Blest be the ties that bind: Networks and attitudes in two Protestant congregations

                         Smith, Brad; PhD

                         INDIANA UNIVERSITY, 1999

                         The web of social relationships within the contemporary American congregation has broad import for
                         processes ranging from organizational growth to transmission of Christian identity. One question that has
                         not yet been answered is, “What impact do these social relationships within the congregation
                         have on individuals' attitudes toward social and political issues?” Drawing from social influence
                         theory and social network analysis, I explore three questions: First, are there fundamental differences in
                         the intracongregational networks in different types of congregations? Second, are individuals'
                         relationships within the congregation consequential for their attitudes toward social and political issues? If
                         so, which issues? Third, are there differences in patterns of influence across different types of
                         congregations? An analysis of data on social networks and attitudes collected in an evangelical and a
                         mainline Protestant congregation suggests that there is a fairly strong relationship between networks
                         and attitudes, particularly within the evangelical church. Three specific findings are notable. First, a
                         fundamental difference exists between the intracongregational networks of the mainline and the
                         evangelical churches. Church members, on average, have many more ties within the evangelical church
                         than within the mainline church, even though the congregations are of approximately the same size.
                         Second, the degree of an individual's integration into the church body has an important effect on
                         attitudes toward political and social issues, at least within the evangelical church. For example,
                         evangelical church members who have many associates within the congregation tend to have more
                         conservative attitudes toward issues such as abortion, homosexuality and gender role issues than
                         individuals who have relatively fewer associates. Third, a church member's social attitudes also appear to
                         be responsive to the specific beliefs of his or her personal network. In the case of the evangelical
                         congregation and abortion and gender role issues, a positive association was observed between
                         respondents' attitudes and the average attitude of his or her closest associates within the congregation,
                         holding individual characteristics constant. This suggests that an individual who has liberal-minded
                         friends will tend to have more liberal attitudes toward abortion and gender roles than if he or she were to
                         have more conservative friends.


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