Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

C. Melissa Snarr: A New Voice in baptist Theology

SnarrMelissaUnlike the last entry in this series, I do not know Dr. Snarr personally: We’ve missed each other at meetings of the Society of Christian Ethics and the National Association of Baptist Professors of Religion.  We’ve never met, though we have mutual friends.  But my encounter with her work leads me to believe she will soon be a very important voice in baptist life and thought.

Dr. Snarr’s areas of scholarship and teaching include:  Christian political thought; Christian theological ethics; Feminist theological ethics; Contemporary Islamic political thought; Ethics pedagogy; Sociology of Morality; Social Movement Theory; and Sociology of Religion.  She is an activist-scholar in the contemporary U.S. Living Wage struggle and in struggles for gender justice and equal  justice for all sexual orientations.

A 1992 graduate (B.A., Religious Studies and Philosophy, magna cum laude) of Furman University (a historic, very selective, private university in Greenville,  SC, rooted in the non-creedal, Free Church/Baptist tradition), Snarr was a scholar-athlete who won numerous awards and honors.  She earned her Master of Divinity degree at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology (magna cum laude) in 1995.  After spending time working in church-related social work and social movement struggles, Snarr finished her Ph.D. from Emory University’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Graduate Program in Religion (Ethics and Society) in 2004.  After working for Emory’s Servant Leadership School and Emory’s Center for Ethics, Dr. Snarr became Assistant Professor of Ethics and Society at Vanderbilt University Divinity School in Nashville, TN. She also serves as core faculty in Vanderbilt’s Graduate Department of Religion and is affiliate faculty in the undergraduate School of Arts and Sciences where she teaches Women and Gender Studies and Community Research and Action.

Dr. Snarr is an active member of Glendale Baptist Church in Nashville–a progressive congregation affiliated with the Alliance of Baptists, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship , and American Baptist Churches, USA and is a partner congregation with the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America and a member of the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists.  It’s a great congregation, co-pastored by Dr. Amy Mears and Rev. April Baker.

Snarr’s doctoral work focused on differing Christian views of moral formation how that effects their political participation.  This has been recently published as Social Reforms and Political Selves:  Five Visions in Contemporary Christian Ethics.  London: T & T Clark/Continuum International, 2007.  Focusing on the differing views of social selves held by Christian social ethicists Walter Rauschenbusch, Reinhold Niebuhr, Stanley Hauerwas, Beverly Harrison, and Emily Townes, she identifies strengths and risks in their views and considers their adequacy for producing social reforms.  She concludes the book by arguing for six core convictions about the social self that might form a Christian social ethic capable of responding to our current crises.

Snarr’s sec0nd book(forthcoming), like the majority of her social activism, focuses on the role(s) religion and gender play in the U.S. movement for a living wage.  I look forward to All You Who Labor:  Religion and Ethics in the U.S. Living Wage Movement (New York: New York University Press, 2010).  She is teaching courses on religion and war in an age of terror (comparing Christian and Islamic views) that I hope will issue in another book.

It’s easy to see that Melissa Snarr is a figure to watch in baptist life and thought.


September 3, 2009 - Posted by | Baptists, feminism, progressive faith, theology


  1. Michael could you please define
    “progressive congregation” for me ?

    Comment by Paul | September 3, 2009

  2. No, not really. But I can try to give a sense of what I mean–that’s far less precise than a definition, but many important terms are hard to define. I mean a congregation that is not fundamentalist, doesn’t preach hellfire, but preaches love. A congregation in which leadership positions (including the pastorate) are open to either sex. A congregation focused on peace and justice as natural parts of following Jesus. One which welcomes everyone as equals rather than throwing people out which do not measure up.

    Does that help?

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | September 3, 2009

  3. Thank you Michael. Indeed it does suffice. And I agree with the description as being very Christian. I think that Jesus himself would entertain such values.

    Comment by Paul | September 3, 2009

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