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Hauerwas is a volatile, complex person with an explosive personality and high-energy style. For many, he is an unlikely pacifist. He insists that Christians should exemplify a radical message of peace. Hauerwas learned this lesson from the Anabaptist theologian John Howard Yoder. Hauerwas has respect for a position known as the just-war perspective, a mode of reflection on war's occasional tragic necessity, either for self-defense or to protect those who might otherwise be slaughtered. But he insists that most Christians who claim that position are not really serious about it, or they would oppose many more wars than they do. His radical pacifism leads him to condemn any and all forms of patriotism, nationalism and state worship. (And he disdains most distinctions between these positions.)
If Hauerwas' rough speech and pointed views are taken as scandalous within academic society, he believes that what really scandalizes the so-called wisdom of the world is the message of the cross. If Christians really faced up to the facts of Jesus' story, they would be shocked. It is a radical tale: God revealed himself in inauspicious circumstances--in a provincial backwater of the Roman Empire and among a beleaguered people, the Israelites. Through his ministry and death, Jesus offered humankind a radical vision of forgiveness and freedom from revenge. To a world obsessed with power, that is outrageous. An omnipotent God incarnate who relinquishes his power and dies an ignominious death in order that human beings might "have life and have it more abundantly"? Whoever heard of such a thing?
A God who embraces powerlessness unto death is a message the world will never accept, says Hauerwas. Yet, he argues, it is that message the Christian is bid to take to all nations. If you were to ask Hauerwas to define himself by a single word, once he got Texan out of the way, he would probably say disciple and add that anyone who uses the word "better damn well mean it."
Jean Bethke Elshtain is a professor of social and political ethics at the University of Chicago