Thanks to the fine folks at the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Religion and Theology, this August I’m beginning a pedagogy and research project connected to my broader research agenda.
My project involves developing the syllabus and core content for a course in the Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary curriculum that I have agreed to revive: “Ethics for Organizations.” The course is for students focusing on the Leadership Development components of our curriculum who might be MDiv or MA students, and we will likely market the course to other AMBS constituents who are interested in thinking about what happens when human beings organize themselves. Our degree-seeking students are Mennonite, broadly evangelical, and mainline folks, and they are all interested in thinking about organizations as organisms. Many of them value analyzing systems and are sensitive to power dynamics, difference, and social location.
Thus, the students I teach come to AMBS wanting to learn how to think systematically about peace theology, and they want to participate in communities that practice Christian faith in ways that have deep coherence by integrating thinking, being, and doing. Teaching people how to do integrative work is a challenge because it is a “both/and” process. Supporting critical thinking so that students can contrast biblical exegesis with theological reflection is important, and so is helping students understand how these processes work together as we interpret, evaluate, and apply the gospel message to our lives.
With the help of the Summer Fellowship, preparing for and teaching this course will allow me to do two things. First, learn how to lead and teach Circle Process, a practice of nonviolence and ethical integrity. The practicum I’ll be participating in as part of my project has a four-part focus that informs the training and content: social infrastructure of conversation; energetics of interaction; challenges to process; and setting vision, discerning reality, and naming intention.
Second, articulate my critique of Mennonites’ appropriation of Robert K. Greenleaf’s Servant Leadership paradigm. These two things are part of my larger teaching and research project to develop a constructive, systematic peace theology I call shalom political theology.
My hope is that students enrolled in Ethics for Organizations will, through the wisdom of Circle Process, develop skills to use their power and enact their authority nonviolently without undermining their position as organizational leaders. In other words, I want them to uncover and face their hangups about “being in charge.” How? The course’s content and format — organizational ethics taught in a three-week January session — call for creative pedagogical practices like structuring and running the course based on organizational ethics I want students to put into practice.
I anticipate that my research will help students see how and why Servant Leadership alone is not sufficient for achieving effective, ethical organizational culture. While this paradigm is an important turn away from autocratic, corporate leadership, when Christian groups and organizations uncritically declare themselves servant-leaders, they all too easily sanction dysfunctional behaviors that lead to lousy organizational ethics and even systemic forms of violence. How can we uphold the values of leadership that eschews corporate concern for the bottom line (shareholder dividends) while also building leadership patterns defined by deeply Christian ethics committed to nonviolence? This is the question and problem at the heart of this project.
Naming my hunches and finding ways to turn them into meaningful paths of inquiry for communal learning is huge part of who I am and how I do my work. I have found as a student, teaching assistant, and professor that teaching and learning have been most effective for me, my peers, and my students when the content of a course shapes how it is taught.
photo | “Cornflowers” by Henry Hemming | Creative Commons License: CC BY