Hauerwas: marriage and capitalism

from Stanley Hauerwas’s essay “Resisting Capitalism: On Marriage and Homosexuality” collected in A Better Hope: Resources for a Church Confronting Capitalism, Democracy and Postmodernity:

Capitalism thrives on short-term commitments. The ceaseless drive for innovation is but the way to undercut labor’s power by making the skills of the past irrelevant for tomorrow. Indeed, capitalism is the ultimate form of deconstruction, because how better to keep labor under control than through the scarcity produced through innovation? All the better that human relationships are ephemeral, because lasting relationships prove to be inefficient in ever-expanding markets. Against such a background, the church’s commitment to as lifelong monogamous fidelity may well prove to be one of the most powerful tactics we have to resist capitalism.

This obviously cries out to be fleshed out at length, something Hauerwas doesn’t do in this short piece. Three pointers from the essay that might help in constructing marriage as resistance to capitalism:

  • Hauerwas calls for reshaping the church’s discourse on marriage around its practices regarding promiscuity, rather than ideas regarding sexuality. So formal commitment within the alternative polis of the church replaces negotiation of preferences.
  • He asks that all marriage be open to children, not in the sense that each must produce biological heirs, but in the sense that each must give an account of how it fits into an ongoing community practice that is procreative rather than consumptive. Mentoring, teaching, childcare etc. could all be filled in here.
  • And, of course, he rejects the romantic as the basis of marriage — moving away from marriage as desire-fulfillment.

I’d add

  • The marriage ceremony is an obvious place to work out a witness in the midst of capitalism, not just in the obvious ways like expenses and gift-giving, but in emphasizing the commitments the couple makes to the larger community and its projects as it receives their blessing.
  • This is a prime arena for an exercise of reclaiming the imagination, in the sense that Walsh and Keesmaat argue for in Colossians Remixed, regarding desire and need.
  • Periphery’s suggestion that gift theory would be really useful for Christian ethics might find especially great applications in conceiving marriage as a response to economics. It might be a really good language for working out the connections.
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3 Responses to “Hauerwas: marriage and capitalism”


  1. 1 periphery January 26, 2009 at 12:17 pm

    “The marriage ceremony is an obvious place to work out a witness in the midst of capitalism, not just in the obvious ways like expenses and gift-giving, but in emphasizing the commitments the couple makes to the larger community and its projects as it receives their blessing.”

    2 follow-up points:

    (1) Cf. I Do, But I Don’t

    (2) Re: the commitments the couple makes to the larger community in the ceremony (and the commitments the community makes to the couple), it seems like we’re in thorny territory insofar as the ceremony proper involves (often annoying and unsavory) traditions, and in order to make this kind of public statement, the couple essentially has to tell the pastor what they want him / the church to do, which is (ironically) inconsistent with a strong ethic of being the church. In other words, the baptist and Christian reformed and Methodist and Prebyterian weddings I’ve been to haven’t really underlined the couple’s commitment to the community, or the community’s participation in the couple’s vows, so if one were working w/in those church frameworks, the couple would have to autonomously dictate to the church, as represented by the pastor, what the church and pastor should be dictating to the couple.

  2. 2 periphery January 26, 2009 at 12:19 pm

    … what they want him or her to do. Sorry! My internal gender-editor failed me!

  3. 3 withastone January 26, 2009 at 5:18 pm

    This is a really good point. It reminds me of the recurring problem with Hauerwas — the basis for his ethics is a church which may nowhere exist, or is already deeply compromised by the things like capitalism that it ought to resist. I think this is part of why he returns so often to worship and the eucharist as places where some sort of solid core is more likely to exist. Maybe those are the resources for the marriage ceremony as well?


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