The relational ethics of church music.
Music is an “indispensable” aspect of Protestant Christian worship, to use Brian Wren’s term (2000, 48). Yet it is also perceived as one of the most divisive aspects of that activity, with scholars, practitioners, and congregants alike contributing to this perspective. As scholars such as Donald Hustad (1993), Harold Best (1993, 2003), J. Nathan Corbitt (1998), Brian Wren (2000), James K. A. Smith (2009) and Jeremy S. Begbie (2011) have similarly noted, music connects people to each other and enlivens our emotional and relational convictions. This reality strongly suggests that music has ethical significance; if music is so emotionally and relationally powerful, and can be a source of unity and division, then it should be examined from within an ethical frame. It is surprising, however, that few scholars of Christian worship have attempted to consider music’s way of being in the world from an ethical perspective. This dissertation argues that a central problem in scholarship on music in Christian worship is that the ethical significance of church music has been sidestepped, ignored, or generally undertheorized. Using a multidisciplinary methodology drawn from ethnomusicological fieldwork at three Waco, Texas, Baptist churches and synthesizing theories of discourse, formation, and care ethics oriented towards restorative justice, I argue that church music is ethical when it preserves people in and restores people to just relationships with each other and, when applied directly to ecclesial settings, relationship with God.