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 to—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.

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Posted on 07-07-2008

Comments

  1. Jonathan Martin says:

    July 8th, 2008 at 12:12 am

    Steve,
    Thanks so much for posting on Dr. Hauerwas’ visit, and for the very kind words about my introduction!!! I was so glad you got to come by–I saw Anthony got to make it as well, and I’m playing phone tag with another friend (Jerry) from the cohort.

    While Hauerwas always ruffles feathers, we have received mostly positive responses at this point, and it has really been exciting to see the community riled up around these very important issues.

    I just wanted to offer a brief clarification–as well as opportunity, with regards to the q and a. As I think I may have mentioned when we chatted, we had some complications before in reference to profanity on our podcast. I did a message last Fall on “Liars” where I quoted a passage at length from Frederick Buechner’s lovely novel Love Feast about God and shit (tastefully so, I felt!). As it turns out, if you use one of the “Carlin 7 words”, your podcast has to be labeled explicit. So for the podcast we only edited the 2 words that warrant that label to avoid the complications of that. But if anybody would prefer the unedited version, the cd version we have at the office and at services on Sunday is in fact uncut.

    Thanks again, friend. I look forward to another lunch at Dish!

  2. Steve K. says:

    July 8th, 2008 at 7:28 am

    Jonathan, thanks for stopping by! And thanks for clarifying that about the podcast.

    Until next time at Dish!

  3. Link’n Roll | Homebrewed Christianity says:

    July 10th, 2008 at 10:56 am

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  4. Andrew Tatum says:

    July 11th, 2008 at 9:17 am

    I’m not surprised at all about his statements about voting. And since I tend to lean toward being a card-carrying member of the “Hauerwasian mafia,” I also agree with much of what he said. In particular, the statements about truthfulness in public discourse need to be heard by any Christian who takes the influence that faith has on politics seriously. Hauerwas isn’t so much intentionally provocative as he is simply interested in telling things as he sees them (hence, if you’ve heard him speak or read anything he’s written once, you’ve heard it a thousand times – hey, at least he’s consistent). Anyway, glad you’ve posted this! Hope to read more of your stuff soon!

  5. » Friday’s Bulleted List Life’s Paradox says:

    July 11th, 2008 at 2:53 pm

    […] Hauerwas to vote for Obama (via).  Also see “Cocktail Party” links on this and related topics on Lee’s post here (note: the cocktail party happened before Jonathan linked to the Hauerwas-to-vote-for-Obama link). […]

  6. Random Acts of Linkage #68 : Subversive Influence says:

    July 12th, 2008 at 12:53 am

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  7. Christians & Politics, Rd. 7: Links Galore « HarvestBoston says:

    July 21st, 2008 at 1:07 pm

    […] Knightopia.com reports on a talk by Dr. Stanley Hauerwas, the always colorful and radical New Testament scholar and cultural critic from Duke. Hauerwas always offers us a thoughtful and impassioned perspective on just about any subject, particularly those related to issues of church and state.  His comments at Renovatus Church are no different.  Here’s a snippet, but read the entire thing (and listen to the audio if you have time): “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.” […]

  8. Jeff says:

    August 22nd, 2008 at 11:14 am

    This is very interesting, enlightening and thought-provoking. Thanks!

    I must say, however; that some of what Dr. Hauerwas proposes is simply not possible. How can we, for instance, “guarantee” a “living wage” to every baby that’s born in America? There simply is no way to do that, partly because we’ve yet to determine what a living wage is. In addition, what is a living wage in an inexpensive area of the country would hardly suffice in, say, Boston.

    In addition, where is the money going to come from, for everybody to be paid this “living wage”? It’s always supposed to come from “those %$#@# rich people” (in other words, somebody who I think makes more money than I do). But the truth is, by world standards, just about all of us in America are “rich”. In fact, many of the poor in America already live at a MUCH higher standard than most of the people in the world. So doesn’t that mean that WE are the ones who should be doling out the money for people to make a “living wage”?

    I’d venture a guess that Dr. Hauerwas is making a pretty nice living – which he is perfectly entitled to do. Hard work, good choices, God-given abilities, and education tend to point a person in that direction. But I’d also bet my bottom dollar that he is NOT paying a housekeeper $75,000 per year, or a grounds-keeper the same “living wage”. Why not? Is he waiting for somebody else to do what he’s saying we all need to do?

    I’d also like to raise the issue of why certain jobs pay more than others. Doesn’t it make sense that a highly-skilled commercial airline pilot SHOULD make more money per year, than the high-school drop-out who is sweeping floors at McDonalds? Let’s step outside the inevitable discussion about the reasons why kids drop out of school, and just admit that some jobs merit more pay than others. And let’s not muddy the waters by bringing up the asinine compensation of corporate CEOs. The truth is, there are people who are unable to, or unwilling to, do jobs that require extremely hard work and/or high levels of skills. Should those people be paid the exact same amount of money as Dr. Hauerwas – a man who has obviously invested an enormous amount of time, money and work into his education and career?

    But mostly, I’m saddened that all of this becomes an excuse for Christians to vote for aggressively pro-abortion political candidates, just because said candidate has charm and charisma. We cannot promise a perfect life for everyone that is born, any more than we were promised a perfect life before we were born. And the potential for financial comfort should never interfere with our decision as to whether or not a child should be allowed to be born alive.

    By all means, let’s do EVERYTHING we can to improve life for EVERYBODY we can. It’s nothing less than what Jesus did – and would do. But, by all means, let’s let babies be born alive, so that they too can enjoy life.

  9. Stanley Hauerwas on Obama (he’s “probably” voting for him) « Vox Nova says:

    September 3rd, 2008 at 10:28 am

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  10. Christians, Voting and White Privilege « Seeking First the Kingdom says:

    September 4th, 2008 at 9:38 am

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  11. hope like mad » Who to vote for? the savior, the war hero, or none of the above » says:

    September 6th, 2008 at 8:57 am

    […] what are we to do?  Who are we to vote for?  Or should we even vote at all?  Steve Knight posted this quote from Stanley Hauerwas that in typical Stanley fashion is very thought provoking. […]

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  13. Media Monday: Stan Hauerwas Talks to Pentecostals « azusaremixed.com says:

    September 22nd, 2008 at 4:50 am

    […] Media Monday: Stan Hauerwas Talks to Pentecostals Although Renovatus Church–a Pentecostal assembly in Charlotte, North Carolina–is redoing their website, a discussion between their pastor, Jonathan Martin, and Dr. Stanley Hauerwas, is available for listening through the blog of Steve Knight. To listen to Hauerwas and Martin discuss the Gospel of Matthew and American politics click here. […]

  14. Thom Stark » Stanley Goes to the Circus says:

    October 7th, 2008 at 10:03 am

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  15. Why I’m Not Voting says:

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