Congregations in Conflict: Cultural Models of Local Religious Life

Congregations in Conflict: Cultural Models of Local Religious Life

Congregations in Conflict: Cultural Models of Local Religious Life

Congregations in Conflict: Cultural Models of Local Religious Life


Congregations in Conflict uses the suburbs of Chicago to examine the nature of American congregations as institutions, looking in particular at how they deal with conflict within their ranks, to gain insight into religious culture. In detailed and well documented case studies of conflict in twenty-three congregations including Protestant parishes, Catholic parishes, and Jewish synagogues, Becker examines such factors as organizational processes, the extent and types of ties among church members, their shared understandings about mission and identity, and their level of public commitment. At the local level Becker finds vital "public religion": congregations that provide caring and support for members, service to the local community, and important arenas for moral debate and public activism.


I had been to Oak Park before, to go to a movie or out for ice cream with a friend who had grown up there. Today I was going, for the first time, to do research. I was going to the public library, but I thought I would first drive through to get a feel for the place during the daytime.

Driving to Oak Park from Chicago, the urban feeling stayed with me. There was a lot of traffic for eleven in the morning, and people were speeding on the Eisenhower Expressway. I did not notice much change in the buildings lining the side of the expressway as I approached the exit for Austin Boulevard, on the eastern boundary of Oak Park. And when I exited onto Austin and drove north to the main east-west street, I was passing blocks of brick three-flats and a few city homes crammed together on tiny lots. Most of the people on the sidewalk were African American, but the people in the cars and on the smelly, old city buses were mixed, all ages and races. This is a major city thoroughfare, a commuterway.

When I turned west on the main street, the city feel continued for a while. I did see fewer people on the sidewalks, but there were still large apartment blocks and small houses. Then I came to some car dealerships and eventually, on my right, I saw a large, dark stone building with a small tower set back from the street, with a small green lawn and a large parking lot. Bethlehem Congregational Church, the sign said. I learned later that another congregation also uses the building, renting the space until they can afford their own.

On the right came the high brick walls of the high school football stadium, and then I was in the center of town. There was still a lot of traffic, and the buildings were densely packed together, and there were about equal numbers of whites and African Americans on the sidewalks. But this corner of the main street and Oak Park Avenue seemed more like the downtown of a small community. The public library is here and just up the street, the post office. There are busy restaurants, small clothing boutiques, and the offices of the local newspaper. There is a park next to the library, and people were out eating an early sandwich or just sitting on the benches in the sunshine. The buildings here are two or three stories, retail below and professional offices or apartments above.

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