Contemplating Pacifism

I just finished reading the memoirs of Stanley M. Hauerwas and through them he has got me thinking a lot about a number of different things. First though, I just have to say that I love memoirs like this one. There is something about the narrative of a persons life that draws me in deeper than any theologically or historically abstract book. I love the type of history that is not general or fragmented, but rather a history that fulfills its most fundamental focus- that is, to tell the story of people in this world. In any case, I felt that Professor Hauerwas did that quite well in his memoirs as he attempted to tell his story in a truthful fashion. One of my favorite lines of the book is the first sentence in the introduction in which he states “I did not intend to become Stanley Hauerwas”. That is a profound and humbling line is it not? He takes little credit for who he has become and renounces the presumption that our modern world takes for granted, that is that we are our own creator. I felt that that sentence resonated throughout the book as he told his story in humility and in truth.

The book taught me a lot, but one of things that I find myself with wrestling with is how it is that he became a Christian pacifist. Hauerwas is one of the few theologians who is a self-proclaimed pacifist. To be honest, pacifism and violence are not things that I have thought about much in my life, and I can’t recall a sermon or a bible study ever being focused on this topic either. In any case, Hauerwas is a proponent of non-violence not because he thinks it nice and comfortable but because he believes that what we see in Christ’s death leads us to be peacemakers in the world. This is hard for me, especially since I have been heavily influenced by Bonhoeffer in this realm. They are not necessarily at odds, but there is certainly tension there. I think that part of the problem with the churches lack of conversation about this stuff is perhaps our lack of presence in the public sphere of everyday life. We see Christianity as an alternative lifestyle and not as alternative politic, which leads us to think that it is a private and personal matter, but it certainly is not. Christianity is an alternative politic and has to influence how we think about justice, pacifism, and just war. The conversation of pacifism and just war is a conversation that many need to have within the church. We need to reflect on the fact that God did not seek to save the world through violence, but rather took our violence upon himself. How might this reality inform the church?

Don’t these questions also inform what we believe justice to be? I have to admit that I am confused about what justice is anymore…is it revenge? Is it bringing the world to rights? Is it feeding the poor and helping the homeless? I know that our government has a particularly troubling view of justice, which seems to have many parallels with vengeance and things of that nature. I am far from any particular resolution, but I am thankful for Hauerwas and how he has guided me through these questions. I feel that these questions are important, and hopefully this brief post will help you to begin thinking and talking about them. Here is a brief post by Hauerwas on Christian pacifism to get you started.


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