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EP Responds to Obama’s Nobel Speech

The Ekklesia Project has launched a new blog in response to President Obama’s recent Nobel Prize acceptance speech. I think this is a good thing. EP came into existence to call into question Christians’ complicity with violence as such and war in particular. That was something of an easy target during the Bush years and many Christians of the EP persuasion voted enthusiastically for Obama (including Stanley Hauerwas, who has a response to the speech up on the blog). At any rate, I appreciate that Obama is not being given a pass on his escalation of the war on terror by EP. He should not be given one.

Also does anyone else find it interesting that so many people like Hauerwas who built careers around taking down Niebuhrianism voted for Obama who is by far the most articulate exponent of Niebuhrianism to occupy the White House in decades? This came up in the comments on Hauerwas’s post and I think its quite an ironic point. But, that being said I’m glad EP is not letting go of their convictions on the basis of “Yeay, not Bush!”


  1. R.O. Flyer wrote:

    I do think it must be recognized that Niebuhrian “realism” is a hell of a lot better than Bush-style “realism.” Andy’s comment gets it pretty wrong, I think. I am not so sure Hauerwas “voted enthusiastically” for Obama (though I’m not so sure what that would mean).

    Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 11:23 am | Permalink
  2. Halden wrote:

    Yeah, I doubt Hauerwas had all that much enthusiasm about it. But among many EP-oriented Christians that I know I certainly saw a trend towards a lot of optimism about Obama that I think was and is somewhat out of step with the sort of ethic that EP is supposed to be all about.

    Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 11:27 am | Permalink
  3. Derek wrote:


    FWIW, I think that the trend you saw in the EP regarding Obama reflects a bigger sentiment of 20-30 year old Christians in America in general.

    As one of your detractors put it in a recent post, many in that age range (myself being 27) simply wanted to make sure everyone knew that they were a Christian and “so totally NOT a republican.” It amazes me how those folks can’t see that they have merely fallen into the same junk, just on the other side of the fence. Sigh.

    Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 11:57 am | Permalink
  4. This “other side of the fence” kind of thinking isn’t very helpful for dealing with these problems. I voted for Obama and certainly expected better things than the last 8 years, but I wasn’t expecting a messiah. On the whole, it is way better on a lot of levels and I’m much happier with a President who is going to put money into infrastructure and do something to close the gap between rich and poor than I was with sociopathic Republican run government. Criticism on the Afghanistan policy is important though, but the problem with this pox on both their houses sort of Christian thinking is that it gives us nothing. In other words, I don’t really see any actionable policies coming out of Hauerwas or EP. That’s the truly difficult task.

    Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 12:39 pm | Permalink
  5. Brad E. wrote:

    The gotcha line of “But I am a head of state…” has been haunting me since the speech; it seems to be a microcosm of the more general “But as Americans we have the power/responsibility to…” The latter at least makes sense, given that we are born into citizenship. But the reply that being head of state entails different responsibilities doesn’t get out of the problem — you chose to do that by running in the first place! Such a bizarre, though telling, one-liner justification.

    Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 3:34 pm | Permalink
  6. Josh Rowley wrote:

    The line “But I am a head of state” also struck me. It seems to me that with this phrase President Obama undercut his earlier comments about nonviolence; in one quick move he set aside what he had commended. This phrase was his Niebuhrian move–a commitment to nonviolence is commendable, but it is ultimately unrealistic for nation-states and the heads of state who try to run them. This type of rationalizing may or may not be realistic; it certainly doesn’t seem to prevent warmaking. Isn’t the working assumption that war is inevitable likely to be a self-fulfilling prophecy? Why work to prevent something you have decided is inevitable?

    Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 4:01 pm | Permalink
  7. Auggie Webster wrote:


    I’m not sure that Christianity in general, and Hauerwas especially, is here to “give us something” or “actionable policies” and they especially wouldn’t say that these are “the truly difficult task.” According to Hauerwas, the first social task of the Church is to let the world know it is the world. Thus, until this task is complete, we can’t very well move on to second order tasks of “actionable policies”. Behold!:

    “Christian social ethics is not first of all principles or policies for social action, but rather the story of God’s calling of Israel and of the life of Jesus. That story requires the formation of a corresponding community that has learned to live in ways appropriate to them. The church does not have a social ethic, but is a social ethic, then, insofar as it is a community that can clearly be distinguished from the world. For the world is not a community and has no such story, since it is based on the assumption that human beings, not God, rule history.

    Therefore, the first social task of the church is to help the world know that it is the world. For without the church, the world has no means to know that it is the world. The distinction between church and the world is not a distinction between nature and grace. It is, instead, a distinction that denotes “the basic personal postures of men, some of whom confess and others of whom do not confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. The distinction between church and the world is not something that God has imposed upon the world by prior metaphysical definition, nor is it only something which timid or pharisaical Christians have built up around themselves. It is all of that in creation that has taken the freedom not yet to believe.”(quoting Yoder)–”The Gesture of a Truthful Story” Theology Today, Vol 42, No. 2 – July 1985, p. 181-182.

    Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 5:08 pm | Permalink
  8. That’s very pretty, but my response to the priest telling people he puts the voice of God in their mouths is that the voice of God is food first, and pretty words second.

    Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 7:40 pm | Permalink
  9. Auggie Webster wrote:

    How ironic that you criticize the “pretty words” of Stanley Hauerwas while discussing the “pretty words” of a yahoo who was elected and given the Nobel Prize precisely for his “pretty words”.

    In fact, this is yet another opportunity to let the world know it is the world. The world gives Peace Prizes to the most powerful man on Earth who can destroy it all with his briefcase. Yet he do talk pretty now don’t he.

    Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 8:09 pm | Permalink
  10. Charlie Collier wrote:


    Perhaps you can say more about what you mean by “actionable policies.” Since 9/11 Hauerwas has been saying the same thing that Andrew J. Bacevich has been saying of late (and Susan Sontag said back in September of 2002): it’s a mistake to call 9/11 an act of war; call it murder and pursue it with a coordinated international policing operation. So Stanley’s remarks in his response to the Nobel speech are in key part about distinguishing war from other forms of violence. If we must accept your pejorative description of Yoder’s and Hauerwas’s theological claims as “pretty words, ” I think we’d have to say: no pretty words, no interesting actionable policies.

    I hope you’ll rethink using this quip about food and the word of God in this context. What Yoder and Hauerwas offer when it comes to war is not “pretty words” in the worst sense, but strong theological arguments against Christians killing other human beings. It’s more than a little ironic here that one of Hauerwas’ first responses to 9/11 was to say that we should “bomb Afghanistan with food.” The policies that have actually been pursued have had a good deal more to do with real bombs than with food.

    Friday, December 18, 2009 at 9:32 am | Permalink
  11. Derek wrote:


    I agree, and I fell into a bit of poor thinking there, but I would maintain that unfortunately most people consistently think in those terms. That thinking certainly helped Obama get elected. For every thoughtful person like yourself, I would venture that there were several who voted for him simply b/c he seemed to be the “anti-bush.” This is standard fair for politics, unfortunately.

    Also, I find the frustration over his Afghanistan policy interesting, b/c my understanding is that Obama never made a secret of his perspective on Afghanistan during the election season. He certainly didn’t go out of his way to publicize this, but I have found the anger/dismay over this by those who voted for him curious.

    Friday, December 18, 2009 at 11:09 am | Permalink

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