The Church, Freed: An Alternative to Hauerwas

About the Author
David Wagschal
  1. An Alternative to Hauerwas’ Church
  2. Summary: Conclusion

I’m hesitant to devote another post to Hauerwas. If you’ve followed my essays on Hauerwas over the past months, you know that my estimation of his theology has been souring. I’ve come to see his work as deeply flawed, at its very roots. More, I’ve come to see his theology as a dead-end.

To me, Hauerwas represents a whole generation of theologians who, enjoying perhaps the last gasp of Christendom’s material supports (secure professional positions, media profile, some level of public authority), recognized the dying of the old synthesis, but responded in exactly the wrong way. Instead of forging a new synthesis, they tried one last time to revive the old. Instead of engaging with the world, they retreated into sectarianism. Instead of finding new ways for the church to speak in the world with power and conviction, they just mired it further in Romantic nostalgia. Worse, they’ve managed to obscure the few voices (the old “liberals”) in the early 20th C who were struggling – admittedly, not always happily – to fashion some type of truly new synthesis.

As you can gather, I’m a bit bitter about this. I’m actually quite demoralized. We really needed more from them. I feel that my generation, with far fewer resources, now has the burden of not only devising a credible new synthesis – which was their task – but also cleaning up their legacy.

And their legacy is really problematic. Hauerwas and the post-liberals have convinced many that the only way to be Christian is to revert to a triumphalist and coercive theocratic(ish) vision of the pre-modern world. So they’ve simply re-packaged this old synthesis, with its systemic flaws, decorated it with a bit of contemporary theory, and sold the whole thing as a “brave new option” to a beleaguered Christian public. But the old synthesis isn’t a new option, and it isn’t brave. It’s the same old formula that got us into trouble in the first place. And the “bravery” and noble conviction of the post-liberals – which they’ve leveraged to great rhetorical effect – is hard to read as anything other than grief and fury at Christianity’s marginalization. So they’ve left us trying angrily to enact a troubled and impossible theology of a long-dead age – when we should be maintaing our composure to build for the future.

I’m also disturbed that their theology appeals exactly to the darkest needs of a vulnerable Christian people: our need for power, control, and “being right”.

The result? A legacy of frustration, anger and despair for today’s theologians and pastors. And also, I think, widespread compensatory authoritarianism and sectarianism as the frustration grows, which only further marginalizes Christianity.

Sigh. It’s exhausting to even contemplate.

(Did I mention too that they’ve associated Christianity with anti-democratic and anti-liberal themes? Great. We needed that.)

But maybe there is a silver lining.

Maybe the church can use their voices to clarify and express exactly what is wrong with the old synthesis. Maybe their work can serve as a foundation for something new, inasmuch as they have pin-pointed and articulated with such fine resolution many of the dying and dead habits and patterns of thinking of the old world. Maybe they’ve done the church a greater service than we know?

An Alternative to Hauerwas’ Church

On this note, I want to suggest a little experiment. What happens if we take Hauerwas’ post-liberal suggestions and messages – explicit or implicit – and flip them?

My contention is that the inverse of Hauerwas’ ideas might ironically provide some truly fresh and useful inspiration for us to move forward with.

Below are my suggested “flips” to Hauerwas. (Or you can just skip to my summary conclusion.) I invite you to consider your own.


  • Hauerwasian post-liberal: Christians, you must separate yourselves from “the world”. You must act against the world.
  • Flip: Christians, you are “the world”, and always will be; you are inextricably part of “the world”, as are all of your communities. You can’t separate yourself from it. And this is ok. The Gospel is that God came to save the world. Yes, “the world” (which means us!) is evil, but to confront the evil and injustices of the world you must above all recognize that these evil and injustices are structurally as internal to Christian communities as to any other – “the world” is never “out there”. Keep faith! Christ has overcome the world. But Christ has overcome it: not us.


  • Hauerwasian post-liberal: Christians, you are special, elect, distinct. You are called to be heroic, counter-cultural. Above all, you must be different from others.
  • Flip: The key thing is to realize that you are not different from others. You are as human as anyone else and you always will be. Your highest religious aspirations are common to all humans, as are your lowest and most evil thoughts. Yes, you should strive to be ethically exceptional, but this is not what your faith is about. The Christian faith is not about making you special. Your faith is instead a constant call to turn to contemplate and trust Christ’s distinctiveness, Christ’s “heroism”, Christ’s “counter-culturalness”. When we do this, we do not begin to perceive ourselves as more special or distinct: we instead recognize ever more deeply our unity with all humans as the common subjects of God’s unconditional love and acceptance.


  • Hauerwasian post-liberal: Developing virtue and moral character is of the very essence of Christianity. How Christian you are depends on how Christian you act. The Gospel only has meaning if it has a concrete, measurable effect on its listeners and on the world. So above all: you must behave rightly.
  • Flip: Christianity is not about behaviour or character. In fact, the Gospel is precisely God’s message of unconditional acceptance and salvation despite our behaviour and character. [So note: the Gospel is the literal antithesis of Hauerwas’ theology!] Christianity has many resources for developing virtue and moral character, but this is ultimately a secondary secular, human matter. Religion is only properly about God’s behaviour and character. And what is this? Impossible grace and mercy. This should and can inspire good behaviour and character on our part, but for these stumbling attempts to become the focus of what we are doing? Nuts!


  • Hauerwasian post-liberal: Christians, you have all the answers; you possess the correct prescription and law for living; you are “right”; you are the best form of community; you are to teach and model for “the world” what true human living is. The world needs to be trained and instructed by you.
  • Flip: Your sinfulness is as profound as that of any other group of humans, and individually and collectively you are as wrong as anyone else. In fact, the starting point of faith is recognizing that you are constitutionally always wrong, even in your best moments. Only God is “right”, and God’s “rightness” is no law: it’s an impossible grace. So you know that you can never claim to have the answers. Your voice is never prima facie privileged. You always need to be reformed and corrected by others – by Christians, by non-Christians, by whomever. All of humanity is training and instructing each other. This should in no way threaten you.


  • Hauerwasian post-liberal: Your Christian life must be characterized by constant striving, effort, improvement, “adventure”.
  • Flip: Your Christian life is fundamentally about learning to let go; exhaling; calming; accepting; trusting; relaxing.


  • Hauerwasian post-liberal: You should be suspicious of the liberal democratic state with its “toleration”, human rights, and respect for freedom of conscience. You have your own special biblical story which a prescription for a separate, holy and divine polity which must claim your true and absolute allegiance.
  • Flip: You should be suspicious of everything, and above all you own “story”! Christianity is not a prescription for a specific social or ethical order. It is a message about a) the structural screwed-upness of all orders, including (especially?) religious ones; and b) the message that God has still chosen to love and redeem us despite this screwed-upness. This message means that all social orders – including the strange ancient near-eastern and Greco-Roman structures which the bible assumes – should be subject to constant, searching critique by Christians. You never divinize (i.e. idolatrize) any particular order. This perspective allows you to recognize with total ease that a) something like the liberal democratic state might far exceed in ethical truth and beauty the human orders found in the bible or elsewhere in history (which, let’s be honest, it almost certainly does); b) we Christians have many times fallen into the sin of opposing better ethical moral and political systems than our “own”, even when we are being faithful to our own tradition. We. Do. Get. Stuff. Wrong.


  • Hauerwasian post-liberal: You must radically subordinate the individual to the communal order. The individual has no real meaning outside of the church. Church leaders: your key function is to control the behaviour of individuals in the church, to ensure their conformity and subjection to the community’s values and way of life – this “reads” them into the church’s story. So you must teach others what to choose, what to believe – and use social coercion as necessary. “Freedom” is only freedom to choose what is right, as defined by Christian authority. Obedience and deference are constitutive of Christian life.
  • Flip: You don’t need to subordinate or control anyone! The Gospel doesn’t require any coercion or obedience – in fact, it’s the rejection of both, because it’s the recognition that all of our coercion is evil and all of our obedience is fake! Christ, dead on the cross and risen, chooses exactly not to coerce, and not to require obedience. So whatever control is necessarily exercised in your community, or in any ethical interpretation of the Gospel, is entirely a matter of secular good order – i.e. with no divine or salvific significance at all. And as to the individual? Our ultimate meaning comes only from God’s action, the action of grace – so everyone’s story is already fully constituted before they walk into a church. How dare we think that any of our paltry and sinful little communities might have any bearing on anyone’s meaning, especially before God! The Christian community is called only to recognize God’s complete constitution of every person and to stand in total respect and awe of this.


  • Hauerwasian post-liberal: The church is a divine institution essential for salvation, God’s-kingdom-concretely-here-now, and absolutely constitutive of Christianity.
  • Flip: The church is a human organization which has no bearing on salvation. Any idea of the “Divine Church” is simply a form of our constant temptation to make ourselves God, to divinize God’s creation. In the end, it’s just another Molech, an Asherah, to be constantly recognized as the idol that it is, and cast down.


  • Hauerwasian post-liberal: The world depends for its salvation on you, on your struggle to be faithful to God’s new law.
  • Flip: The world depends for its salvation on Christ alone. Full stop.


  • Hauerwasian post-liberal: Salvation is archetypally about the establishment and recognition of God’s rule; of God’s sovereignty; of God’s lordship. Salvation is a political reality, requiring obedience, faithfulness and reciprocity.
  • Flip: Jesus, on the cross, is the central and ultimate revelation of who God is. This Jesus does not care about ruling or sovereignty, and decisively rejects any human political rule or lordship. We are saved instead by a broken and rejected God, who works in weakness instead of power. This God’s salvation has nothing to do with the imposition of any type of rule, no matter how sublime: it is instead an act of endless grace and truly unconditional acceptance, where there is no action, individually or politically, expected in response. So, if Christ is a ruler, he rules without law or expectation; if a “judge”, he always lets the accused go; if a “father” or “mother”, he doesn’t chasten or coerce; if a “king”, he cares nothing for his standing or honour. So in the end, these titles aren’t that helpful. No: the pagan gods ruled us; theirs was a world of offerings, lordship, fear, subjection, “gratitude”, and so on. This God, our God, Jesus Christ crucified and risen, is something very different!

Summary: Conclusion

My final take on Hauerwas is simple. Hauerwas had the misfortune of being born into the generation that was the first to witness the real beginnings of Christendom’s disintegration (after the brief post-war revival).

His liberal antecedents enjoyed being part of the broader cultural conversation in an integral way; but by the time Hauerwas was on the scene, this was over. Christianity was losing its public authority and credibility. It was losing its power and prestige, even its influence.

This frightened Hauerwas terribly – as it frightens us all. For academics, in particular, it was no longer clear that Christianity had anything credible to contribute to the broader ethical and political conversation. This tapped into the deepest, darkest fear of all those who construed Christianity as fundamentally a moral/ethical enterprise – as Hauerwas did. The fear was that Christianity secretly lacked any true moral authority; and maybe even moral truth. The particular dread, too taboo to express, was that the political and ethical accomplishments of the old Christian synthesis had in fact been surpassed by secular liberalism1. But, of course, they almost certainly had been.

And so, I think, Hauerwas’ theology represents Christian moral theology in a state of panic. His theology becomes an exaggerated attempt to re-assert and re-claim traditional Christian moral authority. In particular, it becomes an attempt to reinstate that one thing Christian moral leaders felt they were losing above all: a community they could control and define; a community that deferred to them; a community that affirmed them; a community that obeyed them.

But the desperation of the attempt soon becomes clear. None of the quiet confidence of a Niehbuhr or a Tillich remain. Instead we see a blatant advocacy for the most retrograde dynamics of the old churches: control, coercion, tit-for-tat reciprocity. We see a strange neglect of the traditional Reformation counter-arguments to such positions. And we see an oddly one-sided critique of the liberal tradition, where (legitimate) criticisms of the liberal synthesis are never balanced against the tremendous socio-ethical failings of the pre-modern world.

The result: a polemical but also quixotic vision of Christianity.

But it has been a seductive vision. Its effect has been to distract Christian leaders with one last hope that the old order might be restored (if maybe in smaller form). It is as if Hauerwas whispers: we might still be able to re-assert the moral pre-eminence and authority of Christendom!

But his vision is not viable. Not even close. In the end, post-liberal Christianity is founded on control, compulsion, pride (“you special, elect Christians have all the answers!”), and coercion. I can’t think of a better way to make Christ finally and totally repulsive to the world. But then, this vision doesn’t offer the world Christ, it offers the world “The Church” – i.e. it offers us. Really!?

But there is another way.

The Gospel of grace acts like an inoculation to all these temptations. Hauerwas’ theology is like a clenched fist: frightened, angry, threatening. Grace can relax it and open it. Grace gently reveals the critical error Hauerwas has made in his theology: the idea that theology is fundamentally about ethics, about our behaviour. This is our primeval human temptation. It is false.

Theology is about God’s actions, God’s works, God’s “behaviour”, God’s faithfulness, God’s struggle. The Gospel exactly removes our actions from the realm of the divine, from the realm of salvation, from the realm of mattering. The Gospel is the message of God’s total acceptance and mercy despite our actions. It is the message that God has already done everything. It is a message of supreme consolation and hope. It doesn’t depend on us.

Hauerwas missed this, but he is not alone in making this error. We all make this error. Constantly. Paul made it, Luther made it. It is the central insight of theology to recognize that we constantly make this error and that we constantly need to counter this error: we constantly must distinguish between law and Gospel, in traditional Lutheran lingo.

But when we recover from this error – even briefly! – wow, how the horizons open! We’re freed from the necessity of Hauerwas’ conclusions. Suddenly there is a possibility that Christianity doesn’t require control; that it doesn’t need to compel; that it isn’t worried about authority; that it truly isn’t intimidated by the liberal democratic state; that it can permit many forms of church and community – and in fact, most importantly, that it isn’t that worried about church at all! In a manner of speaking, it finally frees the church from “The Church”! Instead Christianity can simply be kind. Relaxed. Calm. Confident. Real (worts and all!). And totally integral to its own message. It can be truly Good News!

And so let’s conclude with the Good News. Here is how Hauerwas defines the Good News: “we are possessors of the happy news that God has called people together to live faithfully to the reality that he is the Lord of this world. All men [sic] have been promised that through the struggle of this people to live faithful to that promise God will reclaim the world for his Kingdom.” (From “Character, Narrative, and Growth in the Christian Life”, 1980; Hauerwas Reader p. 251)


We need to fix this: “we are possessors of the happy news that God has called all peoples, despite their unfaithfulness, to hear the Good News that God has always loved them, and always accepted them, and always forgiven them, even since the beginning of the world. He cares not for lordship nor dominion: he is pure Gift. All have been promised that, whatever the struggles of the Christian people to live faithful to God’s promises, God will always remain faithful to his promise to reclaim the whole world for his Kingdom. Amen.”

I suspect that I’ll be taking a bit of a break from my political theology posts for the next while — I want to devote more attention to other projects. But I’ll be back with some book reviews soon.

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  1. e.g. in justice, equality, human flourishing, critical capacity, respect for the other, etc. []

There’s Something Fishy about Hauerwas’ Idea of Church

About the Author
David Wagschal

I’ve now completed the Hauerwas Reader, and I’ll soon be writing my concluding post on America’s Theologian. But first, there is one issue that has been nagging at me. It has to do with a strange set of contradictions that linger around Hauerwas’ understanding of “church”.

  1. Hauerwas’ Idea of Church
  2. So Where’s the Contradiction?
  3. The Pandora’s Box of Pre-Modernity
  4. Hauerwas the Liberal and the End of the Road

Hauerwas’ Idea of Church

Church is a central, maybe the central, focus of Hauerwas’ work. In fact, his theology could be characterized as a Methodism-that-found-church. Methodists understand the Gospel as an empowering of Christians to realize a concrete moral/ethical holiness. Hauerwas (a Methodist) believes this whole-heartedly, but his holiness must have a “political” dimension: an active manifestation in a socio-political community. Therefore, Christians must achieve holiness as church. Church therefore becomes a critical part of Christian life, since a) it is the necessary training ground and framework for holiness/virtue; and b) more so, it is the very realization of that political holiness: the church is Christian ethics in Hauerwas’ view. And since the Gospel is Christian ethics, and Christian ethics means nothing without the church, the church is the Gospel.

Read More…

Hauerwas’ Inner Constantine

  1. What is Constantinianism?
  2. Hauerwas: Constantine’s Mini-Me?
  3. So… what is a real antidote to Constantinianism?
  4. How is such a position possible?


I continue to struggle with Hauerwas’ sense that he is not “Constantinian”.

“Constantinianism” takes its name from the 4th C Roman emperor, Constantine the Great (272-337 AD), who legalized Christianity in the Roman Empire and set it on the path to becoming the empire’s official, state-sponsored religion. Under his successors, Christianity became deeply integrated into the political, legal, and cultural structures of Roman society. Eventually, in the late empire (and in its medieval successor states), state citizenship and Christian belief became virtually synonymous. The empire became viewed as the earthly mirror of the heavenly kingdom, and the ruler as God’s appointed representative on earth (under the tutelage of the clergy, of course!). Religious dissent became an offence against the state, and the divine mission of the state and the divine mission of the church were understood as inextricably linked.

Read More…

Hauerwas in (Very Broad) Perspective

About the Author
David Wagschal

Stanley Hauerwas’ work is usually read as a reaction to the theological liberalism of the 19th and early 20th C. Hauerwas situates his own work this way, and this is how he is mostly characterized in the academy. He is a “post-liberal” concerned with re-asserting the particularity and distinctiveness of Christian belief over and against liberal theologies that sought to harmonize or reconcile Christian theology with Enlightenment and humanist beliefs.

Such a contextualization of Hauerwas’ work is both accurate and useful. But it may be a bit narrow. What happens if we place Hauerwas’ work in a broader perspective?

Resurrecting the Imperial Church

For me, as a historian trained in late antique and Byzantine culture, what immediately jumps out from the pages of Hauerwas is the extent to which he can be read as resurrecting the key tenets of the pre-modern “imperial” Christian synthesis. This is the 3rd and 4th C “Great Church” synthesis of doctrine and practice that congealed into the official religion of the Roman Empire and broadly became the basis of all historic branches of Christianity.

Read More…


Five Counterpoints to Hauerwas

About the Author
David Wagschal

I’ve decided that life is too short, and the days too beautiful, to engage in a lengthy refutation of Hauerwas.

I don’t mean this as a slight to Hauerwas. It’s just an acknowledgement that, for a Lutheran, Hauerwas is almost an anti-theologian.

In a nutshell, Hauerwas’  wants to:

  • blur, even erase, the division between justification and sanctification;
  • re-establish Christianity as a new law;
  • replace a Pauline and grace-centric reading of Scripture with a “whole narrative” reading;
  • restore the old Greco-Roman belief in salvation as divine transformation and growth in holiness (particularly via the re-appropriation of classical virtue ethics);
  • replace faith-as-trust with faith-as-obedience/subjection (“faithfulness”);
  • and above all, re-divinize or “re-enchant” the church as the key and exclusive locus of salvation and truth.

This is basically a program to roll-back the Lutheran Reformation.

And politics?

Read More…

Step-up, Stan! Stanley Hauerwas – America’s Theologian

About the Author
David Wagschal

Has Christianity been playing a role in the erosion of liberal democratic values? Has it been contributing to the rising tide of authoritarianism, tribalism and anti-rational discourse? If it has, does it have to? Is there another way?

These are the questions that have sparked my current exploration of contemporary political theology.

For the American scene, these questions find an obvious focal point in one theologian in particular: Stanley Hauerwas.

Stanley Hauerwas, an American ethicist and political theologian, is something of a theological celebrity. He’s been hailed as “America’s Best Theologian” by Time magazine. He’s received innumerable honors, and his work has generated a sizable secondary literature in both Protestant and Catholic circles. Almost all seminarians read something of him. Heavens, he’s even appeared on Oprah Winfrey.

The precise source of his appeal is hard to pinpoint. He probably hasn’t made any one particularly remarkable or original contribution. Perhaps his curious combination of Methodist, Anabaptist and Catholic thought has simply hit all the right buttons in late 20th/early 21st century America theology? Or maybe he is one of those thinkers who has somehow managed to perfectly articulate the “spirit of the times”? Probably his exceptionally readable and approachable style hasn’t hurt — not to mention his charming Texan accent and penchant for swearing.

In the end, it doesn’t matter. Something about Hauerwas resonates very deeply in America, and that is all that counts for our purposes. Hauerwas embodies a significant aspect of the American religious consciousness – so we need to explore his thought very carefully.

Hauerwas, however, is a difficult theologian to review.  It’s not that his ideas are complex, but his corpus is very large and very scattered. It’s hard to treat him by reviewing a book or two. (As I did with Yoder.)

Fortunately there is a 750 page+ compilation of many of his key works, curated by John Berkman and William Cavanaugh.  It’s now a bit dated, but I think it will do for our purposes. Over the next few posts I’m basically going to plow through this reader, and offer a series of reflections on the political implications of Hauerwas’ sprawling theological project.

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UTS Review Essay: The Politics of Jesus by John Howard Yoder

A neo-Lutheran review of John Yoder’s The Politics of Jesus, 2nd edn. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans 1994; first edition 1972). Part of UTS’ exploration of contemporary Christian politics.

  1. Yoder’s Argument
  2. Yoder’s Method
  3. What I Love About This Book
  4. Nevertheless…
    1. What Exactly Does Yoder Think Christianity Is?
    2. The Cross…?
    3. Sin?
  5. Back to Scripture? Unfortunately, Yes.
  6. Back to Politics.

This is in many ways a great book.

At first, it does not impress. It is not particularly well written. The scope of the work is odd, built around an idiosyncratic selection of scriptural texts. It contains numerous annoying caveats about its own limitations, of the type normally reserved for doctoral dissertations or other junior research projects. The second-edition chapter “epilogues” are a bit self-indulgent.

But once you get to the end of it, you realize that this is a book of unusual power.

Yoder’s Argument

Yoder’s shocking thesis – already evident in the title of the book (The Politics of Jesus) – is that there is one consistent and well-defined ethical-political vision in the New Testament. This vision can be formulated succinctly, and it is obligatory for all Christians.

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Making America Average Again

About the Author
David Wagschal

America Needs a New Normal – and Fast

The political drama taking place south of the border is in so many ways unreal. The spectacle of the Trump administration/family is bizarre – and getting more bizarre. I don’t need to give examples.

Yet Trump and his coterie simply exemplify a much broader disconnect with reality in the American social consciousness.

However bizarre Trump may be, what is truly unreal about contemporary America is how far the bar has dropped on our vision of what society can and should be. Standards has become so skewed, and society’s vision so dimmed, that I think even the progressives in the United States are often not clear about what “normal” is.

So in all the confusion and bizarreness, I feel the need to offer a quick reality check: what is normal, again, for a just, moral and healthy first-world society?

I would offer the following as a few minimum standards:

1) Health care. Health care is free, universal, and admits no difference in levels of service according to people’s wealth or status. It’s basically like electricity or running water. Free, universal healthcare is understood as a simple moral imperative. There’s no real debate — this just is.

2) Wealth and class. The middle and lower classes dominate the income curve, and control the majority of society’s wealth.  Wealth and status differences between and within all classes are comparatively small. Social mobility is high. The political class is drawn mostly from the middle or lower classes. Generally, the upper classes view it to be in poor taste to display their wealth conspicuously – indeed, the upper class is relatively invisible, and class differences are hard to spot in day-to-day experience (i.e. it’s hard to tell class from how people talk, dress, etc.)

3) Employment. Everyone has multiple reasonable and realistic opportunities to obtain stable and secure employment, and all jobs have basically equivalent benefits, proportionate to the level of income/hours. (Health care is, of course, not a “benefit”; see #1 above.)  A dignified, if not lavish, retirement is more or less guaranteed.

4) Firearms. Aside from licenced and controlled hunting rifles/shotguns, which are mostly restricted to rural areas, possession of firearms is exceptionally rare, and is a serious criminal offence.  Handgun licenses might be (rarely) available to collectors, or on designated shooting ranges, but only under extremely controlled circumstances. Military-style weapons of any type are, of course, strictly forbidden.

5) Military. The military is a) highly professionalized and specialized; and b) segregated from civilian society.  It is (therefore) exceptionally effective, disciplined and respected. It is not commonly visible in the civil sphere. With the exception of defence and security positions in government, there is relatively little personnel “bleed” between the military and government – the military and government are very much separate career tracks.

6) Politics and business. Stringent rules are in place to prevent finances from determining elections. Campaign budgets are strictly capped.  Lobbying is limited and highly transparent. “Pay to play” or “pay for access” are equated with corruption, and are criminal offences. The firewall between business and politics is strictly observed, and morally internalized: a business person would be ashamed of even appearing to try to influence a politician via donations or similar inducements, much less actually attempting it. Likewise, a politician would avoid even the appearance of granting privileged access to the wealthy. The input of business on economic, industrial, and financial policy is critically important, but it happens only through transparent, open and regulated channels. Career moves from politics into the corporate sphere is rare, regulated and difficult – there is no “revolving door” between Wall Street and Washington.

7) Prisons. Incarceration rates are low, and incarceration is mostly used for violent offenders – less as a punitive measure. Prisons are never private. Broadly, in fact, only the government can legitimately restrict a citizen’s rights or inflict sanctions. Sanctions against citizens can never, as a point of principle, be delegated to private companies/agents.

8) Education.  Education is mostly public. Private schools, as a whole, are not substantially different in quality from public schools.  Aside from different specializations and sizes, there is comparatively little difference among institutions of higher learning.  (America’s highly stratified university system is, I think, a much larger problem than is generally acknowledged.)

9) Economy. The free market is a cornerstone of a peaceful, free and prosperous society, but it is recognized that markets are complex and must be prudently regulated. Anti-trust, financial, environmental and labour regulations are robust. The free market is not considered a default model for the administration of education, culture, politics, the military or other parts of civil society. Boards of directors have a fiduciary responsibility to assure that the interests of all stake-holders in a company, including society and the broader public good, are represented; share-holder interests are only one interest among others. Banking regulations are strict, and commercial and investment banking are carefully segregated.

10)  Judiciary.  Access to law is broadly equal for all, and not dependent on wealth. Civil suits are comparatively rare — there is no “culture of lawsuits”. There are numerous alternatives to the formal court system for the resolution of civil matters.

I could go on about race, immigration, refugees, police etc.

For a lot of Americans, I suspect that many of the above standards may seem like pie-in-the-sky.

But they shouldn’t. Most of the above are, to a greater or lesser degree, realities in other developed nations.  (Ok, most countries are still weak on 10, and 2, 3, and 9 have been very much weakened since the ’80s; some countries, like the UK, are also quite weak on 8.)

This means that if the US achieves even most of the above, this will not make America great. This will make America average.

If it excels in the above, this will make America a bit above average.

What would make America great? I don’t think a real proposal is even on the table.

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UTS Round-up: Assorted Links

About the Author
David Wagschal

A few stories that caught my attention this week…

Although no longer our “issue du jour”, a couple of interesting developments for same-sex marriage:

  1. A Pew study that came out this week showing that support for same-sex marriage in the US is growing — even among Evangelicals. Note the age-breakdown in particular.
  2. Speaking of which, Germany legalized same-sex marriage (finally). Bit of a political move, but Merkel has been biding her time on this one.
  3. Which reminds me: for my American friends, did you know that Canada’s Conservatives (pretty much our Republicans) ended official opposition to gay marriage about a year ago?

In politics and economics:

  1. The Atlantic ran a much-shared article on the demise of “White Christian America”.  My worry here: the constant association of “Christian” and the forces that Trump represents. Man, we’ve got a lot of damage-control to do…
  2. But here is an interesting, if not altogether encouraging, article on the growing progressive/liberal political opposition to Trump. (Thanks to a friend at church for sharing this one a few weeks ago!) What is really intriguing here is the hint that some progressive/liberals are trying to find an entirely new way of engaging politically — one that transcends left/right, and one that is not just a left-leaning mirror of the conservative political machine. Hmm.

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UTS Takes on Political Theology

About the Author
David Wagschal

Here’s a question that has been nagging me: has Christianity being playing a role in the erosion of liberal democratic values that we’ve been witnessing across many western democracies?

In the last few months I’ve been prepping for a short studies series at my church on “Christianity in the Public Square”.  I took the opportunity to brush up on “political theology”.

Political theology is the (relatively) new discipline of theology that treats the (relatively) old question of the relationship of the church and the public sphere – i.e. the state, civil society, and broadly the entire socio-political realm.  It’s very popular in today’s academy.

I somehow knew that I wasn’t much going to like what I started to uncover in this literature.

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