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Stanley Hauerwas and The Peaceable Kingdom: Part 3 of 4

G.K. Chesterton wryly remarked: “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.” What is true for Christianity is equally true for pacifism.

Let’s face it: violence sells. What would a James Bond movie be without silencer-fitted handguns taking out the “bad guys” and explosives detonating every 20 minutes? No one makes action figures of Mahatma Gandhi.

It is upstream against this strong cultural current that Stanley Hauerwas is determined to swim. Chapters 5-6 of The Peaceable Kingdom: A Primer in Christian Ethics (Notre Dame, 1983) form the heart of his argument. Much more is packed into these chapters than can be addressed here, but let us examine three ideas, namely, Jesus’ denial of the “right of violence,” the church as God’s “sanctified people,” and just war theory.

Jesus’ denial of the “right of violence”

Without question, the Sermon on the Mount is the most challenging portion of the gospels to put into action. Yet it is here in Chapter 5 of The Peaceable Kingdom where Stanley Hauerwas teases out the implications of non-violence. Commenting on Matthew 5:43-48, he insists (p. 85):

God wills nothing less than that men and women should love their enemies and forgive one another; thus will we be perfect as God is perfect. Jesus challenged both the militaristic and ritualistic notions of what God’s kingdom required – the former by denying the right of violence even if attacked, and the latter by his steadfast refusal to be separated from those on the “outside.”

Jesus was not creating a peaceful ethic out of whole cloth. Isaiah 11:6-9 is the image of the “peaceable kingdom,” of the wolf lying down with the lamb, of God’s holy mountain where lions will eat straw like an ox and where children play near a snake’s nest without fear of harm. Yet how shall this idyllic estate be attained? For Hauerwas, violence as a “right” must be eschewed and can be because the resurrection – “God’s decisive eschatological act” (p. 88) – establishes peace not in some far off future but as a “present reality” (Ibid.). The Sermon on the Mount contains “rigorous demands” but is not “some unrealizable ideal” (p. 85). Because Christians “worship a resurrected Lord, we can take the risk of love”(p. 90). This love is embodied in forgiveness, the only way that we can renounce violence.

The ethic of loving forgiveness is imaginable on a personal basis, and there are stories to bear it out, such as parents of a slain child eventually being able to forgive the guilty party. Here Hauerwas is on solid ground experientially. Where it becomes murkier is relationships between groups or nations. Is a peace ethic workable when so much is at-stake? Cannot “loving one’s neighbor as oneself” mean practicing a love that “protects” (1 Cor. 13:7)?

Yet Hauerwas seems to realize that ethical theory is insufficient. As the old saying affirms, some things are better “caught than taught.” The peaceable kingdom is best modeled not individually by corporately by the winsome lifestyle of the people of God .

Continue reading “Stanley Hauerwas and The Peaceable Kingdom: Part 3 of 4”