Friday 4 July 2008

Celebrating Independence Day with Hauerwas

We’ve discussed this before – but, just as a reminder, here’s a remark from Stanley Hauerwas on churches and Independence Day. Addressing a group of seminary students, he said:

“I assume most of you are here because you think you are Christians, but it is not all clear to me that the Christianity that has made you Christians is Christianity. For example: How many of you worship in a church with an American flag? I am sorry to tell you that your salvation is in doubt. How many of you worship in a church in which the fourth of July is celebrated? I am sorry to tell you that your salvation is in doubt.”

Update: Jim thinks Hauerwas is wrong; and Chris and Lee agree.


Jim said...

Hauerwas is wrong.

Anonymous said...

actually, he's right.

Jim said...

saying it doesn't make it so, mike. h. is wrong on a primal level. hence, he is altogether wrong. he is arguing for a salvation achieved through the work of total severance from national identity.

it might sound chic to damn an entire group for their alleged political perspectives, but h. obviously has not thought the issue through. he's grandstanding, as is his common trope.

Anonymous said...

Jim is wrong. He appeals to a Pauline sola gratia and goes on to suggest that having a flag in church actually compares rather favourably with sitting in church with money in your pockets. But try this thought experiment. You are worshipping in a house church in Corinth. A collection is taken for the poor in Jerusalem (cf. II Corinthians 8-9). And there is a Roman ensign hanging beside the Lord's table? I don't think so. Although of course it is true that we may idolatrously pledge allegiance to capital as well as the Capitol, when Paul says that Jesus is Lord, the foil is not Mammon but Caesar.

By the way, of course Stanley is grandstanding, but only a literalist would conclude that he is arguing for a form of works righteousness based on one's total dissociation from citizenship. A "trope" is, after all - a trope.

Ben Myers said...

Jim, you suggest that "Hauerwas wishes to make Christianity a-political" — but I think it's exactly the opposite: he wants to make the church much more political, properly political. A church that flies the national flag is not being "too political" — it's just contradicting its own political identity.

Anonymous said...

Chris is wrong too. He doesn't like Hauerwas' street-fighting and hyperbolic style. Tough s**t! ;) Don't folk see that Stanley's style is far too cultivated not to be laced with irony? In fact (not to mention his love of baseball!), Stanley's jeremiads actually demonstrate, if counter-intuitively, just what a patriot he is. Surveying the American scene in 1851, after the enactment of the Fugitive Slave Law, Thomas Wentworth Higginson wrote of "find[ing] one's self outside of established institutions ... to see law and order, police and military, on the wrong side, and find[ing] good citizenship a sin and bad citizenship a duty" (cited in Andrew Delbanco, Melville: His World and Work [2005]). Also, Hauerwas is too great a fan of Bonhoeffer not to believe in an appropriate patriotism (see Keith Clements, A Patriotism for Today: Love of Country in Dialogue with the Witness of Dietrich Bonhoeffer [1984]).

Finally, Chris writes that "No doubt a jingoistic celebration of American exceptionalism against other nations of the world would be sinful." But that's just the problem: such anti-exceptionalism American patriotism is - exceptional. And the endemic inseparability of militarism with American patriotism, not least in our celebrations, is as embarrassing as it is shameful. What a difference here in Wales, where for love of country they sing of their bardic traditions and poets.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Kim. For a European - and German in particular, who is just learning through soccer how to handle flags and national symbols in public (however, NOT in church) - it is great to know that there are some Christian voices in the US questioning the peculiar mix of patriotism and religion (I hesitate to say Christianity...).

I am sure we have other blind spots. But I think we have learned a historical lesson about patriotism that deserves to be heard, by reading Bonhoeffer or otherwise.

scott said...

I wanna jump on this train:

Stanley and Kim and Ben and all who agree with us are right!

1. If Hauerwas had said "justification", Jim's criticisms would have more merit. Biblically, 'salvation' is a large enough concept to include our faith(ful) [pistis!] response, and so our faithfulness is a factor. Arguably, a church who's life should be centered in the liturgical praise of God alone, but who - alongside such praise - also gathers ritually once a year to celebrate Another, and who - the rest of the year - carries on its praise of God with the high-flying mascot of that Other watching from the corner.... then, arguably that church's "salvation" (not justification) is in "doubt".

2. Of course he's trying to evoke a response - and this a 'spoken' claim to live audiences, used to generate discussion. The context is not an academic essay, to be dissected by sensitive propositionalists. Here we have a rhetorician at his best, and to get it you've got to get the man (which, I'm saying, Ben and Kim and others like us do). :)

3. Finally, he said "in doubt", not non-existent. I mean, who's salvation isn't?

Anonymous said...

Stanley is on his continuing quest to see that we not confuse the Christian "we" with the American "we".

Those with a half hour to spare, can hear Hauerwas address these issues, as a guest of a local radio program, a couple of days ago.


Anonymous said...

This talk was given at a youth ministry conference in Princeton, and it was published in the Princeton Seminary Bulletin. Hauerwas wrote the piece, though, for a talk he gives to youth every year at Duke during a summer camp. Gotta find some way to get those teenagers' attention!

Evan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Evan said...

Though I enjoy Hauerwas, I must agree with Jim here, and i'd like to respond to Kim's critique of his critique. The point of idolatry is the key here, and I think that Hauerwas would agree. But there seems no reason to assume that the presence of a political flag implies worship of it, or recognition of any regime's ultimate sovereignty as opposed to God's. If Hauerwas can demonstrate that this is the case, then by all means, he should. If he can demonstrate that there is strong reason even to think that it might be the case, then by all means, he should retain the language of salvation being in "doubt". But I just don't see that here, and so I agree that this can quickly turn into slander of other Christians without proper justification.

The thought experiment of a Corinthian church seems worth considering, but as a contrast to the current situation rather than a comparison. We should be able to recognize the difference between a regime hostile to the supreme sovereignty of the Lord God and a regime that does not claim such sovereignty but does claim its own level of political authority... and we should be able to do this without defaulting to talk of Empire and Constantinianism because we can't negotiate the temporal nature of earthly powers that are very much subject to God. I think this is the problem with much political theology these days- how radically they feel the need to cast the situation, when in fact a very many regimes have been, though imperfectly, shaped by a Christian view of the sovereignty of God and the temporality of earthly powers.

When the president or the state insists upon divine accolades, Hauerwas can return with his criticism and I would welcome it. In my mind, the presence of a flag in a church building has not been properly articulated as an instance of this. It is worth mentioning as an odd practice, and I think that Christians have become too used to self-identification along political rather than ecclesial terms, but I don't think it deserves such damning words as Hauerwas offers. If Hauerwas can celebrate a Bonhoefferian patriotism, then we shouldn't mention the fact as if it serves to balance other comments that he makes. If this is an acceptable form of "patriotism" for someone to embrace, then it should be the measure of Hauerwas' other comments rather than some sort of atonement for them.

Evan said...

We should also not forget that these comments are being posted on Independence Day. Whatever the failures of American government and society, the ambiguity of any theopolitical question becomes apparent when we consider that the national holiday is itself a celebration of liberation from a political regime. By absolutizing these political acts in our criticism of them, we lose sight of the give and take of the nations of this world. Considering the actual act of something like a declaration of and struggle for political independence, it is easier to see that no government should consider itself in an absolute position that would encroach on the worship of the one true God; the holiday recognizes a struggle to assert this very truth against Empire. Insofar as the US has become an empire itself, Hauerwas has something to talk about. But criticizing the hanging of a flag isn't the way to go about doing it.

Anonymous said...

As is so often true of Stanley, even when he's wrong he is right.

Anonymous said...

Not only is Jim wrong, he doesn't seem to have understood much Hauerwas.

I put up the following as a comment on Jim's site, but apparently it was rejected for whatever reason by the moderator.

Hauerwas make Christianity a-political? Hardly. Rather, its a different kind of political. The church is to live the kingdom of God, not to be a service of the United State’s civil religion so as to baptize American wars. Thats fairly political really and not that all “chic.” Rather unpopular actually and takes a great deal of faith to live, even within a community of character.

As for Hauerwas’ opinion of money, he certainly has one and it is fairly coherent with his project. Maybe look it up?

Blackhaw said...

Hauerwas' is using very strong rhetoric here. That is obvious. He seems to use it to make a much smaller point. That is fine in many instances. But i think others are past what his rhetoric can serve and thus should just take it for what it is but ignore its super strong statements.

I do not see anything wrong with a flag in a church. There are so many other possible idols.

Andy Rowell said...

Here is the link to the full article:

The Princeton Seminary Bulletin 28:2 (2007)

Why Did Jesus Have to Die?: An Attempt to Cross the Barrier of Age by Stanley Hauerwas

Anonymous said...

I am at the altar rail about to receive the eucharist, when the communion hymn sweeps up behind me...

"My country 'tis of thee,
sweet land of liberty,
of THEE I sing"

and the THEE was clearly the felt idolatrous

the rest of the service was unobjectionable, but the fact that the god of american civil religion and the God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit could be conflated without it being a a problem

By having the flag in church, by celebrating the Fourth of July, we lose the markers, that remind us that we are citizens of another kingdom...

I don't think Hauerwas can say it too often...


Unknown said...

For my part, I disdain flag waving in the church, and our parish doesn't have them. But Hauerwas is simply employing hyperbole to make a point. If he's not, then he is wrong. Insofar as the gospel is heralded and the individual finds he or she trusts it, then as off-base as it might be to have a flag in the "sanctuary," it's not enough to cast anyone's salvation in doubt.

Kim's right: he's grandstanding. The simple point is that Jesus is Lord — not the caesar and not the president. It's about as appropriate to put a flag in your church as it would have been for the Roman house churches in the first century to hang the eagle-laden standards of the imperial army on their walls.

And just because the divine accolades the American government demands are more subtle than that of the caesar's doesn't mean they aren't there. America, no less than caesar, has a messiah complex. Who's the savior of the world? Who brings freedom? I know of at least one country that claims to be in this business...

Anonymous said...

"It is worth mentioning as an odd practice, and I think that Christians have become too used to self-identification along political rather than ecclesial terms, but I don't think it deserves such damning words as Hauerwas offers."

Evan, i'm not sure what you mean by odd practice. Could you clear that up for me?

It seems to me that the flag implies allegiance, conquest, and unity. Any other time we see a flag (ball game, grade school, etc), it is often followed by singing how great our nation is or by reciting the pledge of ALLEGIANCE.

I'm not sure that anybody needs to be more explicit about why a flag is in a church. Unless there is another connotation the flag brings with it that i haven't thought of, it seems like we are trying to hide behind a lack of verbal articulation (America is a Christian nation!) in order to avoid the clear implications of why it is there in the 1st place.

Dave Belcher said...

This seems an odd battle to me..."assurance" of salvation is in fact found in faith, traditionally (in Luther and Calvin both -- and before them in Augustine, and yes, thus also in Aquinas...I don't know the east well on this question)..."assurance" is only granted when pistis or fides (and also fiducia -- "hearty trust") is placed in the mercy of God in Christ...when the person is freed from their own self-condemnation and freed to "stand before" God a sinner and find there mercy because of the gift of Christ. It seems really basic to me to say that one has no real "assurance" of "salvation" -- the person's stance before God -- if their fiducia is placed in something other than God...

The presence of a national flag -- which is, yes, only a symbol of allegiance and national pride -- at least questions where in fact allegiance is placed (an ambiguity that would seem to call into question the church's baptismal vows). Any of you who have actually met Stanely know that he does theology in a hyperbolic mode...but that doesn't make this particular statement wrong -- I think he's really quite simply right (and I usually tend to disagree with Hauerwas especially on his reflections on church and politics).

Evan said...

brainofdtrain, I think it's an odd practice for the same reason that Hauerwas uses more colorful language to describe the problem- because it suggests divided loyalties that will always create a tension between God and Caesar. Even if we are able to rightly parse what is due to each, the tension is what makes the parsing a dilemma and what makes it worth talking about in the first place. As I said above, I enjoy a lot of what Hauerwas has to say. My use of "oddity" to describe the hanging of a national flag is my attempt at a more appropriate response than his hyperbole.

Regarding which- Hauerwas certainly does use hyperbole and grandstanding as rhetorical tools to get his point across. Sometimes this works. But when some of us find this rhetoric troublesome, the defenders of Hauerwas should realize that maybe his work doesn't rub us the wrong way because he's a prophet without respect in his own land... perhaps it's just because he can be... well... a grandstander! I don't see why saying, "he's just using hyperbole" is necessarily a defense of what he does say, especially when his hyperbole touches on something as severe as calling doubt upon the salvation of anyone except himself. That just smacks of a pharisaic confidence to me.

T.B. Vick said...

If Hauerwas is correct, then there are going to be a lot of condemned people simply due to political ignorance. I'm not sure I worship a God who would condemn someone simply due to the notion or idea that their church had a flag of their country in the sanctuary - "I am sorry to tell you that your salvation is in doubt.”

However, I agree with Hauerwas, to a certain degree, in that any country, political organization, or Kingdom other than The Kingdom of God is not something we as Christian should honor to the degree that many evangelicals do in my country, anyway (the U.S.)

Dave Belcher said...

Evan and t.b. vick,

Again, though I might be "bending" Hauerwas a bit -- I would say I am because I don't know that there is a lot of "nuance" to Hauerwas' statement! -- I think that describing a "doubt" of one's salvation returns to a central theme of speculation within Christian traditions -- and specifically Reformation traditions -- on the nature of faith and especially with respect to "assurance," i.e. "conscience" Randall Zachman's really wonderful book on assurance/conscience in Luther and's called "The Assurance of Faith"

Evan said...

Balthasar's "Dare We Hope That All Men Be Saved" touches on this as well. Balthasar's ends up, however, concluding that we should hope for the salvation of all yet in some sense assume the worst for ourselves, embracing the sense in which "I" am the chief of sinners. The idea is not that all necessarily will be saved, but that we aren't in a position to call doubt upon the salvation of any except ourselves. Again, we're back to the pharisee and the tax collector. I think that the Reformation has also focused very much on the personal, inner nature of doubt and assurance, rather than on the standards by which one might judge another.

Anonymous said...

My question continues to be, what is it that Hauerwas envisions the Christian social structure to be if not sectarian? Sectarianism seems to be the only plausible end at best. He is not wrong as much as disingenuous with how is assumptions are related to the plausible outcomes of his position.

Bruce Yabsley said...

"Hauerwas is wrong." "Actually he's right." "Actually you're wrong too."

Actually, give me a break please.

"Of course Stanley is grandstanding." Well then, so much the worse for Stanley. There is clearly a point to be made along this line, but it is not dignified by this way of talking. And I don't care how much "discussion" it "provokes", this post not excepted.

Pieter Pronk said...

I never realised that for some people it is this important to have their country's flag hanging where they worship. Just goes to show how important it is for somebody to point out their error.

How about we shift the discussion from the whole "grandstanding" issue, and back to why a church should have the American flag hanging where they worship. Or maybe turn the question around: Why is having the American flag in the church where you worship important for your salvation?

Mykel G. Larson said...

Quote from that "lecture" he gave:

"I quit teaching freshman when I taught at the University of Notre Dame. I did so because I simply found it demeaning to try to convince eighteen-year-olds that they ought to take God seriously."

*rolls eyes* I suppose the universe would come into perfect harmony if we all could take God seriously at every moment in our lives.

I am curious to wonder if that whole bit about grace wasn't taken so "seriously" by Hauerwas. ;)

Blackhaw said...


That is not fair. Maybe some just think Hauerwas is wrong. I for one do. I think his gospel in the article drives his speech here. However his gospel is too small. It is too easy. And I do not think it takes all of scripture seriously.

Andy Rowell said...

Here is a link to
Hauerwas on Albert Mohler Radio Program

Mark Dever actually agrees with Hauerwas that patriotic worship services are problematic but the host misunderstands Hauerwas (who does not communicate very clearly perhaps to this audience) to mean that there is no difference between the U.S.A. and Nazi Germany where Hauerwas merely suggests that there is very serious danger in aligning Christian interests too closely with national ones as was done in Nazi German by Lutheran and Catholic Christians.

The Albert Mohler Radio Program
Show Details
Date: Thursday, July 03, 2008
Program Title: Should We Be Patriots In The Pew?
Program Notes: Guest Host: Dr. Russell Moore
Guests: Mark Dever and Stanley Hauerwas
Description: As Americans celebrate Independence Day, many churches across the country will include patriotic elements in their worship services this weekend. But is such a component nothing more than nationalist idolatry? Or is it an appropriate display of thankfulness to God for our freedoms? On today's program, guest host Russell Moore welcomes Mark Dever and Stanley Hauerwas for a provocative conversation on the subject.

Anonymous said...

I don't know about "salvation in doubt," but I am VERY glad my congregation does not have a U.S. flag (or any nation's flag). Nor do we have an Independence Day celebration, etc.

mountainguy said...

I don't think you lose your salvation by worshipping in a church with american flags, but I'm glad to find northamerican christian voices dissenting this horrible mix of christ (the prince of peace) with jingoism/nationalism/imperialism.

saludos desde Colombia

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