Defense Date


Graduation Date

Fall 12-21-2018


Immediate Access

Submission Type


Degree Name





McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts

Committee Chair

Elizabeth Agnew Cochran

Committee Member

Darlene Fozard Weaver

Committee Member

Anna Floerke Scheid


Moral Injury, Disability, Limit Model of Disability, Deborah Creamer, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Veterans, Jonathan Shay, Brett Litz, Rita Nakashima Brock


The lament of Jeremiah, “they dress the wound of my people as if it were not serious,” reverberates today as veterans return home from a decade of war, ridden by PTSD and moral injury, only to discover lethargy, lack of seriousness and complacency in societal response. The seriousness of our soldiers’ wounds, to body and spirit alike, demand ethical, societal and theological responsibility. Failure to address the seriousness of these wounds results in distress, depression and even suicide for the soldier. Statistics may describe a portion of the reality, but the degree to which soldiers suffer in silence and the wider circles in their lives (family, work, faith, civic responsibility) are affected is difficult, if not impossible, to assess. The emerging field of Moral Injury describes a wound created by social suffering and moral distrust wherein a soldier’s sense of what is morally right is compromised. The loss of a meaningful and moral worldview creates a shattering of moral identity both within the soldier and from the perspective of the solider to the outside world. While the precise contours of the field are still being navigated, what is clear is moral injury has a disabling effect on the individual, their circles of support and the wider society.

My intention in this dissertation is to construct a revised “limit model” of Moral Injury drawing on the highly regarded scholarly work of Deborah Creamer’s “limit model of disability.” Her model critiques the medical and social models of disability and provides a constructive alternative of a “limit model of disability.” In addition, this dissertation nuances her model by resourcing Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s theological assessment of “limit” from his commentary on Genesis Creation and Fall. Situating Moral Injury within the limit model of disability will help provide pastoral resources and theological nuance to the individual veteran in distress due to moral injury.

Two working hypotheses guide this study. First, moral injury carries within the ‘injury’ a theological component wherein a presenting wound for the veteran reveals a component of divine struggle. Whether that component regards providence, protection or lack thereof from a transcendent presence is yet to be seen. Second, theological work on moral injury has bypassed robust theological assessment of a theological anthropology, working Christology and overarching theology in order to move quickly toward nascent human need.

The methodology needed to accomplish this task is fourfold. The first step is to create a working definition of moral injury by examining work across disciplines in the scholarship surrounding moral injury to determine a working definition of moral injury and its presenting characteristics. The second step is to draw alongside the discourse on moral injury contemporary understandings of disability, particularly from a theological perspective. Of particular interest to this study is the current project of Deborah Creamer who proposes a “limit model of disability” as an alternative to prevailing medical and social models of disability.

The third methodological step vital to this project will be to draw into conversation the biblical theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer who engages an extensive conversation on limits in his work Creation and Fall. The historical retrieval of his work will require an eye to the nuances of the German language, the context of the theological discussion at the time that necessitated his reflections, and the dogmatic theological method he engaged which allowed Scripture to be a place of divine revelation. In addition, Bonhoeffer’s conceptualization of limit offers a Christological account in addition to a theological anthropology and divine theology. Particular care will be taken to compare and contrast Creamer and Bonhoeffer in these areas with attention paid to the Christological addition Bonhoeffer suggests creating a threefold schema for anthropology, theology and Christology in the face of limits. This historical review will be key to understanding the particular nuances “limit” presents for Bonhoeffer and then drawing those into conversation with the disability theology of limit and its implications for moral injury.

The final methodological step in this project will be to allow the conversation across these three areas to create constructive possibilities for our understanding of moral injury, its treatment and a theological assessment of the issues at hand. At stake in this conversation are the implications for practical and pastoral theology that the theological nuances will construe. This four-fold methodology will provide an overarching construct thereby allowing critical reflection on moral injury and the very real limits humanity faces in the midst of particular moral codes and their presenting crises. This cross discipline conversation will contribute to a deeper understanding of what moral injury is and how it must be both respected and addressed within our society and among our churches.

Responding well, as ethicists, theologians and civilians, requires better understanding the transgression of moral limits a veteran experiences and the subsequent shame and soul-shattering repercussions of this injury. Responding well means medical treatment, when necessary, and social accountability beyond latent acceptance, but also a recognition of human limits and divine limitations within complicated moral dimensions. Bonhoeffer serves as helpful corrective to Creamer’s model in three ways: deepening the emotive space for anger, wrath, hatred and lament humans face when confronted with limits, offering a theological anthropology in the face of limits, and suggesting a Christology that upholds humanity in spite of limits through Christ’s “orders of preservation.” Moral Injury needs this model to transcend medical and social accounts of moral injury to a deeper theological account recognizing divine and human limits.

Military Consultant David Wood calls moral injury “the signature wound of this generation.” Situating moral injury as a transgression of limits provides a helpful resource for moving beyond restrictive views of moral injury as a wound that can be treated medically through particular treatment, or as a socially inflicted lesion from the collapse of a particular moral world. Instead, a robust description of limits initiated by a conversation with the disability theology of Creamer and strengthened by the theological anthropology of Bonhoeffer can help moral injury be tended to in a socially serious and theologically astute manner.