This is the introduction I gave to Stanley Hauerwas’s lecture “Sacrificing the Sacrifices of War.” It reveals both my deep admiration for Stanley and my willingness to wring a blog post out of anything (everything) I write.
Tonight we honor the memory of Brad Long, a West Virginia Wesleyan student whose life was tragically cut short by an automobile accident in 1983. Brad’s parents, Reginald and Patricia, established a memorial fund with the intention of supporting events like tonight’s lecture—occasions to challenge the prevailing norms about war and conflict in our world: to unsettle our complacency, our sloppy thinking, our deep resignation, our fatalism about the presumed inevitability of violence.
I’m told that Brad Long wanted to work in some form of conflict resolution. He didn’t get that chance. But his family’s generosity has provided opportunities for our community to imagine alternatives to our culture’s death-dealing ways, and we are grateful to them for that. They in turn are grateful for your presence here. Brad’s parents were not able to be here tonight but they send their thanks to Dr. Hauerwas and to each of you for being part of an event that would have meant so much to their son.
I’m struck by the timeliness of our topic this evening. Just this past Friday a CIA drone missile took out an American-born leader of Al-Qaeda. The operation was clinical, surgical in its precision—like a medical robot pinpointing the trouble spot on your grandmother’s gall bladder. No fuss, no muss. The war on terror as high-tech video game.
Not many of us gave serious attention to this. It happened, not accidentally, perhaps, on a Friday afternoon and we had the baseball playoffs to think about and the new Seth Rogen movie to see and, come Monday, Friday’s news is just old news . . . so not many of us have given serious attention to this. There was a tiny minority who raised concerns about the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki. Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul suggested that there might be constitutional issues at stake, even calling the hit an “assassination,” but Ron Paul is considered the really crazy one in a big pot of crazy so he was roundly ignored.
The subtext of it all—at least in part—is that as a nation we seem unable to countenance any moral equivalency between modern warfare and non-state terrorism, between state-sponsored violence and the rogue extremism we say we are fighting. And it seems that the primary objection to the killing of an untried terror suspect in Yemen has to do with the fact that he was an American—not that he was a human being.
It’s this lack of imagination, the poverty of our powers of moral description, the inability simply to name what is going on that has been central to the work of Stanley Hauerwas over the years. For 14 years at Notre Dame and more than a quarter-century at Duke he has been writing and speaking and illuminating and offending. While he has written much about war—his topic tonight—his work as a whole is wildly expansive in scope and subject matter, impressive in its depth, always substantial in its undertaking.
Yet the span of Hauerwas’s reach–impressive and substantial as it is–has also elicited its share of criticism through the years: A professional ethicist who preaches and publishes sermons? A respected authority on matters of war and statecraft who writes about sex and people with disabilities? A Barthian/Yoderian with Thomistic tendencies? A Metho-Menno-Episcopalian-of-late with deep affinities for all things Catholic? This lack of respect for disciplinary and ecclesial boundaries has made Stanley Hauerwas suspect among many in both the academy and the church.
The thematic sprawl that has consistently marked Hauerwas’s work is not, however, intellectual promiscuity or unchecked professional ambition (Stanley’s self-described Texas-sized ego notwithstanding). Rather, Hauerwas writes about war, worship, medicine, marriage, language, liberalism, violence, virtues, Barth, and bricklaying because in attempting to do theology truthfully, these things messily, necessarily overlap. “Christian Ethics,” under the pedagogy of Stanley Hauerwas, names a richly-varied enterprise indeed.
I could tell you that Stanley is from Texas, the son of a bricklayer named Coffee Hauerwas whose skill as a tradesman profoundly shaped Stanley’s own vocation as a theologian.
I could tell you that Hauerwas is famous for his profanity: You can take the boy out of Texas but you can’t take a bricklayer’s potty mouth out of the boy (a Yale education notwithstanding).
I could tell you that two years ago the book Hauerwas co-authored with Jean Vanier changed the life of Wesleyan graduate, Nicole Biondi. Vanier, you may know, is the founder of L’Arche (French for “the ark”)—a network of communities around the world where people with and without disabilities live together. Nicole read Living Gently in a Violent World and sensed that all her life experiences had been preparing her for a vocation she hadn’t been able to name: to go and live in a L’Arche community where she would spend hours at a time feeding or bathing or otherwise caring for persons with profound disabilities. She understood that this would not be an exercise in charity or self-congratulatory do-goodism but would be damn hard work–yet purposeful work, transformative work.
I thought about Nicole at her graduation, as the considerable accomplishments of Wesleyan’s Fulbright scholars were highlighted (and kudos to those very bright and talented and deserving young women). But let’s face it, graduating from college to go forth and spend your days wiping someone’s dirty chin or butt doesn’t register much social prestige. We might admire the selflessness of it but we hardly know how to claim it as a worthy way to spend one’s ”career” after all the toil (and expense) of four years of college.
But that’s what reading Hauerwas will do to you.
I could tell you all this but here’s what I want to tell you, what I want to leave you with: Stanley Hauerwas is a man of tremendous generosity. For more than twenty years he has been a teacher, mentor, and friend to me. He has been a source of support through the highs and lows of my professional and personal life. And he is a truthteller—the kind of friend who will tell you what you need to hear, always with grace, not what you want or hope to hear. I would wish for each of you that kind of friend—and that you yourself might be that kind of friend to another. Stanley’s honest friendship has been a great gift in my life.
“Sacrificing the Sacrifices of War.” With his characteristic bluntness, but always with grace, Hauerwas asks us this evening to rethink the ground of our own commitment to a politics built on violent sacrifice. He asks Christians to remember that if we “leave the Eucharistic table ready to kill one another, we not only eat and drink judgment on ourselves, we rob the world of the witness necessary for the world to know there is an alternative to the sacrifices of war.” Challenges, indeed, to our moral imagination.
Will you please welcome Dr. Stanley Hauerwas.