Religion is a social unit that uses symbols, beliefs, certain values and practices to establish membership within the group. Religion directs that actions that are taken by its members and dictates the actions that they will take. One of the tenets of Christianity is that all people are equal in the eyes of God. Christians are supposed to represent many different races, gender, ages, and social class affiliations. Christianity promotes unity through the sharing of religious ritual, unity on political issues, and unity on social issues such as poverty and hunger. The church is the social unit of Christianity. There are many different septs of Christianity that have minor difference in culture and practice, but they all share certain major beliefs. The structural-interactionalism theory believes that individuals view reality through a filter of individual perspectives. Cultural influences provide the values that drive actions of individuals (Swidler, p. 284). Certain behaviors are expected of members of the Christian community, both on a social group level and an individual level. Strategies of action define future cultural boundaries and patterns of action (Swidler, p. 284). As Christian society confronts issues of political and social division, such as gay marriage and divorce, it is causing a redefinition that is beginning on an individual church level. Some churches have embraced these principles, while others stand on traditional lines about them. As individual social unite within whole begin to embrace these ideas, it will change the fabric of the cultural group (Harper and LeBeau).
Emile Durkheim felt that personalities are built by internalizing social facts (Illinois Valley Community College). The structural-functional theory views society as a system that is interconnected where each part works with other parts as a functional whole. This theoretical perspective accurately describes the structure of the church. These social facts are derived from the physical objects that are associated with the cultural entity and the meaning behind actions. In this case the church and all of its accoutrements are considered the social facts of the church.
Social conflict theory views society as a system of unequal groups that are continually seeking to change the power structure. Putten (2001, p. 18) argues that race and gender are not the only relevant cultural divisions, and considers class to be a major cultural division. Religion is a culture that holds the idea of the haves and the have nots. Those that have wealth are expected to share a portion of their fortunes to help those that are less fortunate. The idea is a noble one of creating class equality, but seldom do handouts create true class equality. Philanthropy is a good concept, but it will not solve class inequality. It could be considered to highlight it, as it forces recognition of the division on an individual basis. Christianity attempts to equality class inequality, but it also places a focus on it.
Christianity and the social unit of the church can be described by the social-interactionalist, social-functional, and social conflict theory. When viewed as a whole, the structural-functional theory serves as an organizational pattern. The social-interactionalist theory applies when one focused on the individuals within the church. The social conflict theory can be applied to the morals and obligations of the church, when it comes to class division. The church is a complex social structure that exists on multiple levels. A different social theory can be applied depending on whether someone wants to take a wide view or view smaller units with the whole. Social functional is the most relevant theory as it explains the structure and divisions within the church.
- Harper, Charles and LeBeau, Bryan. “Social Change and Religion in America: Thinking Beyond
Secularization.” Web. 27 February 2016.
- Illinois Valley Community College. Chapter Four –Society. Web. 27 February 2016.
- Putten, Jim V. 2001. “Bringing Social Class to the Diversity Challenge.” About Campus, Vol. 6,
No. 5, pp14-19
- Swidler, Ann. 1986. “Culture in Action: Symbols and Strategies.” American Sociological
Review. Vol. 51, pp. 273-286