Here is the précis of my dissertation:
“This Mark of a Standing Human Figure Poised to Embrace”:
A Constructive Theology of Social Responsibility, Nonviolence & Nonconformity
by Malinda Elizabeth Berry
This dissertation makes a contribution to Christian political theology (broadly) and Mennonite peace theology (particularly) by arguing for shalom political theology developed using the work of three figures: Reinhold Niebuhr (1892–1971), Martin Luther King Jr. (1929–1968), and Doris Janzen Longacre (1940–1979). Shalom political theology roots a commitment to peace, justice, and nonviolence and a feminist/womanist reconstruction of nonconformity in a theological anthropology that takes sin and power dynamics seriously. The rationale for such an approach comes as a response to often-employed and overly-simplistic biblical hermeneutics that identify the Christian call to pacifism with Jesus’ words in the Gospels commanding us to love our enemies. Rejecting this simplistic approach to a complex set of theological and ethical questions also involves rejecting the ideological trappings of “pacifism,” opting instead for language that describes the nature of one’s commitment to the path of nonviolence. Such language underscores the inevitability of moral ambiguity in matters of social justice, social responsibility, and social engagement rather than setting those inevitabilities aside.
After outlining the context, primary need, and biblical foundations for a shalom political theology, the discussion turns to the interlocking components of the proposed theological construction: Niebuhr’s theological anthropology in the Christian realist tradition, King’s articulation of Christian nonviolence in the personalist tradition, and Longacre’s nonconformity in the Anabaptist tradition. This three-fold synthesis demonstrates the possibility of and necessity for Christians committed to understanding God’s great shalom as heart of the gospel message to articulate their conviction in a way that takes human nature and human sin seriously, affirms a liberative metaphysics of justice and nonviolence, and anticipates personal and communal transformation through the practice of nonconformity.
In a time when human beings long for meaningful relationships while feasting on polemical soundbites that do not promote self-reflection and communal renewal, the significance of this project comes from (1) the author’s approach to cultivating her own subjectivity and (2) the “community” of thinkers she uses to develop a theoethical schema for assessing the links between power dynamics, resource allocation, and belief about God’s intention for the world. Ultimately, she invites us to consider how God is embracing the world in and through us.
(You can find a copy of my dissertation on Academia.edu.)
photo | “Tulip Era in the Ottoman Empire” by Kıvanç Niş | CreativeCommons License: CC-BY 4.0