Hauerwas: “I’ll Probably Vote for Obama”
On June 29, Renovatus Church in Charlotte hosted Dr. Stanley Hauerwas for a special Q&A discussion to wrap up the church’s recent series on the Gospel of Matthew, which involved reflections on Hauerwas’ commentary of that book.
Pastor Jonathan Martin shared a wonderful introduction to Hauerwas, which you can read on Jonathan’s blog. Some of Hauerwas’ comments were to not-so-well received (as you can imagine), so the church delayed posting the audio so they could edit out a couple of the profanities and so that they could post it simultaneously with Jonathan’s “Pastoral Response” to the issues raised in the conversation with Hauerwas.
I haven’t listened to Jonathan’s response yet, but I plan toâ€”and I encourage everyone who listens to hear Hauerwas would also listen to Jonathan’s follow-up as he is a brilliant thinker and dynamic speaker in his own right. (“Pastoral Response” audio is here, Jonathan’s blog post on it is here.)
So back to July 29 … Hauerwas said many really challenging and provocative things, but the part of the conversation I was most intrigued by was his response to the “softball” question that Jonathan said was the #1 question submitted by people in the church, which was essentially: “How should we then vote?”
This is how Hauerwas responded (my transcription of the audio, which starts at around an hour and three minutes in, with my emphasis added):
“First of all, you’ve got to remember that voting is not an end in itself. First of all, if you want to know what coercion looks like, it’s called a democratic election. It’s where 51% get to dominate 49%. … [long story here, which I’m editing out for brevity’s sake] … Now that’s democracy: Namely, you create the necessity of conversation through which people get to express their differences in a way you simply have to learn to wait. So elections have very little to do with democracy. They’re just a means to try to help you have debates you need to have that you otherwise would not have. …
“As a person that’s committed to Christian non-violence, which means that you basically have an anarchist view of the world, I try to obey all every law I can to show good faith with my citizen brother and sister who are not of my persuasion. So, I have very strong views about abortion. … I don’t mean to say I want Roe versus Wade overturned. What I want, for example, is for some American politician to come along and say, ‘We’re going to give every child that’s born in this society a living wage.’ I mean, let’s start on the positive end …
“I do find it hard to vote, but I’m a yellow dog Democrat from Texas. So that is, you know, ‘Democrats from Texas would rather vote for a yellow dog than a Republican.’ So I tend to vote, but I try not to take it too seriously. I regard it basically as the Roman circus where you’re given entertainment to stop the American people from concentrating on … what really should be at the heart of the political process. Namely, such as, why is it that no one is angry at the inequality of income in this country? I mean, the inequality of income is unbelievable. Unbelievable. Why isn’t that ever an issue of politics? Because you don’t live in a democracy. You live in a plutocracy. Money rules.
“I want to be as politically involved as I can, but I try not to take it too seriously. I’m much more interested in how I can be involved in people getting decent wages that clean the buildings at Duke University than I am about what happens in Washington, D.C. Though I understand, Washington, D.C., has finally something to do with people getting decent wages who clean the building at Duke University. So those kinds of connections you have to make. …
“I’ll probably vote for Obama, if you want to know. Not that it [matters] … I mean, it’s quite an extraordinary symbolic vote, and I care about it because I’m a white Southerner. I understand race. … But the great problem there is going to be the over-expectations that are associated if he wins. … Racism aint gonna go away. So how to negotiate those kinds of matters, is, I take it, a constant issue of discernment that needs to be discussed as the Church because one of the things that the Church rarely does is talk about politics, because again that’s made private.
“I mean, how would you feel if Jonathan said, ‘I’m going to tell you how to vote’? I’d like him to have that authority because then you would really have to worry about him, wouldn’t you? And that’d be a very good thing for you to hold him accountable in that way.
“I’m told I’m supposed to be a ‘sectarian fideistic tribalist,’ is the description of me, asking Christians to withdraw from the world. I wouldn’t mind withdrawing, but hell, we’re surrounded. There’s nowhere to go. The question is how to just keep going through, and you’re going to take some losses. So we have to be wilely as serpents on these matters. I’m not asking you to withdraw from politics. I’m just asking you to be there as a Christian.
“There’s nothing more important in American politics than being able to hold people to truthfulness, and the reason that American politicians are afraid of telling us the truth is because the American people don’t want to know it. Do we want to know that we’re the richest people in the world, raping the rest of the world [so] that we can remain rich? Do we want to know that Iraqi war really is about cheap oil? Do you really want to know that?
“Do you really want to be told that, ‘Look, America is a racist country, and the terms keep getting changed to hide that from ourselves?’ Let an American politician run saying, ‘I’m ready to tell you the truth. Are you ready to vote for me?’ Let the church of God be that people that are ready to hold people to the truth, and then you will be the most political people in the world. Do that.”
That was the end of the conversation, but there was much more at the beginning about the Church and Hauerwas’ views on the book of Matthew, non-violence, etc. Listen to the whole conversation and then go listen to Jonathan’s pastoral response.
What do you think of Hauerwas’ answer to the voting question? Are you surprised? Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment and let me know what you think.