It’s time for Mark Tooley to stop bullying Stanley Hauerwas and other pacifists

Galatians 5:20 says that the works of the sinful nature include “enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, [and] factions.” These things are no less detrimental to Biblical Christian holiness than fornication, adultery, and other sexual sins. And they have become the poisonous porneia of many Christians arguing on the Internet (including myself). This is why I’m very troubled by the attacks that have been coming out of the Institute for Religion and Democracy against Stanley Hauerwas and other Christian pacifists like him through the columns (here, here, and here) of IRD president Mark Tooley. These attacks do not exhibit the approach to Christian debate that “makes for peace and mutual edification” (Romans 14:19).

I am not a pacifist. Nor am I a purist when it comes to the presence of the American flag at the front of my congregation’s sanctuary. But I commend Stanley Hauerwas for calling upon the church to distance itself from American exceptionalism and partisan politics in order to bear faithful witness to true kingdom living. So when Mark Tooley takes a swipe at Hauerwas in a paragraph like this, it makes my blood boil:

Hauerwas has a wide following among oldline Protestants and some evangelicals, who imagine that his defiance of traditional religious conservatism is provocative, even naughty. But little of what Hauerwas offers is seriously prescriptive for the church’s public witness. It’s mostly just flippant repartee suitable for the professoriate and some student followers.

It is reckless to accuse Hauerwas of “defying traditional religious conservatism” without any substantiation. Hauerwas is quite conservative on social issues; he just doesn’t toe the Republican party line when it comes to war or laissez-faire capitalism, but those things shouldn’t have anything to do with “traditional religious conservatism.” The only thing “flippant” here is a paragraph full of unsubstantiated accusations in a 568 word blog piece that doesn’t engage Hauerwas’ actual thought in any depth.

Tooley’s attack on pacifism continues in a subsequent article with his ridicule of a “politically irrelevant plea [from several mainline denominations] to President Obama denouncing ‘military strikes’ on Syria and urging ‘diplomatic efforts to stop the bloodshed.'” When he contends that “churches are right to pray and urge peace” but they are “unserious and betray their calling by advocating that governments be pacifist,” what he’s admitting is that he considers praying for peace to be an “unserious,” ceremonial activity, basically analogous to telling people in need, ““Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” without doing anything concrete to help them (James 2:16).

The question is whether Christians are supposed to conform to what the secular world considers “realistic” in bearing witness to the cruciform life that we challenge the world to consider. It is telling that none of Tooley’s attacks on pacifism draw upon a Biblical foundation in making their case. In a recent post about Syria, evangelical pastor Brian Zahnd makes an important point about the “realism” attack against pacifism:

We have to be faithful. Being “realistic” does not exempt us from faithfulness to Christ. If we tell ourselves that Jesus has called us to “change the world” then we quickly find ways to justify our violent means. But Jesus doesn’t call us to change the world — he calls us to be faithful to his ways of peace. If in our faithfulness to Jesus we happen to change the world, fine, but our first call is to remain faithful. Jesus calls us to love our enemies, not because this is an “effective tactic,” but because this is what God is like.

What is “unserious” is to assume from the comfort of our air-conditioned offices that “we” (or rather others who put themselves in harm’s way on our behalf) are responsible for fixing all of the problems in other countries with a violence that is at least “doing something” and has time and again proven to perpetuate the problems that it supposedly addresses (e.g. arming Saddam Hussein to pummel the Ayatollah in the 80’s, creating Al Qaeda via the Afghani Mujihadeen to go after the Soviets in Afghanistan, etc).

It is not just “unserious” but chilling to airbrush the loss of innocent lives out of past tragedies like the original September 11th that happened in the CIA-supported Chilean coup of 1973, of which Tooley has written admiringly in the past in addition to his post yesterday attacking Christian pacifist Shane Claiborne for mentioning it alongside the more recent September 11th.

Because Shane Claiborne named both tragedies on his facebook page without further commentary, Tooley accuses him of implying “that the alleged U.S. role in Allende’s overthrow contextualizes if not justifies the al Qaeda strikes on the U.S. that murdered nearly 3000.” So to name the two events side by side is no different than saying that one event explains and justifies the other and the two events are morally “equivalent” even though they involved completely different sets of people and 38 years in between?

Tooley ends up using Claiborne’s post as an excuse to attack Hauerwas, whom he calls the “current godfather of neo-Anabaptist thought” that “popularized the notion that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is not so much atoning for the world’s sins as rejecting all violence.” The miscategorization of that sentence is simply breathtaking. So to make any claims at all about the nonviolence of the cruciform life to which Christians are called not simply by the cross itself but by Jesus’ direct teaching on the Sermon on the Mount is somehow to deny that Jesus’ death atones for our sin?

When people make these kinds of accusations flippantly without substantiation, they need to be called to account. Tooley doesn’t give any supporting evidence for this tremendous theological claim, which essentially accuses all Christian pacifists of heresy. The irony about this line of attack is that an alien perusing Tooley’s Institute for Religion and Democracy website would probably come to the conclusion that September 11th is a bigger religious holiday for American Christians than Good Friday itself. Tooley actually praises Billy Graham for being a “priest of American civil religion” in his sermon on September 11th, a label which I’m not sure Graham would embrace too eagerly.

Tooley then quotes Hauerwas saying that “Americans have no sense of how it is that we can be this hated” after our September 11th happened as a sort of insinuated “proof” that Hauerwas is saying that September 11th was justified by the harm that the US has caused to other countries in the world. He then tries to explain how there is no reasonable comparison between our September 11th and Pinochet’s Chilean coup, never once naming the extrajudicial torture of 31,947 civilians and murder of 2,279 that were part of it. He says rather that “under General Augusto Pinochet and the junta Chile was restored to order and prospered under free market economics.”

I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask Tooley if he thinks that the extra-judicial torture and murder of civilians are justified by the need to restore “order” and “free market economics.” And if they are indeed justified and they shouldn’t be remembered as a tragedy alongside whatever other 9/11’s have happened in the world, then the only difference between the terrorism Tooley defends in 1973 Chile and the terrorism he denounces in 2001 Manhattan is its ideological foundation. Once individual human lives become dispensable out of the need for “order” and “prosperity,” then you’ve lost the basis for criticizing any dictator who has ever napalmed a village to “save” the village.

It’s okay to disagree about the degree of radicalness with which we should interpret our responsibility as Christians to lead nonviolent, cruciform lives in obedient discipleship of our nonviolent crucified savior, and how this should shape what we say to our government. I serve in a church with a majority military population who are trying to honor Christ the best they can within their context, and I’m glad that at least some of the people making the tough, life-and-death decisions I will never have to make in the heat of battle are Christians. I can respect Stanley Hauerwas and Shane Claiborne and take them seriously, even though I do not ultimately draw my lines in the same place they do.

What’s not okay is to casually hurl unsubstantiated accusations about the orthodoxy of theologians who represent a different perspective. Considering the cross a witness of nonviolence does nothing to impoverish its power as atonement for our sin. There is nothing “liberal” about pacifism; Mennonites are some of the most conservative Christians around. To plot “pacifism” according to the arbitrary left-right axis created by America’s partisan voting coalitions of convenience is to let the secular world dictate the terms of our Christianity to us. Furthermore, if Tooley is going to consider all these questions without any Biblical foundation to his writing (which there wasn’t at least in the four posts I read), then it’s reasonable to ask whether his Institute for Religion and Democracy is truly a Christian entity or a promoter of “American civil religion.”

28 thoughts on “It’s time for Mark Tooley to stop bullying Stanley Hauerwas and other pacifists

  1. Pingback: Christian Pacifism, the State, and Neo-Anabaptists vs. Anabaptists

  2. Mark Tooley opposing the views of Hauerwas and Clairborne is as expected as the sun rising tomorrow. I don’t see what is different this time. And honestly, I think Hauerwas can more than take care of himself–he is famously pugnacious. (A friend of mine said her professor would get up and close the door when Hauerwas lectured across the hall–the language was that raw.) Honestly, I tune them both out. We have other theologians and social critics. If you’re urging them to “be nice” — good luck. But if Tooley says something that is factually inaccurate, call him on it. He does that all the time as well. But perhaps this can fall in the heap labeled, “not worth anybody’s time.” It’s like pointing out every time Pat Robertson says something goofy.

  3. Excellent blog! That said, IMO, the cross is not about Jesus’ atonement for our sins. It was the inevitable consequence of Jesus’ radical Way of unconditional love and his teachings that were subversive of the Roman Empire and the corrupted Temple elites who colluded with that empire. Instead, most progressive Christians favor the Moral (or Exemplary) theory of the atonement – which is just as orthodox as the substitutionary theory of the atonement — as no Church Council has ever determined that any one theory is “the right one.”

    – Roger Wolsey, author, “Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don’t like christianity”

    • Yeah, for me, there’s just too much that is lost when we say that the cross itself doesn’t have redemptive power, so I’m going to go with a more fully orbed account of it but without the ugliness of some of the caricatures.

  4. Never has the word “tool” been more fittingly appropriated for a last name. Mark Tooley is a coward and bigot, and I’m glad to see someone calling him out.

  5. “It is reckless to accuse Hauerwas of “defying traditional religious conservatism” without any substantiation.”

    I’ve read a few of Tooley’s articles, since they’re consistently picked up in the religion section of Real Clear Politics, and it’s clear that making unsubstantiated accusations and claims is Tooley’s specialty.

    There’s a rather nasty group of bloggers on the religious right, of which Tooley’s a part. They’re not overly concerned with accuracy. It’s an echo chamber that invents it’s own “facts” and takes for granted facts not in existence. Other than presenting themselves as the sort of people you wouldn’t want to be around, I don’t see what they’re accomplishing.

  6. Some perspective from a left-leaning “lazy” millennial: I don’t regard the IRD as a Christian organization and therefore I don’t see the need to promote any dialogue that “makes for peace and mutual edification”. They are too far removed from the principles I regard as central to Christ-led faith. Jesus told me to love my enemy and so I can pray quietly for Mark Tooley* and blamelessly refrain from critiques ~ denying entities like IRD any face-time, never dignifying them with my commentary. Of course I agree with most of what you say and love your blog that much more for having said those things! Hurray! At the same time, I feel that IRD articles should be reserved for my private analysis(amusement?) since the chasm has widened so much that, in my opinion, there are more fruitful dialogues between loving threads of different religions (Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Indigenous) than between de jur Christians who disagree on the utility of violence. If he would justify Pinochet, Tooley is beyond arguing with… our energies are better spent elsewhere?
    And if you don’t believe me, keep in mind that I was a missionary in the middle-East. I believe our attitudes toward violence/charity hold more practical significance than our religious pedigrees–even the texts from which we draw those pedigrees.
    *No… I have never prayed for Mark Tooley. That’s an interesting idea — I should take my own advice!

  7. When Hauerwas writes:
    “I try to be a church theologian,” he writes. “I am not interested in what I believe. I am not even sure what I believe.”
    From Hannah’s Child: A Theologian’s Memoir
    Stanley Hauerwas

    One has to wonder, “Is this the man that should be teaching the Christian Faith?’
    In his memoir he comes off as a confused man that jumps from church to church and blames all his agony on his mentally ill first wife. For a pacifist one would think he would leave those unable to defend themselves out of the picture.

    • You’re taking those words out of context. Hauerwas is saying that he doesn’t trust himself to “believe” the right things. It isn’t having the right “beliefs” in the abstract that saves us; it’s trusting in a person.

        • Is it? I’m sure you can find reasons to dismiss Hauerwas if you want to. He has helped me in my discipleship and particularly in my appreciation of the importance of the church as a body, i.e. not thinking I can get by with just my personal relationship with Jesus and no accountability to other Christians.

      • Actually I think the emphasis should be on the word “I” in the above. Christian faith is not a matter of what “I” (Hauerwas) believes, but of what the Church believes. Pope Benedict says basically the same thing in “Salt of the Earth.”

  8. Seemed you folk can dish it out but you can’t take it. Pride yourself in being “prophetic” and “speaking to power”; but, when somebody rattles your cage, you weep on how mean that guy in the motorcycle jacket and snakeskin boots has been.

  9. I am not a pacifist. Nor am I a purist when it comes to the presence of the American flag at the front of my congregation’s sanctuary. So when Morgan Guyton takes a swipe at Mark Tooley in a paragraph like this, it makes my blood boil:

    “Morgan Guyton says:
    September 11, 2013 at 11:07 pm
    I don’t expect much better from the Institute for Republican Propaganda to the Mainline. But the more I see these things come across my newsfeed, the more I want to know who your donor base is. I realize that you’re not interested in real dialogue because you’re a professional propagandist but I figured I would waste a few minutes typing this anyway.”

    These attacks do not exhibit the approach to Christian debate that “makes for peace and mutual edification” (Romans 14:19).

  10. On the IRD site, you take a petty low-road, childishly name-calling with “I don’t expect much better from the Institute for Republican Propaganda to the Mainline.” but on your own site, call for a higher level of discourse with “These attacks do not exhibit the approach to Christian debate that “makes for peace and mutual edification” (Romans 14:19).” Maybe you should think about taking your own advice, Mr. Guyton.

  11. Morgan, you are probably right: It’s reasonable to ask whether his Institute for Religion and Democracy is truly a Christian entity or a promoter of “American civil religion.” This neo-conservative paradigm, which espouses “free-market economics” at the expense of public accountability (a euphemism for social Darwinism*), erroneously equates pacifism with liberalism and the common good with socialism—in much the same way that ACTON Institute (et al) equates creation-care (environmental) ethics with new-age pantheism and idolatry. (See Calvin Beisner and “Resisting The Green Dragon” propaganda). It doesn’t occur to them that one can be BOTH green and conservative and biblical.

    Unfortunately, the labels “liberal” and “conservative” fail to clearly denote what someone actually believes about specific issues, so the labels are of limited usefulness—except by those who wish to engage in pejorative name-calling, rather than substantive discussion. (E.g., what is a liberal or conservative “stand” on capital punishment, since good theologians stand on either side of that question?)

    *cf. The Darwin Economy: Liberty, Competition, and the Common Good by Robert H. Frank, as well as similar critiques by Noam Chomsky & others.

  12. Mark Tooley is a critic and perhaps unfair and tendentious. But a bully? Come on! Let me say with some irony that Prof. Hauerwas punches in the academic heavyweight division.

      • Why should the title get a free pass? If it’s misleading or false, it needs to be corrected just as much as errors in the rest of the piece.

        When you use “bullying” to mean “saying things I don’t like,” you weaken the word for everyone else who’s talking about actual bullying.

        • Uh no… I’m not using “bullying” to mean “saying things I don’t like.” Tooley has printed about half a dozen columns in the last couple of months attacking Hauerwas illegitimately, making unsubstantiated accusations about his theological orthodoxy and other things. That’s bullying. The irony is that I tend to be more on Tooley’s side than Hauerwas’s in terms of the pacifism question. It’s just that he’s being a jerk about how he’s presenting his argument and making unnecessary ad hominem swipes.

      • The title speaks to the tone of the whole post. If you want to dispute Mr. Tooley’s neocon world view, have at him. He’s a grown man and can take it. In fact, I don’t care much for his foreign policy, economic or immigration views. Nevertheless he is spot on when it comes to our GBCS’s promotion of same sex marriage and abortion on demand. The IRD is a mixed bag. As in many things, ones indignation depends on whose ox is gored.

        Frankly, I find your view that the IRD isn’t a Christian organization crassly judgemental. His theological reflection leads him to a different outcome than yours does–nothing more and nothing less.

  13. Methinks the gentleman would not last 30 seconds in a conversation with Dr. Hauerwas. Though I am a former student of his (as a graduate of Duke Divinity), I don’t agree with everything he says. However, I have nothing but respect for him–if you are going to disagree with him, you have to THINK about how you differ, and how to explain it, no easy task.
    But if Dr. Hauerwas replies to him, give us a heads-up. I’d consider paying money to watch the results.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s