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Dissertation Abstract

Social Legitimacy and the Political Styles of Protestant Congregations in the United States

Tony A. Beckham
Regent University

Research on how religion affect individual political behavior has recently extended to studies examining the various ways in which congregations engage in politics as formal organizations. This attention, however, has not included organizational theory as an explanation for the homogenous political styles found among congregations in the same religious tradition. Using institutional theory from organization science, data on 864 Protestant congregations from the 1998 National Congregations Study, and one-hour semi-structured interviews with seven Protestant pastors in the Denver metropolitan area, this research begins to fill this gap in the scholarship on the political behavior of congregations. Results show that social legitimacy is significant and positively associated with the political styles of black and white evangelical congregations, but has no effect on the political style of white mainline congregations. Black congregations are more susceptible to these social legitimacy influences. An analysis of interview data indicates that the political leadership styles of Protestant pastors might explain the effect of social legitimacy on the political styles of the congregations they lead. Areas for future study are presented