In December 0f 2006 I finished my first semester of seminary studies, grabbed a ride to the airport, and flew to New York City to attend the wedding of a couple of my close friends. I gave myself one extra day of travel to explore Manhattan afterwards. As my wanderings around the Big Apple came to a close I stopped into a Boarders (remember those?) by Madison Square Garden to browse. I came across a series of essays titled The Hauerwas Reader edited by J. Berkman and M.G. Cartwright. This book is an anthology of essays by the Christian ethicist Stanley Hauerwas.
The Hauerwas Reader
I was challenged by what I was reading, so much so that I bought the book. I resonated with Hauerwas’ arguments, even when I couldn’t fathom the implications. Yes, Christian should live as an alternative people. Yes, Christians should refuse to kill. Yes to this and yes to that! Now what am I supposed to do with these arguments?
I am asking this question still.
One essay destroyed my black-and-white hermeneutical paradigm. It humbled me. I realized that I had a lot to learn regarding interpreting the Scriptures. I have been on a quest to reconstruct my hermeneutical approach to Scripture ever since. The article was a short, three page piece that Hauerwas had written for the Charlotte Observer in 1993 when one of the major national debates was over whether homosexuals could serve in the United States military. It was titled, “Why Gays (as a Group) are Morally Superior to Christians (as a Group).” (You can access it through Google Books, pp. 519-521 here.)
In the opening paragraph Hauerwas wrote:
“I am ambivalent about recent discussions concerning gays in the military. I see no good reason why gays and lesbians should be excluded from military service; as a pacifist I do not see why anyone would want to serve. Moreover, I think it a wonderful thing that some people are excluded as a group. I only wish that Christians could be seen by the military to be as problematic as gays (p. 519).”
He proceeded to argue that we were excluding homosexuals from the military as a way of trying to restore some sense of morality in a world where our morality was already out of order. We didn’t know why we were doing what we were doing as a nation. We didn’t have sexuality “figured out” anymore than homosexuals did. Hauerwas wrote this stringing remark:
“As a society we have no general agreement about what constitutes marriage and/or what good marriages ought to serve. We allegedly live in a monogamous culture, but in fact we are at best serially polygamous. We are confused about sex, why and with whom we have it, and about our reasons for having children (pp. 519-520).”
Hauerwas argued that our moral confusion led to our grasping at straws, seeking a scapegoat, someone to call “immoral” so we would know how to define ourselves as “moral.” Then Hauerwas turned the tables on us Christians as he has righteously done for many years. He asked what it would look like if the Catholic tradition of “just war” was persuade with as much vigor as our stance against homosexuals in the military. He asked what it would look like if Christians were so dedicated to love and non-violence that the military considered Christians a threat to their aims just like they considered homosexuals a threat.
What if Christians prayed for peace? What if Christians refused to submit to anyone, even a general, whose orders were not aligned with the peace of Christ? What is Christians sought to witness to Christ at all times? He wrote this pithy paragraph:
“Finally, consider the problem of taking showers with these people. They are, after all, constantly going about the business of witnessing in hopes of making converts to their God and church. Would you want to shower with such people? You never know when they might try to baptize you (p. 521).”
Then he ended with these words:
“If gays can be excluded as a group from the military, I have hope that it could even happen to Christians. God, after all, has done stranger things in the past.
“However, until God works this miracle, it seems clear to me that gays, as a group, are morally superior to Christians (p. 521).”
I was a bit stunned. The thought came to mind, “Why do I judge homosexuals, especially Christians who struggle with homosexuality, yet honor Christians who serve in the military and possibly kill other humans?” Another thought came to mind, “Why does the church accept Christians in the military when Jesus spoke so straightforwardly about killing and violence? Why do we dedicate worship gatherings to honor military veterans, especially around the 4th of July? How have we explained away the call to ‘turn the other cheek’ and to never ‘return evil for evil’ so easily?”
If you were to ask me once every day for a week whether or not Christians should serve in the military I will say, “No!” three times; “No” twice; and “Maybe” twice. That is my pacifism.
What I have found most perplexing is how Christians can give so much energy to explaining why homosexuality is a sin while honoring Christians who participate in war as heroes saying nothing about the sins they commit. If you kill another person in Iraq you can come back to the United States and likely receive financial aid to attend almost any evangelical seminary around. This is not so if you write on your admissions essay, “I think I might be homosexual.”
I am not advocating the compatibility of Christianity with homosexuality. I am suggesting that our conversation on this topic is more rhetoric than substance. I agree with John Byron that this is a subject where we have shown little intellectual muscle strength, often fearing what might be said if we use the “h” word (see “Homosexuality: When will the church really have a conversation?”).
I see articles like James Emery White’s “The ‘No’ and ‘Yes’ to Culture Wars” where he advocates for Christians taking a political stance against same-sex marriage and I wonder why same-sex marriage is one of his “yes” answers while our nation’s military industrial complex is not?! Why is homosexuals aiming for a monogamous relationship worth our time, but the death of thousands of people (many who are not Christians, therefore damned in White’s worldview) isn’t?
I appreciate Christians like Tim Keller who are asking, “How do we acknowledge the image of God in all humans, including homosexuals ?” Yet I wonder what Keller says to an soldier home from duty about whether or not s/he could reenlist if s/he is a Christian (see “Tim Keller on how to treat homosexuals”)?
I am not asking Christians to affirm homosexuality as moral. I am asking why other matters of greater importance are ignored. What do we do with homelessness, disease, addiction, war, famine….on and on. Why is it “social gospel” for someone to make a call to care about these issues?
Christians who advocate military service for Christians often make arguments from silence like, “Well, John the Baptist and Jesus are depicted as meeting military personal and they never tell them to quit.” Sometimes I hear, “Yes, Jesus calls us to ‘turn the other cheek’ but [insert qualifications A, B, and C, including possible qualification D regarding "practicality in our sinful world."]! What if a Christian advocates for monogamous homosexuality by saying, “Well, in Romans 1 Paul isn’t writing about loving, monogamous homosexual relationships because he had never seen one.”? We respond, “Oh c’mon, you can’t argue from silence when we have so many clear passages that teach against it.” Or if someone says, “Yes, homosexuality was wrong back then, but we are in a different cultural milieu!” we accuse them of relativizing Scripture. God forbid they appeal to being “practical in our sinful world.”
It may be possible to affirm Christian military service while denying Christians being homosexual, but many of the arguments I hear are selective at best, disingenuous at worst. I wish more Christians would be smacked by someone like Stanley Hauerwas and forced to ask themselves, “What is my hermeneutical paradigm for saying biblical prohibition A no longer applies while biblical prohibition B does.” I think we have a long, long way to go to say we have done the hard exegetical and theological work to which John Byron calls us. I think many of us might discover our application of Scripture is already relativized by the majority culture. It is kind of like this comic: