Most accept that it is not helpful to call those who disagree with us on matters of orthodoxy – heretics; neither should we call those who disagree with us on widely disputed matters of orthopraxy – “wolves in sheep’s clothing.”
In the faith development trajectory of most traditions, belonging (orthocommunio) will enjoy a primacy over desiring (orthopathy) which will precede behaving (orthopraxy), all before believing (orthodoxy). Therefore, it is best that we first model hospitality that they know they belong and next invite them to our worship where our own holy desires were first formed. If the right-behaving doesn’t ensue, it might be better to introspectively discern where we, ourselves, may have gone wrong in our community and liturgical life before reflexively laying off the blame on our poor proselytees.
1) Some view a just war as a probable good to be achieved by political statecraft and the Gospel ethic of nonviolence as an invitation to an extraordinary virtue (praiseworthy and exceeding the demands of justice) to be realized in the here and now by individual vocation, both aspirations grounded in a presumption for peace.
2) Others view a just war as a necessary evil and the Gospel ethic as ultimately and finally – not immediately – normative, both grounded in a presumption against violence.
3) And there are a few who take the Gospel ethic of nonviolence as absolutely and immediately normative for both individuals and states.
One might find merit in each of these approaches if each is placed in the proper context. Are we dealing with ontic (pre-moral) or moral evils? moral or practical realities? now or eschatologically? individually or politically? necessary evils vs lesser & higher goods? a presumption for peace (and justice) or against violence? I resonate more with #1 than either #2 or #3 above. But they also deserve serious consideration.
The elements of these different stances are often combined in other ways, too. Even those who hold to the very same principles may differ in their moral judgments because they may 1
otherwise reasonably disagree regarding empirical and prudential matters in evaluating what may also be a legitimate plurality of solutions. In the writings of John Courtney Murray, Reinhold Niebuhr, Stanley Hauerwas and John Howard Yoder, many of these things are given thoughtful consideration and from significantly divergent perspectives. Do check them out.
My own thoughts?
I am least sympathetic to Niebuhr’s realism, which has found its way piecemeal into the writings of Obama, McCain and Clinton even if not systematically (which would be hard to do for all sorts of reasons). Consistent with his catholic stance, Murray’s approach is not at all dialectical or over against “the world.” I very heartily resonate with the Anabaptist and Mennonite sensibilities, perhaps more so from a vocational and prophetic witness perspective, but no so much from the belief that they would have any broader normative impetus, especially for political statecraft.
Too many critiques engage caricatures. This may be especially true of pacifism, which has about twenty distinct forms per Yoder. Even buying into Murray’s distinction between statecraft and vocation, wouldn’t our politics change drastically if more of us embraced nonviolence? Even if we reject Niebuhr’s realism, which colors the Gospel ethic as too otherworldly, couldn’t we accept his practical accommodations to human weakness on the basis of a compassionate pastoral sensitivity (even as we would reject any theoretical capitulations — i.e. watered-down Gospel — based on disingenuous theological reinterpretations)?
As for normative impetus, it includes not only moral force but practical considerations and the normative significance of religion has always been much less about morality, which is transparent to human reason without the benefit of special revelation (although not in some grand Kantian way but an approach that is much more contritely fallible than that), and much more about an invitation into worshipful, loving relationship.
On the occasion of Yoder’s passing, Hauerwas wrote: “Reading Yoder made me a pacifist. It did so because John taught me that nonviolence was not just another ‘moral issue’ but constitutes the heart of our worship of a crucified messiah.”
Indeed, the response our crucified messiah invites is not only ultimate but immediate. Still, 2
it would be wrong to characterize aspirations that clearly exceed the demands of justice as generally morally binding.
1) Governments arenâ€™t subject to the ethics of Jesus? Really? <<<
To the extent state secularization has (properly and thankfully) taken hold in our pluralistic society, no, the government does not need the ethics of Jesus per se or what are ostensibly Christian norms in particular. But precisely because, as you suggest, such moral truth is neither private nor available only to Christians but, as I said, is otherwise already transparent to human reason (albeit fallibly so) without the benefit of special revelation, not to worry, n'est pas?
In the USA, state secularization, fostered by the nonestablishment and free exercise clauses of the 1st Amendment, has enhanced religion's influence in the public square rather than marginalizing it (as happened on the Continent post-Enlightenment), but, in order to profitably exercise that influence, any specifically moral teachings must be translated into the lingua franca (common parlance), philosophically and/or common sensically, without authoritarian appeals to such as Scripture, a Magisterium, a Tradition or private experiences (revelations).
2) So does that mean that governments should not be just, serve the common good, or seek peace? This sounds like recycled dualism. While the government is not the church, the mission of God working through the church is to transform ALL life, including governments, into new birth. The truth of Christ is not a private truth, available only to Christians, but is the very logos that grounds all creation and calls all governments into true vocation. <<<
Of course we are to permeate and improve the temporal order!
Secularization is a strategy for affairs of the state (not for society or culture) and, with an amplified rather than marginalized voice in the public square, religions have the opportunity to influence the government politically, again, translating their moral stances into 3
arguments transparent to human reason, indeed, being just, serving the common good and seeking peace. There is nothing dualistic here in this approach, which resonates more with JC Murray, less with Niebuhr, who establishes a temporal dialectical approach (over against) between the present world and other-worldliness, eschatologically,or Yoder, who establishes a spiritual dialectical approach between the world and the church, ecclesiologically.
3) Conservatives canâ€™t on one hand say that US is a Christian nation that should hold to moral codesâ€“about say, abortion and gay marriageâ€“and on the other deny that the government has a role to play in being and seeking justice as Jesus prescribed. <<<
Whether conservative, liberal or independent, whatever one's moral emphases (among the life issues, usually, whether war or abortion or extreme poverty), the same principles apply. JC Murray shed some light on government's role; it is to maintain the public order but not to codify and enforce all moral realities. The subsidiarity principle, consistently applied, establishes a proper bias against government (inherently coercive) and for individual freedom in the service of human dignity but with due attention to the common good.
All that said, in my view, morality is NOT what distinguishes the core mission (much less core competency) of our religions, which are not mostly about either describing or norming reality, or even evaluating it, but are instead more about interpreting reality vis a vis its meaning and giving it eternal (beyond the mass-energy-space-time plenum) significance. It might be helpful if the churches spent way more time evangelizing (witnessing more by action, less by apologetics) and way less time moralizing, in my view.
The teachings of Jesus are NOT mostly ethical or moral but transcend (go beyond not without) these concerns to establish the robustly relational, inviting us into a loving (not moralistic in emphasis but, instead, intimate) trust relationship that is intrinsically rewarding (like truth, beauty and goodness are their own rewards) and with less emphasis on the extrinsic rewards (e.g. for good behavior).
Finally, politics is the art of the possible, and the charitable presumption might be that most people of large intelligence and profound goodwill differ, therefore, not in their moral stances but in their practical and strategic approaches. These approaches get caricatured as moral rather than practical differences in order to cynically manipulate, demagogue and energize one political faction or another. If religious leaders and politicians would declare a moratorium on moralizing that might be pragmatically helpful and if they would all shut up 4
already with their moral grandstanding that would be aesthetically appealing to me (I don't want to offer a moral prescription for what they might do, for that would be too ironic).
Published on Jan 22, 2012