Hauerwas’ whole argument but in reverse, which surely points out that addiction is but one of the ways we’re still in possession to Sin.
So then, I’ve read and listened to Hauerwas enough to know he’d connect all these dots. He’d point out that thinking of Christian nonviolence exclusively in terms of war only reveals the extent to which we’ve ceded the breadth of the Christian faith to matters of personal piety.
He’d probably point out, as he did last night, that if you want to see Christian nonviolence in practice you should check out Jean Vanier’s L’Arche homes where those with profound disabilities are cared for with gentleness and patience.
And then, on this point at least, he’d finish by pointing out that the Church’s ministry to those in addiction is not an add-on to its Gospel mission but, when rightly done, is but a practice of our commitment to our nonviolent King. That helping people to speak the truth to their loved one and helping people hear the truth from their loved ones and accompanying them out of addiction is another way to glorify the Prince whose Peace requires truthfulness.