Duke Divinity prof. discusses war, peace
Kevin Eckstrom, Religion News Service
November 19, 2009

Duke Divinity prof. discusses war, peace

Duke Divinity prof. discusses war, peace
Kevin Eckstrom, Religion News Service
November 19, 2009


following is an edited interview with Stanley Hauerwas, Professor of

Theological Ethics at Duke Divinity School, conducted by Kevin Eckstrom, a

writer with Religious News Service.)

DURHAM — Remember that book,

How to Make Friends and Influence People? Let’s just say that Duke University

ethicist Stanley Hauerwas has been hugely influential, but that doesn’t mean

his salty tongue has made him a lot of friends along the way.

Hauerwas, a self-described

Christian pacifist, is an expert on just war theory. As Hauerwas sees it, not

only did Iraq and Afghanistan fail to meet the criteria of a just war, but

neither did World War II. Now, as the Obama administration weighs its options

in Afghanistan, Hauerwas remains decidedly pessimistic not only about American

prospects, but also American morality.

RNS photo courtesy of Duke Divinity School

Ethicist Stanley Hauerwaus is an expert on just war theory and believes Christians have been too passive about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Hauerwas, 69, talked about

his view on war and peace, his dismal assessment about the state of America’s

churches, and why President Obama isn’t likely to come calling. Some answers

have been edited for length and clarity.

Q: What should President

Obama do about Afghanistan?

A: Afghanistan was

understood to be part of the war against terror, and that was a decisive

mistake because as soon as you said we are at war, you gave Osama bin Laden

what he wanted — he became a warrior, and not just a murderer. I would be much

happier with a whole reconsideration of our involvement there — not as a war,

but as a police function, and how the police might intervene to arrest bin


I know that sounds utopian,

but just try thinking you’re going to win a war in Afghanistan. I can’t imagine

anything more utopian than that. Ask the British. Ask the Russians. It’s never

going to happen.

Q: With seven years of

hindsight, was Afghanistan ever a just war?

A: Afghanistan has the

possibility of being limited in a way that might make it a bit more

justifiable, but it’s still not clear what we’re fighting for. It’s so deeply

ambiguous that it’s hard to fit into just war criteria. The very idea that you

begin to assess the justness of a war after the war is already going to happen,

I’m sorry, it’s already too late.

Q: How would you assess the

church’s response to the Iraq war?

A: Awful. Christians — and

it started with Sept. 11, as soon as we said we are at war — Christians said “that’s

us.” We never asked the hard questions about the war on terror, and that is, I

think, why Iraq happened. It has everything to do with the inability to

distinguish between the Christian “we” and the American “we.”

Q: So does the church need a

service of repentance?

A: The church has lost its

ability to be a disciplined community because we’re now, religiously, in a

buyer’s market. Christianity has to bill itself as very good for your

self-realization, and that’s killing us because we’re not very good for your

self-realization. We’re good for your salvation, which is not the same thing.

Hopefully God is making sure that we’re not going to survive in the position we’re

currently in.

Q: What kinds of questions

should be we asking now about Afghanistan?

A: We need to ask them to

tell us the truth. Tell us that we’re engaged in an unwinnable business here,

but we have these kinds of political stakes and we want to achieve those, and

people are going to die for ambiguous political ends. Just tell us the truth.

Q: What should be the church’s

role in the debate over Afghanistan?

A: Let’s start with people

in our congregations who are connected with the military, and ask them how they

can justify that. Let’s start there. I have high regard for people in the

military, but very seldom are they asked to justify what they’re doing.

Q: So every Christian is

called to be a pacifist?

A: Yes, absolutely.

Q: So how do you respond to

people who say that’s unrealistic?

A: Try lifelong monogamous

fidelity in marriage. Do you think that’s realistic? Yet we do it. I’m not

terribly cowed by the charge of being unrealistic.

Q: If Obama were to call you

for advice on Afghanistan, what would you say?

A: I’d say you have to tell

the American some really hard truths, namely that the war on terror was a

mistake and we’ve got to start, as Americans, learning to live in a world that

we don’t control. That’s not going to make you very popular.

Q: So you’d be politically

toxic to the president of the United States?

A: Yeah, I would be. Just

like (former Obama pastor) Jeremiah Wright. I hope I’m absolutely as toxic as

Jeremiah Wright.

Q: Why?

A: Because I think what I’m

saying is what Christians should be saying.

Q: The hard truths?

A: Absolutely.