Making all things new: thinking with and beyond the political theologies of Reinhold Niebuhr, Martin Luther King, Jr., and John Howard Yoder

Guth, Karen V., Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia
Mathewes, Charles, AS-Religious Studies, University of Virginia
Childress, James, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia
Mohrmann, Margaret, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia
Jones, Paul, AS-Religious Studies, University of Virginia

This dissertation advances discussion about political ecclesiology in the United States. Scholarly reflection on the "church's politics" abounds in Protestant social ethics, public theology, and feminist theologies. Yet, each field seems content to think through the issue alone, calling into question whether it has been explored satisfactorily, much less imaginatively. Given this lack of engagement, the dissertation hosts a conversation between these fields to develop a new kind of political theology.

It first draws on feminist thought to challenge the view that Niebuhr's, King's, and Yoder's primary contributions to political theology come in the form of their stances on violence, thus rejecting overly-narrow identifications of Niebuhr as the Christian realist who condones the use of force, King as the nonviolent resister, and Yoder as the Christian pacifist who eschews resistance. It then allows Niebuhr, King, and Yoder to challenge feminist Protestant theologians to direct their insights on the political nature of theology toward more developed reflection on the "church's politics," lest feminist theology be consigned to the margins of Christian theology.

To do so, it identifies an "eschatological ethic" that runs through feminist, womanist, mujerista, and Latina theologies. Drawing particularly on the work of Kathryn Tanner, Monica Coleman, Serene Jones, and Mary McClintock Fulkerson, it uses this ethic to critique problematic dualisms such as public/private, agape/eros, and church/world that mar Niebuhr's, King's, and Yoder's theological thinking, and to uncover valuable theological insights that other readings of Niebuhr, King, and Yoder consistently fail to notice: Niebuhr's identification of the church as the site of judgment, King's emphasis not only on love and justice but also creativity, and Yoder's attention to 'tactical alliances' between church and world.

Having identified political ecclesiology as a lacuna in Protestant feminist thought, the dissertation then engages in constructive feminist development of Niebuhr's, King's, and Yoder's thought to sketch the contours of a political ecclesiology animated by "classical" thinkers and feminist insights. Such a theology understands politics through the rubric of "doing a new thing," and posits practices of repentance, creativity, and discernment as integral to the "church's politics.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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