Stanley Hauerwas

November 8, 2016

Stanley Hauerwas: “We Get the People We Deserve Running for Office”

Stanley Hauerwas, theologian and professor emeritus at Duke University, delivered a sermon at Duke Divinity School on Election Day (November 8), saying that America had gotten “in trouble” this election cycle. He emphasized that Christians must first remain faithful citizens of God’s Kingdom rather than adherents to any political ideology, reaffirming that “we did not elect Jesus. He elected us.” The text of his sermon was published online by the Australian Broadcasting Company (ABC).

Hauerwas said this election cycle has defied “classical democratic theory,” failed to promote the “kind of exchanges necessary” between voters for healthy democracy, and brought “the speech of television sitcoms” into mainstream political discourse. But rather than blaming any particular candidate this election, he said the current political climate should point Americans toward introspection.

“The problem, quite simply, is us; a sobering but true realization,” Hauerwas said. “We get the people we deserve running for office.”

He acknowledged that there were “better and worse forms of social and political organization,” but noted that Christians should never become beholden to any type of government, including democracy. Hauerwas said that ultimately “there may be some tension between the political order that is the church and that form of social and political organization called democracy,” but that commitment to truth must remain supreme.

He cited the authority exerted by Jesus and Paul as a reminder that Christian truth stands above politics. God determines right and wrong, not human votes, he explained:

We did not elect Jesus to be President. We did not elect Jesus to be the second person of the Trinity. We did not elect him messiah or [savior]. We did not vote on whether there should or should not be a people gathered to worship Jesus. We thought our leadership could even be determined by lot. We did not vote to legitimate what we now call “the Bible.”

He reminded his audience that governments can help to reduce violence, but that the world is ultimately opposed to the Gospel. Followers of Jesus Christ “will be hated and some of us will even be put to death” because of their faith in Him.

“The truth that makes us Christians means we are a people who are not destined to be celebrated in any social order, whether it calls itself democratic or not,” Hauerwas said.

Hauerwas refrained from getting into the details about specific issues where rifts could develop between faith and democracy during his sermon. However, in the context of his ardent pacifism, he has previously specified the need to separate Christianity from the American version of democracy. In October 2009, he alleged that war was “America’s central liturgical act necessary to renew our sense that we are a nation unlike other nations” and described the Religious Right’s nationalism as “politically a form of Protestant liberalism.”

“I wish America was more like Europe,” he added.

Institute on Religion and Democracy President Mark Tooley summarized Hauerwas’ argument in a blog post in December 2009. “World War I likewise solidified America’s linkage of Christianity with its form of democracy, Hauerwas regretted, solidifying its own civil religion that, unlike in Europe, is still in its ‘hot’ phase,” Tooley said. “Disturbingly for Hauerwas, war has always been absolutely central to America’s civil religion.”

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