Learning to speak Christian

Stanley Hauerwas reflects on the challenges of learning how to "speak Christian" at the ABC News Religion blog:

By Stanley Hauerwas
Posted at ABC News's Religion and Ethics

I have spent a lifetime, for better or worse, as a teacher. No doubt I deserve to be judged, as the letter of James in the New Testament suggests, with greater strictness because I have surely made many mistakes.

But I am also sure that, to the extent I have learned to speak truly, I have done so because I have had to teach others how Christians in the past have spoken.
In truth, I have only come recently to understand that what I have been doing for many years has been teaching people how to talk.

I was startled by a remark a friend made to me recently. He is a graduate student in anthropology with whom I was writing a paper, in which we tried to challenge the presumption that "global Christianity" was an adequate description of what it means for the church to be "Catholic."

He told me that, when he is asked by his colleagues what it was like to write with me, he has to say it is not easy because, in his words, "Hauerwas only knows how to write Christian."

Comments (5)

What today's world needs far more than "learning how to speak Christian" is "learning how to act Christlike." Actions speak louder than words. The axiom attributed to Francis of Assisi is far more pressing nowadays: "Preach the gospel -- and use words only if you have to."

Gregory Orloff

In the full version of the article, Hauerwas seems to be making the argument that treating non-Christian conceptions of God as legitimate--e.g. by using the word God (or god) inclusively, as if it can refer to the essence of our own concept of God as well as others'--"underwrit[es] the legitimating violence of the nation state."

I am not getting this.

I don't see any link either between using the terms "God" or "god" in different contexts and the violence of the nation-state. I would like to know which scholar Hauerwas is fighting in this piece. Is it Diana Eck?

Gary Paul Gilbert

The violence of the State preceeded the development of nation states. Ever hear of the Crusades? And the Catholic Church helped to instigate that act of aggression. The professor seems to be searching for a justification for uniquely Christian language by reliance upon an unrelated inaccurate interpretation of history.

The entire piece, on the ABC website, is not that well written. I had to work to get the gist of Hauerwas' main point.If I do get it, I think I agree in part. Pastors and theologians can indeed be tempted to say too much, to speak more than the truth, and make matters worse in the process. As a pastor,I agree that such is a constant professional hazard. I have found it a true discipline at times to be silent when sitting with others who are in pain. I qualify my agreement with regard to the dynamics that are present in attempting to speak the truth to power, when that power is the church and its policy makers. In my experience, candid open discussion of issues in the church is an uphill struggle. I doubt it is just a Canadian experience. Fear of conflict and pastoral politics make freedom of discourse a challenge within the church. Piety is often the weapon of choice used to close down discussion and genuine controversy. I am not so ready to dismiss the notion of "freedom" with regard to Christianity. Liberty and freedom of speech are not well regarded inside churches. This fact impedes the ability of the church to advocate for justice in the world. I watched with interest the video about the life and witness of Jonathan Daniels. I first heard of Daniels in a recorded talk of Malcolm Boyd's when I was a high school student. As I listened to the overvoice of Daniel's own words, I thought about how much, in a few words, he was able to say, not just to society but to The church to which he was so passionately committed. Perhaps he is an example of what Stanley Hauerwas is trying to get at.

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