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Stanley Hauerwas is on a short list of the people I most admire. Of recent it has been my fortune to interact with and come to know personally this ‘leading theologian of our time’ since he served as Chair in Theological Ethics here at the University of Aberdeen (2014-2016). He has been a forerunner in areas I believe to be vital considerations for the contemporary church and his positive and shaping influence on my theological work will long continue. He has been a voice in the wilderness crying. My growing Hauerwas book and essay collection is now well-marked and in him I’d say I have found a kindred spirit. All that said, I intend to be forthright in my assessment of what I deem to be the worst thing I’ve read that he’s written.

Many times those of us who have been in face to face conversation with Stanley have heard him share his thoughts on something theological and then ask the question; Do you think that’s right? Hauerwas believes theology is done best in conversation, with friends. My friendship with him is more important to me than what I’ve written here. He knows I see myself as a work in progress and am willing to change my mind. I’ve come around in a major way to his views on war and peace.

Basically I’m responding here to his thoughts in his essay (A Sanctuary Politics: The Church in the Time of Trump) and saying, No, I don’t think that’s right.

My essay is in pdf form here: What is Truth in an Age of CNN?

In case you wonder, Stanley says my response here is the best defence of Trump he’s read to date. Perhaps he’ll say more later but so far he deems the most significant point of disagreement to be my use of the word “invasion” and that “the logic of [my] piece may be Constantinian in a manner [he] tries to stay away from.  He rightly challenges me to consider how Muslim migrations in our day can be conceived as a “godsend” and he reminds me “US foreign policy created the terrorist.”

Stanley Hauerwas and Steve Hickey

Stanley Hauerwas and Steve Hickey

On March 11, 2016, here at the University of Aberdeen, I asked Stanley Hauerwas the question: What should turn the other cheek mean to a Christian President the morning after September 11? What follows is a verbatim transcript of my recording of his answer. Next week I will be publishing an essay entitled: Love as a Foreign Policy: Hauerwas, Elshtain and a Christ-like Response to September 11th. Part of Hauerwas’ comment below appears in my essay but I’m posting his entire statement here so it is out there for others to use. ______________________________________

Steve Hickey: What should turn the other cheek mean to a Christian President the morning after a September 11?

Stanley Hauerwas: And my answer is, how does a Christian ever get elected President of the United States? I mean I would assume that they would have been interrogated about what it means to turn the other cheek before they ever got to be president. And that would have made them– not ready candidates to be understood as people who would be ready to do anything to defend the American people. So the question itself already presupposes a Constantinian form of Christianity that I do not represent.

In terms of September 11, America is a country whose politics is fundamentally determined by September 11th. When September 11th occurred I said “this is the next fifty years and maybe longer than that” because Americans are determined to find a way to get out of life alive. And we think that if we have the strongest military that will be able to provide that result. And of course, it’s just bullshit.

And this would be kind of a Niebuhrian point…. One of the tensions within the American society is the disconnect between the morality necessary to sustain a serious military and the ethos of the American people. What was the fundamental thing that George Bush said a day after September 11?… what is the moral response of the American people to September 11th? “[Go out and] Shop.” So now you have the American military, which is an honour society, defending a social order whose deepest moral commitment is shopping. How do you do that?

And so those are the deeper questions I think that occur about how Christianity relates to American politics. Reinhold Niebuhr, his thought was committed to trying to figure out what it would look like if as a matter of fact America had a Christian Secretary of State and the primary implication is they have to be planning out how to kill as few as possible and that means you need to be smart in terms of how you act out of American self-interests. Niebuhr never called into question whether a Christian could be a Secretary of State. He wanted that.

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