It’s time for Mark Tooley to stop bullying Stanley Hauerwas and other pacifists

It’s time for Mark Tooley to stop bullying Stanley Hauerwas and other pacifists September 12, 2013

Galatians 5:20 says that the works of the sinful nature include “enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, [and] factions.” These things are no less detrimental to Biblical Christian holiness than fornication, adultery, and other sexual sins. And they have become the poisonous porneia of many Christians arguing on the Internet (including myself). This is why I’m very troubled by the attacks that have been coming out of the Institute for Religion and Democracy against Stanley Hauerwas and other Christian pacifists like him through the columns (here, here, and here) of IRD president Mark Tooley. These attacks do not exhibit the approach to Christian debate that “makes for peace and mutual edification” (Romans 14:19).

I am not a pacifist. Nor am I a purist when it comes to the presence of the American flag at the front of my congregation’s sanctuary. But I commend Stanley Hauerwas for calling upon the church to distance itself from American exceptionalism and partisan politics in order to bear faithful witness to true kingdom living. So when Mark Tooley takes a swipe at Hauerwas in a paragraph like this, it makes my blood boil:

Hauerwas has a wide following among oldline Protestants and some evangelicals, who imagine that his defiance of traditional religious conservatism is provocative, even naughty. But little of what Hauerwas offers is seriously prescriptive for the church’s public witness. It’s mostly just flippant repartee suitable for the professoriate and some student followers.

It is reckless to accuse Hauerwas of “defying traditional religious conservatism” without any substantiation. Hauerwas is quite conservative on social issues; he just doesn’t toe the Republican party line when it comes to war or laissez-faire capitalism, but those things shouldn’t have anything to do with “traditional religious conservatism.” The only thing “flippant” here is a paragraph full of unsubstantiated accusations in a 568 word blog piece that doesn’t engage Hauerwas’ actual thought in any depth.

Tooley’s attack on pacifism continues in a subsequent article with his ridicule of a “politically irrelevant plea [from several mainline denominations] to President Obama denouncing ‘military strikes’ on Syria and urging ‘diplomatic efforts to stop the bloodshed.'” When he contends that “churches are right to pray and urge peace” but they are “unserious and betray their calling by advocating that governments be pacifist,” what he’s admitting is that he considers praying for peace to be an “unserious,” ceremonial activity, basically analogous to telling people in need, ““Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” without doing anything concrete to help them (James 2:16).

The question is whether Christians are supposed to conform to what the secular world considers “realistic” in bearing witness to the cruciform life that we challenge the world to consider. It is telling that none of Tooley’s attacks on pacifism draw upon a Biblical foundation in making their case. In a recent post about Syria, evangelical pastor Brian Zahnd makes an important point about the “realism” attack against pacifism:

We have to be faithful. Being “realistic” does not exempt us from faithfulness to Christ. If we tell ourselves that Jesus has called us to “change the world” then we quickly find ways to justify our violent means. But Jesus doesn’t call us to change the world — he calls us to be faithful to his ways of peace. If in our faithfulness to Jesus we happen to change the world, fine, but our first call is to remain faithful. Jesus calls us to love our enemies, not because this is an “effective tactic,” but because this is what God is like.

What is “unserious” is to assume from the comfort of our air-conditioned offices that “we” (or rather others who put themselves in harm’s way on our behalf) are responsible for fixing all of the problems in other countries with a violence that is at least “doing something” and has time and again proven to perpetuate the problems that it supposedly addresses (e.g. arming Saddam Hussein to pummel the Ayatollah in the 80’s, creating Al Qaeda via the Afghani Mujihadeen to go after the Soviets in Afghanistan, etc).

It is not just “unserious” but chilling to airbrush the loss of innocent lives out of past tragedies like the original September 11th that happened in the CIA-supported Chilean coup of 1973, of which Tooley has written admiringly in the past in addition to his post yesterday attacking Christian pacifist Shane Claiborne for mentioning it alongside the more recent September 11th.

Because Shane Claiborne named both tragedies on his facebook page without further commentary, Tooley accuses him of implying “that the alleged U.S. role in Allende’s overthrow contextualizes if not justifies the al Qaeda strikes on the U.S. that murdered nearly 3000.” So to name the two events side by side is no different than saying that one event explains and justifies the other and the two events are morally “equivalent” even though they involved completely different sets of people and 38 years in between?

Tooley ends up using Claiborne’s post as an excuse to attack Hauerwas, whom he calls the “current godfather of neo-Anabaptist thought” that “popularized the notion that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is not so much atoning for the world’s sins as rejecting all violence.” The miscategorization of that sentence is simply breathtaking. So to make any claims at all about the nonviolence of the cruciform life to which Christians are called not simply by the cross itself but by Jesus’ direct teaching on the Sermon on the Mount is somehow to deny that Jesus’ death atones for our sin?

When people make these kinds of accusations flippantly without substantiation, they need to be called to account. Tooley doesn’t give any supporting evidence for this tremendous theological claim, which essentially accuses all Christian pacifists of heresy. The irony about this line of attack is that an alien perusing Tooley’s Institute for Religion and Democracy website would probably come to the conclusion that September 11th is a bigger religious holiday for American Christians than Good Friday itself. Tooley actually praises Billy Graham for being a “priest of American civil religion” in his sermon on September 11th, a label which I’m not sure Graham would embrace too eagerly.

Tooley then quotes Hauerwas saying that “Americans have no sense of how it is that we can be this hated” after our September 11th happened as a sort of insinuated “proof” that Hauerwas is saying that September 11th was justified by the harm that the US has caused to other countries in the world. He then tries to explain how there is no reasonable comparison between our September 11th and Pinochet’s Chilean coup, never once naming the extrajudicial torture of 31,947 civilians and murder of 2,279 that were part of it. He says rather that “under General Augusto Pinochet and the junta Chile was restored to order and prospered under free market economics.”

I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask Tooley if he thinks that the extra-judicial torture and murder of civilians are justified by the need to restore “order” and “free market economics.” And if they are indeed justified and they shouldn’t be remembered as a tragedy alongside whatever other 9/11’s have happened in the world, then the only difference between the terrorism Tooley defends in 1973 Chile and the terrorism he denounces in 2001 Manhattan is its ideological foundation. Once individual human lives become dispensable out of the need for “order” and “prosperity,” then you’ve lost the basis for criticizing any dictator who has ever napalmed a village to “save” the village.

It’s okay to disagree about the degree of radicalness with which we should interpret our responsibility as Christians to lead nonviolent, cruciform lives in obedient discipleship of our nonviolent crucified savior, and how this should shape what we say to our government. I serve in a church with a majority military population who are trying to honor Christ the best they can within their context, and I’m glad that at least some of the people making the tough, life-and-death decisions I will never have to make in the heat of battle are Christians. I can respect Stanley Hauerwas and Shane Claiborne and take them seriously, even though I do not ultimately draw my lines in the same place they do.

What’s not okay is to casually hurl unsubstantiated accusations about the orthodoxy of theologians who represent a different perspective. Considering the cross a witness of nonviolence does nothing to impoverish its power as atonement for our sin. There is nothing “liberal” about pacifism; Mennonites are some of the most conservative Christians around. To plot “pacifism” according to the arbitrary left-right axis created by America’s partisan voting coalitions of convenience is to let the secular world dictate the terms of our Christianity to us. Furthermore, if Tooley is going to consider all these questions without any Biblical foundation to his writing (which there wasn’t at least in the four posts I read), then it’s reasonable to ask whether his Institute for Religion and Democracy is truly a Christian entity or a promoter of “American civil religion.”

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