• 0
China Christian Daily
  • 0
china |

Christian Ethicist Dr Stanley Hauerwas: Asian Church Should Not Follow Western Established Christianity, But Witness Jesus by Basic Virtues

Christian Ethicist Dr Stanley Hauerwas: Asian Church Should Not Follow Western Established Christianity, But Witness Jesus by Basic Virtues

Dr. Stanley Hauerwas spoke in Japan on May 29, 2018. Dr. Stanley Hauerwas spoke in Japan on May 29, 2018.
ByRuth Wang June 23, 2018
  • 34

Dr. Stanley Hauerwas, the most influential Christian ethicist in the late 20th century, gave a lecture titled  "The Church in Asia: A Barthian Meditation" in Japan Doshisha University. The lecture was part of the fifth Annual Christian Forum for Reconciliation in Northeast Asia held May 25- June 2, 2018, in Japan.

Dr. Hauerwas talked about the theological basis of "reconciliation" from the perspective of theological ethics. The retired longtime professor at Duke University was named "America's Best Theologian" by the U.S.-based Time magazine in 2001. His works Resident Aliens and The Peaceable Kingdom have been translated into Chinese, bringing a new view to the Chinese theological community. 

Below is the full text of his speech:  

The Church in Asia: A Barthian Meditation

Stanley Hauerwas

1. Without Authority

I come to you as one without authority. At least I am without the kind of authority that comes from knowing enough to say something useful to those who know more than you do. I know so little about the challenges the churches of Asia face I am sure I do not even know what I do not know. Most of you have more useful theological observations to make about the churches you serve than I do. So you might well ask, "Why is Hauerwas here?" I have no ready answer other than you wanted to hear a Texas accent. It may be you also want someone to tell you why it seems Americans have gone crazy and you assumed someone from Texas might have something to say about that. Texans probably do have something distinctive to say about our current national politics because we have long endured weird people in public office, but that is a subject for another time. 

I have been told, however, that one of the reasons I have been asked to speak to you is because I am actually read and read positively in your countries. It is not clear to me why I am more favorably received and understood outside the United States than in the United States but that is certainly the case. At least some of what I have to say about the challenges before the churches in Asia may suggest why I am more positively read in Asia than in the West, that is, Asian Christianity has the advantage of never having been socially, politically, or economically established. So what I have had to say about the recovery of the Christian witness to God, a God it seems who does not necessarily vote democratic, may not seem as radical or crazy to you as it does to many Americans.

Christianity in the West is dying of its "success." Christians have managed to make what it means to be a Christian a matter of believing this or that. People think they have a "personal relationship with God" which they go to Church to express. It simply is unthinkable to think that salvation is an ecclesial matter. The Catholic view that without the church there is no salvation strikes most Americans as anti-democratic. It is, of course, anti-democratic but that does not make it any less true. But then "true" is not a word many Christians in America associate with being Christian.That I may have said things that are useful to you means I have much to learn from you. What you may have found useful or even true may involve matters I did not recognize as all that important. I think that such a process is not unusual because as Christians we cannot help but say more than we know because we do not make Christianity up but rather we receive the Gospel. We receive, moreover, more than we can know.

For example, some years ago I was asked to write a "Foreword" to the Japanese translation ofResident Aliens. I was more than happy to do what I was asked to do, but I expressed surprise that that book was relevant to the Japanese church. Will Willimon and I thought the audience for the book was pastors who had long made peace with the accommodated churches of American Protestantism. We were trying to help Christians in America to recover what an extraordinary thing it is that God showed up in the person of a first century Jew. What little I had learned about Christianity in Japan made me think if there was any people who did not need this book it was the Japanese. I had assumed if you area Christian in Japan you are a "resident alien" or at least I thought that to be the case because Christians in Japan told me that when they became Christian they were no longer thought to be Japanese.

It was explained to me, however, that it was not being a Christian qua Christian that those who had translated the book thought to be important for Japanese Christians. What they thought particularly important for the church of Japan was the emphasis in the book on the social character of the salvation wrought in Christ. They explained that the early Protestant missionaries to Japan had an individualistic understanding of salvation. As a result, the significance of the church as the embodiment of salvation was lost. So the stress in Resident Aliens on God's care of us through the church was a significant emphasis for Japanese Christians.

The stress on the corporate character of what the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church of America, Bishop Michael Curry, calls the "Jesus movement," came home to me in Japan. I had been asked to preach at a church somewhere in Tokyo. I am a lectionary preacher and the text assigned for the day I was to preach was Ephesians 2: 11-21. That happens to be one of my favorite passages from scripture because I think it is one of the central texts for how we should understand the peace of God. By breaking down of the walls between Jews and Gentiles a "new humanity" is created that just is God's peace. Peace so understood is not some ideal never to be realized but it is a peace you can see and touch. As I delivered the sermon I could not help but wonder how such a text is received in Japan where there are few actual Jews. That new reality, the household of God, that is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, whose cornerstone is Christ himself, surely must look different in Japan than it did in the ancient near east. Such a difference is a reminder that the form Christianity takes in different and diverse cultures will be distinctive. Yet that distinctiveness must not prevent Christians from recognizing one another as Christian brothers and sisters in Christ though they may look very different.

This last observation may be the reason I have been asked to address you. My work as a theologian has stressed the importance for Christians in the West to recover the witness to Christ'sLordship in a manner that makes clear that all that is storied by that grand story called Trinity. Yet the assumed familiarity with Christianity by many in the United States almost makes it impossible for those in societies like America to hear the radical character of the Gospel. I have tried to express what I take to be the challenge before the socially established churches of the West with this sentence: "In the shadows of a dying Christendom the challenge is how to recover a strong theological voice without that voice betraying the fragility of all speech-but particularly speech about God." I have argued that the recovery of such a voice will require Christians to recognize we are no longer in control of the social and political orders that were created to make what it means to be Christian and American (or European) an identification without difference. That emphasis has earned me the designation of being a sectarian, fideistic, tribalist.

Of course the disestablishment of Christianity in Western industrialized countries is not yet complete. The very presumption that America is to be made great again is for many a slogan meant to recover something like a (white) Christian America. That America, that is, the Christian America, probably never existed does not prevent many Christians in America from identifying what they assume are democratic regimes with Christianity as a given. The very description of "West" is an indication of the continuing power of a Christendom mentality given the assumption that the West is Christian. Of course it is never quite clear where the West begins and/or ends. It has always been a curiosity for me how Plato and the Greeks, in general, became representatives of the West , i.e., Greece is the home of western Philosophy. That seems so odd because Greece is clearly East. At least Greece is East depending on where one is standing to make the West the West and the East the East.

But if the West is becoming increasingly free of Christian hegemony it seems to be the case that the churches of the East may be in the process of finding ways to institutionalize the faith. Could it be that we are in danger of passing one another in the night? I know, or at least think I know, given the difficulty of being Christians in the societies from which you come the idea that you may be in thebusiness of a Christendom project may seem absurd. Yet as Bruce Kaye observes in his fine book, TheRise and Fall of English Christendom: Theocracy, Christology, Order and Power, the first Christians had to face the passing of generations which meant they had to find a way to hand their faith on to the next generation. "Thus began a process of tradition and that in time inevitably meant institutions of one kind or another." If Kaye is right it seems Christendom is built into the DNA of Christianity.

Though I am identified as an anti-Christendom theologian I have always assumed that there can be no Christianity without the production of the kind of material innovations Kaye's quote suggests is intrinsic to Christian practice. Moreover the kind of institutions created to perform that task will rightly often mimic if not take on forms that are decidedly local. Thus Kaye's suggestion that Bede's great achievement was to present in his history the idea that the English people would constitute a form of political life through monarchy that would make the church integral to their being a Christian nation. Kaye's observation about the form English Christendom took is a nice example of the claim made above that Christianity will look quite different from one context to another.

Kaye notes, however, that this emphasis on the local character of Christian formations cannot help but create tensions within Christianity itself. Drawing on Peter Brown's great work, Western Christendom, Kaye describes the conundrum this creates by asking: if Christianity is a universal religion,which it surely is, why does Christianity not have a universal organizational structure? Thus the theecclesiological question of what kind of connectedness between Christian assemblies is possible that can deal with the diversity of practices and forms and still claim to be the same religion.

One response to this conundrum is the attempt to force a unity on the church by the authority of government and/or the law. This can be called the "Christendom strategy" which Kaye describes as any community located within some discernible framework or polity that sees itself as Christian, making possible a coalescence of power that coercively insures a common way of life. The forms of coercion to insure a Christendom strategy can be quite subtle as well as overtly violent. That Christendom can and has taken many different forms is perhaps nowhere better exemplified than in Mennonite farm culture which is establishment Christianity with no means of recognizing itself as such.

If I understand rightly where you are as the church in Asia, Christendom is not a profound temptation because there is no possibility you can enact a Christendom strategy. I hesitate to use a phrase such as "the church in Asia" because such a description can hide the great differences between the churches in, for example, Korea and the Churches in China. Indeed such a phrase can erase the difference between the house and mega churches in China. I use the phrase, however, because I think in general it is true that the church in Asia is in little danger of being tempted to institutionalize yourself through the agency of government or even through what appear to us to be non-coercive forms of social life such as the establishment of educational institutions. Yet it must surely be the case that it is difficult to resist trying to imagine ways the church can be institutionalized in your quite different cultures that can insure the church will continue to the next generation. Why should you not try to make the gospel available as a given because the very fact you exist seems like a miracle?

Just as one of the extraordinary facts of recent times is the continuing faith of African Americans in the God they received in slavery. In like manner, it is remarkable that Asian Christians did not let the bad behavior of missionaries stop them from becoming Christians. The missionaries came from Christendom churches but they discovered through witness to the Gospel that Christianity could thrive as a free church. Habits are hard to break which makes me worry whether it is possible for the church in Asia to avoid the mistakes of those from whom they received the Gospel, that is, those who represented a Christianity that could not be separated from its nationalistic home.

I do not want to be misunderstood. Like many I have been influenced by revisionist accounts of mission that rightly suggest that those called to mission often were changed by the God they discovered in those to whom they had come to bear witness. I think Dana Robert gets the matter right when she observes that the fascinating issue raised by mission history is not why the Christian message was rejected by people of diverse cultures, but why it was so widely accepted. I think she is also right that the retreat of Christianity in the face of secular criticism and anti-colonialism turns out not to be the end of a world Christianity, but the "death rattle of European Christianity" which includes the churches of America.

Robert is not trying to justify the cultural imperialism that was often confused with what was taken to be a witness to the gospel. She rightly notes that many western missionaries, particularly those that were highly educated, because of their theological convictions, did turn out to be hegemonic fanatics. Robert observes that even acts such as teaching people to read or to dig wells to secure clean water can be seen as an assault on indigenous culture. Though missionaries seldom carried guns they had the backing of western economics and politics that pressured people to change their cultures. The challenge, of course, is that some cultures or aspects of culture are surely rightly to be changed by the gospel-think for example what it would mean if the church tried to find a way not to be the American church but instead found herself to be the church that happens to exist in America. If the latter church existed Christians might discover they have more to say about race than they thought.

Peter Leithart, currently one of the most insightful theologians in America, in his recent book, The End of Protestantism: Pursuing Unity in a Fragmented Church observes that American Protestant denominationalism has been most clearly defined by giving enthusiastic support to virtually every American war. Such a church may appear quite tolerant as well as tolerated at least as long as the difference from other religious communities does not challenge the more important national consensus.What such churches have in common, however, is not a catholic commitment to unity based on the cross but rather the American general sense that you should "live and let live." Christianity was not legally established in America but it did not need legal establishment because it was the socially established religion of America through the centuries of American life.

The place of immigrants in American society is revealing in this respect. Leithart observes that immigrants are at once accepted yet distrusted by Protestant Americans. This strange contradictory position is the result of American expectations that immigrants should at once be grateful to be in America yet they continue to have strong ties and loyalties to their home country. The result is the children of emigrants lose their cultural identity as soon as possible by becoming Americans. The only difficulty with those strategies by those who have come to America is they will never be trusted to be good Americans.

Leithart thinks, however, as I have suggested, that the Protestant establishment is collapsing and as a result the American civil religion that depended on that establishment is undergoing erosion.Leithart hopes such a development will open up the possibility of what he calls a "ReformationalCatholicism" that can preserve the theological emphases of the Reformation while recovering the catholic character of the church. The latter Leithart thinks is best pursued at the local level which hethinks will require each Protestant church restoring the weekly celebration of the Lord's supper.Leithart does not pretend that this will make life easier but as he says, "when Jesus comes to dinner every week, things happen. Strange things. The church may split. All hell may break loose, and the pastor and other leaders have to pick up the pieces and try to reassemble them."14 But at least Leithart believes such an unleashing of the Spirit may put us on the way to being a free church.

You may now be wondering where I am going with these reflections. I am supposed to be addressing the challenges the church faces in Asia but I have shifted the subject to what I know, that is,Protestantism in America. But I think this brief look at the church in America is not without relevance to the church in Asia. For the challenge before you is how to sustain the difference locality makes, that is,what it means to be the Korean, Japanese, Chinese and other churches in Asia, while remaining in unity with one another. A unity that at the very least is to be found in the Christian unwillingness to kill one another in the name of being Korean, Japanese, or Chinese.

For it must surely be the case that one of the central challenges for Christians in Asia is how to negotiate the rising nationalism that the different countries of the region seem to be developing. The wounds of the past, moreover, remain. Those wounds will not be healed by advising "just get over it."No, those wounds demand common projects by Christians in the hope we will discover friends we did not know we had through worship and common projects. To be so united in the Spirit is at once the great challenge as well as the great opportunity before the churches of Asia. The refusal to kill turns out to be a great fundamental for the common story Christians share.

Such unity requires a robust theological understanding of the reality of God's kingdom which I believe can be found in the work of Karl Barth. An odd observation but one I think defensible by attending to Chloe Starr's book on Chinese theology.

2. Karl Barth's "Honest Ignorance"

In her book Chinese Theology: Text and Context, Professor Chloe Starr has a fascinating chapter on two very different and antagonistic Chinese religious figures-Ding Guangxun and Wang Mingdao. These men were contemporaries, they confronted many of the same challenges, but they represent, at least in Starr's account, quite different ways for the church to be the church given the fast paced changes that modern Asia and in particular China have had and are continuing to experience.

The difference between these extraordinary men is nicely made evident by Professor Starr by beginning her chapter on Ding and Wang Mingdao with a quote from each of these men that makes their antagonism clear. In 1954 Ding Guangxun wrote asking the question "Must the church follow a path opposed to our nation?" He intensifies that question asking further "Can the church only glorify God by placing itself in opposition to the nation and its people?" He answers with a resounding"absolutely not." That "absolute not" is an affirmation of Ding's role as one of the chief apologists forthe Three-Self Movement. His theological perspective can be characterized as Reformed but with aKuyperian direction.

Wang Mingdao, who was from the beginning the great enemy of the Three-Self Movement, was quite critical of Ding. Wang not only opposes Ding but he is clearly a very different person than Ding. He was, I think, a person who might be characterized in general as "difficult." He was unrelenting in opposing the attempt of the state to control the church but he was also a forceful critic of internal issues about the character of the church itself. In both areas he proved to be a person of great strength but one cannot help but feel he had a combative personality.

He was arrested in 1956 only to spend the next 20 years in prison. In 1954, however, prior to his imprisonment, Wang passed judgment on Ding and the Three-Self movement. Accordingly Starr quotes Wang's judgment that applied immediately to Ding that: "It is lamentable that many Christian leaders use the principle of obedience to man's rules and submission to man's authority to cover up their cowardice and failure... This results in the faith of the church and the ministry being subordinated to the rule of men and man's authority. The truth becomes obscured, the Bible misinterpreted, thefoundations of the church undermined and the flock scattered. How can such Christian leaders then escape the wrath of God?"

You could not hope to have a more stark contrast. The temptation, particularly for those of us schooled on claims concerning the freedom of the church, is to side with Wang Mingdao. Yet Starr provides a quite positive account, perhaps too positive, of both men. Indeed she notes in Ding's early writings he was quite close to Wang Mingdao's evangelical commitments as well as the emphasis on the importance of creedal orthodoxy. Though they may have shared some theological presumption they were destined to come into conflict in 1955. That conflict was perhaps due to each man's personality and temperament but it remains the case that their understanding of the relation of the church to the world was at the center of their dispute.

Both were committed to finding a way to establish the church in Chinese society. Ding, for example, was deeply committed to the development of educational institutions. He had gotten some of his education in Canada and had become for a time the missionary secretary to the Canadian StudentChristian Movement. Starr, moreover, reports that throughout his ministry, including his support for the government's Three-Self Movement, Ding combined a genuine respect for others as well as a desire they come to know Christ. An Episcopalian, Ding had a high Christology with a strong stress on Jesus'humanity. The emphasis on Jesus, very God and very man, was the basis of Ding's ecclesial convictionst hat there is a strong continuity between Christ and the church. In some ways Ding can be styled as theBede of China, at least he could be so interpreted if Bruce Kay is right to suggest that Bede's great imaginative achievement was to present in his History the idea of a political life for the English people that was at once a nation and a church.

Wang Mingdao thought Ding's support of Three-Self Movement was a betrayal of the church. Appeals to Romans 13 were not persuasive. Wang's harsh criticisms often seem justified given Ding'srhetoric from time to time in favor of the government's control of the church. For example, in an article as early as 1953 Ding said, "Under the protection of the People's Government, we have been able to shatter the shackles of imperialism and truly become a church." He, moreover, sees that development as finally a break from the missionary hegemony from which the Chinese church has suffered through the missionary effort. According to Ding, for over one hundred years the church in China had been manipulated by the corrupt and imperialistic Western church. As a result the Chinese church did not know what it really believed, hoped for, or loved. The rise of Three-Self Church was for him the beginning necessary to heal the wound he thought Western missionaries had inflicted on Christianity inChina.

Central to Ding's position was the conviction that there can be no separation of "church people" from "world people." Theology cannot be a discipline only for self-identified Christians because the church and the world overlap. He, therefore, maintained that to work against the people's liberation movement was ethically indefensible on Christian grounds. Ding and Wang Mingdao seemed destinedt o reproduce some the classic debates of the Reformation and, perhaps even more significant, the struggle of the church against Hitler.

It is not surprising, therefore, that Starr concludes her chapter on Ding Guangxun with what she calls "A Barthian Meditation." In her meditation she reprises the controversy occasioned by Barth'sstrong condemnation of the Nazis and later his refusal to condemn Communism in equally strong terms.In particular Starr draws attention to Barth's Letter to Christians in East Germany entitled "How to ServeGod in a Marxist Land." In that letter Barth argued that there is no simple answer one can give for those that must live under the rule of the Communist. To give any advice Barth observes would require one to have lived with the Christians of East Germany as they experienced the growing pressure of the Communist regime. To negotiate such regimes one would need to try out personally the various possibilities of resisting Communism in order to discover some wisdom which, because of a deficiency of knowledge of the facts, situations, and persons, always threatens to become irrelevant idealism. It is better, therefore, for Christians from outside East Europe to express an "honest ignorance" when confronted by regimes like the Communist Party of East Germany.

By "honest ignorance" Barth means Christians who live outside Communist Eastern Europe should have the humility to acknowledge they lack the necessary standing to know how to respond to the developing governments in Eastern Europe. Barth's "honest ignorance" is an expression of his disavowal of Christendom. He does not mean that there are not things Christians can do to make life better in Eastern Europe, but that is always to be determined along the way. For Barth, however, there is no substitute for Christians in their different circumstances sharing what they have learned about how to live in the face of an adversary who would deny their existence.

Starr rightly notes, therefore, that Barth's avowal of "honest ignorance" did not stop him from condemning the "spirit, and the words, the methods and the practices" of the East German governments as well as the policies of the West toward the East. For Barth all regimes are potential"prowling adversaries" which must be resisted. Such resistance is possible because the God we worship is sovereign over unbeliever as well as the believer. Starr points out that such a stance acknowledges the authority of the state though the state can take a number of different forms. For Barth there is no "such thing as a perfect political system," but there are only better and worse systems.25 The ability to distinguish the better from the worst begins with the question of whether the church is free to be the church. Thus Barth's recognition of the evil of the Nazi regimes was evident just to the extent Christians were prohibited from preaching to Jews.

Starr's appeal to Barth's "honest ignorance" is an insightful suggestion, but that stance of humility cannot stand apart from Barth's fundamental theological commitments. Barth urges Christians not to favorer any one kind of political regime because it is the Kingdom of God itself that shapes the church's politics. The Christian community knows that the pattern of God's order is to be found in the Kingdom of God. The grace of God and the Kingdom of God, the source and end of all Christian teaching, for Barth bears a name, Jesus Christ. The kingdom of God makes possible the Christian political witness to always be present so that the world may know that there is an alternative to the violence that characterizes the relations between peoples and nations.

Barth's "honest ignorance" is the stance of those who worship the One alone who makes possible a people who do not seek to dominate their world. They have no illusion that they are in control of their destiny. It is not necessary, therefore, for Barth to think he would have to choose between Ding and Wang Mingdao though one cannot help but think that Barth would have worried thatDing was sailing too close to the shore of accommodation to worldly powers.

More important than whose side Barth may have been on is the ecclesial implications of Barth'sposition. Barth was anything but a Catholic, but if as Bruce Kaye maintains catholicity is understood as the practice of mutual interaction between churches that makes them aware of wider dimensions of the Christian faith than local experience can provide, then Barth can be understood to be a representative of the catholic character of the church. Such an understanding of catholicity, Kaye argues, includes a number of Christian virtues such as patience, mutual respect, and humility. Those are the virtues that are often implicit in Barth as he sought to help Christians to avoid homogenization by learning to respect their differences. In the process Christians may exhibit a politics that can provide fruitful analogies for the politics of the world.

3. How To Go On

What does this mean for the church in Asia as well as the declining Western church? The suggestion I am about to make may seem to be more a whimper than a bang, but I think it follows fromBarth's recommendation of honest ignorance. To live with something like an "honest ignorance "requires the virtues of patience and humility particularly by those from the most impatient cultures such as America. What it means to be a Christian in America or Europe is rightly not the same as what it means to be a Christian in Japan, China, Korea, and/or Hong Kong. The rise of house churches in China strikes me as one of those creative movements, perhaps as creative as monasticism itself, that Gospelpatience makes possible. I think it is interesting that the early church was basically a house church movement.

I do, however, have a recommendation for the churches in Asia drawn from Barth's theology that some may find surprising. I began this paper with a reference to the necessity of Christians to create institutions that make possible the passing on of the faith. Few tasks are more important for Christian existence today. The churches of Asia must build institutions for sustaining the church's mission through time. Bruce Kaye suggests he thinks of institutions as the "attempts over time to sustain continuity over time of patterns of relationships between people and of things for a given purpose on the basis of the underlying values of human conduct." The trick is how to develop such institutions without the church becoming at home in the world Christians assume they have created to make them safe. The result of this kind of institution building is it makes it difficult for Christians to remember what makes them Christians.

Of course what makes Christians Christian is not always self-evident, which means it does not always make sense to try to distinguish Christians from non-Christians. But in a world in which we now exist we should expect that difference to be a reality. The question is what such a difference might look like in the East. As one who just recommended a stance of honest ignorance it would seem I should keep silent, but I cannot resist suggesting what I take to be the Christian difference in the world as we know it. My recommendation is very simple. I believe in the future Christians will be witnesses to the Gospel to the extent they have learned the basic virtues that make life not only possible but beautiful. In other words, the churches of Asia, as I suspect the church anywhere, must primarily focus on the formation of people who possess the basic virtues that are necessary to live peaceably in a war torn world.

"To live peaceably in a war torn world" does not mean that Christians avoid social engagements that may involve conflict. I have recently become aware that I have become the subject of much debate in Hong Kong concerning the place of Christians in the Umbrella Movement. Some interpret my emphasis on the first task of the church to be the church to suggest that Christians should not be involved with the Occupy Central Movement. Given my lack of knowledge concerning what that movement is about it would be foolish for me to pontificate about how Christians should support or not support that movement, but I can say in principle there is nothing about my understanding of the church that would prevent Christians from participating in such movements. Yet I cannot deny my politics is a politics for the long haul because I believe that the most enduring political developments that seek justice refuse coercive methods in the hope of providing a more lasting peace.

Michael Ignatieff has recently put forward a proposal for how to approach the moral challenges associated with globalization in his book, The Ordinary Virtues: Moral Order in a Divided World. His book is a report about his participation in the Carnegie Centennial Project to travel the globe for three years to try to answer the question whether or not globalization is drawing the world together or are we ever more likely to simply deny some people as not human. They were also to try to find if beneath the differences globalization has revealed as well as enhanced whether there are there virtues, principles, and rules of conduct that the peoples of the world are beginning to share.

Ignatieff discovered that religion still counts in the lives of millions as consolation, inspiration,and guide, but secular patterns of belief are making increasing claims on people across the globe. Those secular claims they primarily identified as the use of rights as the language that sustains the ethics of globalization. The language of rights seems to have the most legitimate claim for being a global language particularly because it was picked up by colonial peoples to legitimate their struggles to wrest from Europeans their national independence. Rights claims, moreover, are the expression of the autonomy and self-determination of the each person making any appreciation of the fundamental sociality of our lives difficult.

Ignatieff reports, however, the somewhat surprising discovery they made as they visited many different contexts was that the human rights discourse turned out to be language used primarily by elites-that is, the educated, middle or upper class intellectuals, teachers, students, and many others. The poor may have recourse to rights when they suffer from government coercion, but for the poor rights language does not express their sense of community. In contrast they found that ordinary virtues such as trust, tolerance, forgiveness, reconciliation and resilience emerged as the virtues that made peace possible between people that otherwise share nothing in common. Such virtues Ignatieff describes as ordinary because they are anchored in the every day.

He concludes, therefore, that a global ethic applicable to all people is unimaginable and irrelevant. This is not because ordinary people are unreflective. They often are quite deeply concerned about the injustice in the world, but their moral reflection does not turn on universals as philosophers in the Kantian tradition seem to assume. Rather for such folk their ethical commitments turn on whether what they are considering entails what is true for them and their community. Ignatieff concludes, therefore, that "secular narratives-the inevitability of technical progress, the spread of democracy, the triumph of liberalism-that provided an illusion of control for the elites mean little to the poor and dispossessed."

Ignatieff writes as a secular person, but his position is one that we Christians can deeply respect.That is to put the matter too weakly. The churches of Asia are confronted by large boulders of despair. The churches of China, Korea, and Japan are centuries old but in many ways they are still in their early days. God knows we hope that the churches of Asia will be used by the Holy Spirit to vivify the church. That we must trust in the Holy Spirit is crucial because these churches will be tempted to secure their existence by means that are antithetical to the Gospel. But ordinary virtues are already present, ready to shape and reshape our lives that so that we might be patient witnesses to Jesus who is God's very patience. On May 29, 2018, Dr. Stanley Hauerwas, the most influential Christian ethicist in the late 20th century, gave a lecture titled  "The Church in Asia: A Barthian Meditation" in Japan Doshisha University. 

The lecture was part of the fifth Annual Christian Forum for Reconciliation in Northeast Asia held May 25- June 2, 2018, in Japan.
Dr. Hauerwas talked about the theological basis of "reconciliation" from the perspective of theological ethics.

The retired longtime professor at Duke University was named "America's Best Theologian" by the U.S.-based Time magazine in 2001. His works Resident Aliens and The Peaceable Kingdom have been translated into Chinese, bringing a new view to the Chinese theological community.

(The speech has been authorized to be published and without proofread.)

  • 34
latest from china
top topics
comments powered by Disqus