Doctor of Ministry

Year Approved


First Advisor

Senapatiratine, Tim


The purpose of this research was to better understand the relationship between moral development, theology and social justice within a Christian context. An apparent disconnect exists regarding how people of faith apply personal morals and theological perspectives when positioning themselves with regard to public policy and social justice issues. The researcher sought to extract information that would have implications for professional social practice, social work ethical and practice pedagogy, for faith-based institutions of higher learning and for the broader Christian community. A theological reflection included a brief examination of Aristotelian and Thomistic philosophies of moral and ethical development followed by a deeper investigation into Reinhold Niebuhr’s protestant imagination, non-violent atonement theology, the contextual theological constructs of Stephen Bevans and Catholic Social Teaching. The literature review included a brief review of Freud and Skinner’s views on moral development followed by a closer examination of Lawrence Kohlberg’s theory of moral development and a second look at Niebuhr to understand his view on the development of morality. The researcher employed an exploratory quantitative study design which included two separate survey instruments that were distributed to undergraduate students at a faith-based institution. The first survey instrument was developed by the researcher and was designed to gather information on respondents’ opinions on what they believe about social justice and how they apply those beliefs to specific contexts and situations. The second survey instrument was a standardized test that is used to measure the moral development of individuals based on Lawrence Kohlberg’s theory of moral development. Data from the surveys indicated that students at Bethel University show higher levels of moral development than the findings reported by the Center for the Study of Ethical Development at the University of Alabama. The study also demonstrated that although people of faith indicate that they believe social justice to be central to Christian practice, there is significant disagreement regarding what social justice is and how it is accomplished.

Degree Name

Doctor of Ministry

Document Type

Doctoral thesis