between hauerwas and Constantine

I just read this very interesting apprasial of hauerwas and milbank and social action by steve bush : A Stereoscopic Evangelical Political Theology: Between Hauerwas and Constantine (pdf) over at generousorthodoxy.

first of all, I am very excited that emerging theologians are dealing with haurwas, milbank, stout and others so that we might be able to better understand the politicals of the church. So, while i offer some observations and critiques, they are in the spirit of exploration, innovation, and dialogue, as we (young intellectuals) all find our footing.

First off, Steve seems to object that Haurwas and Milbank are not explicit enough concerning the obligation of political action/subversion. Now, living RO aside (b/c i don’t know any of them personally), all of the Haurwasians (or those from the increasingly named Duke School) that I know and have meet at the EP conference or deeply engaged in political protest. So it is interesting that Haurwas has given rise to a generation of students who actually protest (often in latin america) instead of merely publish.

Problematic example: “Imagine a situation in which many of the banks in a given region, whether national or local, are regularly engaging in discriminatory lending practices.”

Now this example, which still occurs in Chicago (my neck of the woods) is overly simplistic. It has two premises that are not explored in the the course of steve’s argument: race and economics. Only legal/political factors are discussed. Now, while i am certainly against, and believe that Christians should speack and change this situation, what else needs to be done. Well, red-lining concerns that ability to buy ones own house instead of merely rent. But in a run down neighborhood, where this is likely to occur, there is also the problem of slumlords and gentrification. Gentrification is the process where a poor neighborhood is renovated and all the poor people (blacks/hispanics) are pushed out because of rising property taxes, and the affluent (white) move in. Why does this happen? Because land developors making it happen to make more money by moving people around in the city. More on that: Urban Fortunes. I bring this up because where we live and how we finance it (esp. white folk) is an exeptionally political issues (note also that Hauerwasians are very involved with the house church and simple living movement, who work toward the betterment of their communities in urban contexts).

but, leaving that aside: what about a bank. some ask, “which is worse: robbing a bank or opening one?” The point being that the operating a bank is not nearly as neutral as it may seem. So, it is it better to bring someone out of poverty so that might find meaning in the American Dream (of buying a single-family, detached house,3 car and mountains of debt and chaos–i.e. is our goal really to make all the minorities into miserable white people). My point in this is that the presuppositions of a capitalist (not merely democratic) society where we vote with our dollars (although that is extremely deceptive) complicate the situation. My point here is that helping someone get a loan just does not aim high enough, and that the church (in a local neighborhood) should seek to witness to by helping create a just society block by block.

Problematic obligation: “Numerous passages in Hauerwas’ writings indicate that his stance does not prohibit such actions, but my question is whether an obligation to act exists.”

Just framing the debate in terms of obligation regresses the conversation because Haurwas desire to talk not about ethical obligation (either a Kantian imperitival sense or the pragmatic sense of applying a rule), but wants to talk about virtue and character. Obligation can be determined outside of a narrative and without reference to virtue/character. But Haurwas’ entire point is that we must move away from discussing ethics as if it were an obligation (against our desire…Kant) and make ethics spontaneously moving from our sanctified character. Obligation is alway according to a Law, but Christian virtue is beyond the Law.

More could be said concerning steve’s eschatological move in the paper, but I’ll leave of here for now. again, this is all in friendly dialogue over issues that I’m glad the emerging church is working through.

questions still: should/how does one critique/subvert capitalism? what is truly political? why protest?

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