Hauerwas on love and community in an age of Christian nationalism

I’m re-reading Stanley Hauerwas, A Community of Character: Towards a Constructive Christian Social Ethic (1981).

I’m working on a writing project and am thinking about the connections between the narrative of the Christian story and the love ethic within Christian community. In other words, if humans are story-formed people, how does the particular story of the Gospel shape the ethics and aspirations of followers of Jesus? Where and how does love fit in?

As usual Hauerwas is on the money. Note in the quote below how he connects the cross, discipleship, community and the Gospels. Christians share in Christ’s story – a story of love and self-giving. Such a calling is not to power, coercion or violence. Nor it is motivated by fear and protective self-interest. Nor does it imagine it can or should seek to control the world.

We need Hauerwas more than ever these days. While Trump is no longer President and has again been acquitted by the Senate, forces of Christian nationalism are on the rise. The erection of a cross outside the Capitol on January 6 during a violent and deadly assault represented an idolatrous rejection of the way of Jesus. The symbolism was unambiguous – God blesses our political objectives; God blesses our violence; God blesses our version of America. God’s way of the cross is subverted, the cross instead becomes a weapon of war. God blesses our ‘politics of purity’ by which we are going to ‘cleanse’ America from all who (we believe) are defiling the nation’s God-given calling. This is the politics of exclusion, of fear, of oppression – it belongs to the ‘powers and principalities’ of this age, not to the Kingdom of God.

We’ve seen this before of course. The cross used as a symbol of Empire, a battle standard in Christendom’s wars with Islam. We had our own version here in Ireland with Padraig Pearse’s Easter Rising in 1916 and in Protestant versions of ‘For God and Ulster’. America has long had a corrosive strand of religious nationalism where God’s blessing is routinely invoked on its special destiny as the nation of ‘freedom’. What’s happening now is this form of religious nationalism is ‘heating up’, the fires stoked by Trump – ironically someone for whom ‘Christianity’ is little more than a useful symbol to use for his own political self-interest. Once the fires have been lit, ‘hot’ nationalisms are hard to put out. (Which is why it is Bible-believing devout evangelicals enablers of Trump like Kayleigh McEnany who I think are most culpable).

To be a disciple is to be part of a new community, a new polity, which is formed on Jesus’ obedience to the cross. The constitutions of this new polity are the Gospels. The Gospels are not just the depiction of a man, but they are manuals for the training necessary to be part of the new community. To be a disciple means to share Christ’s story, to participate in the reality of God’s rule.


I have tried to suggest that such a rule is more than the claim that God is Lord of this world. It is the creation of a “world” through a story that teaches us how such a rule is constituted. Christians learn the power of this rule by loving as God has loved through Jesus’ life. That is, they love their “enemies, and do good and lend without expecting return” for, if they do, their “reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and selfish. Be merciful, even as your father is merciful” (Luke 6:35-36).

It is through such love that Christians learn that they are to serve as he served. Such service is not an end in itself, but reflects the Kingdom into which Christians have been drawn. This means that Christians insist on service which may appear ineffective to the world. For the service that Christians are called upon to provide does not have as its aim to make the world better, but to demonstrate that Jesus has made possible a new world, a new social order.

Page 49.

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