All Is Forgiven: The Secular Message in American Protestantism

By Marsha G. Witten | Go to book overview
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Appendix Two


In the spring of 1988, I wrote to pastors of 150 Presbyterian (U.S.A.) churches and 150 Southern Baptist churches in the United States, requesting a recent sermon on Luke 15:11–32. The churches were chosen by drawing a random sample of Presbyterian churches with memberships of over 800 persons from the roster of Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) congregations (Minutes of the 198th General Assembly, 1986), and for Southern Baptist congregations, by random sampling of churches with memberships of over 1,000 people (drawn for me by the Southern Baptist Sunday School Board). The discrepancy in church size was necessitated by the organization of Southern Baptist records. It does not markedly affect the sample, however, since the majority of churches listed as having a membership of over 800 actually have memberships in excess of 1,000.

In all, twenty-seven Presbyterian and thirty-one Southern Baptist pastors sent a total of seventy-one sermons. Twenty-four of these sermons (thirteen Southern Baptist and eleven Presbyterian) could not be used in this study, for the following reasons: Six were outlines too sketchy to be analyzed; thirteen were manuscripts or tapes from pastors who sent several sermons (in that case, only the first sermon sent by each pastor was used in the analysis); three were tapes of messages that were not on the topic of Luke 15; and two were tapes that contained large sections that were inaudible.

Of the forty-seven usable sermons—twenty-one Southern Baptist and twenty-six Presbyterian—nine arrived in the form of audio tape and were transcribed by an assistant. The rest came in manuscript form or as complete outlines.

In addition to the sermons received, fifty-one Presbyterian and thirty-three Southern Baptist clergy responded to my request for sermons by writing that they had no such sermon on hand.


I used two sets of discourse-analytic procedures in studying the text of the sermons. The first, a procedure that relies on analytical induction, was helpful in the first stages of analysis in identifying major patterns of talk (topics and categories within the topics) that I discuss in chapters three through six (in chapter three, for example, the topic is talk about “God”; the categories are God as daddy, God as sufferer, God as extravagant lover of humankind, and God as


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