Hauerwas: Theses on Christian Ethics

 In The Hauerwas Reader, edited by John Berkman and Michael Cartwright, there is an essay of Stanley Hauerwas from 1981 called “Reforming Christian Social Ethics: Ten Theses.”  I’m not a pacifist (but I hate war and love peace), nor am I “with” Hauerwas in every way, but a lot of the stuff he says is provacative and very much worth pondering.  Here are a few examples.

Thesis Three: “The ability to provide and adequate account of our existence is the primary test of the truthfulness of a social ethic.  No society can be just or good that is built on falsehood.  The first task of Christian social ethics, therefore, is not to make the ‘world’ better or more just, but to help Christian people form their community consistent with their conviction that the story of Christ is a truthful account of our existence.  For as H. R. Niebuhr argued, only when we know ‘what is going on,’ do we know ‘what we should do,’ and Christians believe that we learn most decisively ‘what is going on’ in the cross and resurrection of Christ.”

Thesis Five: The primary social task of the church is to be itself – that is, a people who have been formed by a story that provides them with the skills for negotiating the danger of this existence, trusting in God’s promise of redemption.  The church is a people on a journey who insist on living consistent with the conviction that God is the Lord of history.  They thus refuse to resort to violence in order to secure their survival.  The fact that the first task of the church is to be itself is not a rejection of the world or a withdrawal ethic, but a reminder that Christians must serve the world on their own terms; otherwise the world would have no means to know itself as the world.”

Thesis Six: “Christian social ethics can only be done from the perspective of those who do not seek to control national or world history but who are content to live ‘out of control.’ …For to be out of control means Christians can risk trusting in gifts, so they have no reason to deny the contingent character of our existence.”

Thesis Nine: “For the church to be, rather than to have, a social ethic means we must recapture the social significance of common behavior, such as acts of kindness, friendship, and the formation of families.  …One of the most profound commitments of a community…is providing a context that encourages us to trust and depend upon one another.”

One more, thesis ten, without comment: “The church does not exist to provide an ethos for democracy or any other form of social organization, but stands as a political alternative to every nation, witnessing to the kind of social life possible for those that have been formed by the story of Christ.”

Stanley Hauerwas, The Hauerwas Reader, ed. J. Berkman and M. Cartwright (London: Duke University Press, 2001), chapter 5.

shane lems

sunnyside wa

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