Pillars of belief: The social construction of morality in two congregations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Cultural Foundations of Education


Gerald P. Grant


Congregations, Morality, Homosexual, Presbyterian

Subject Categories

Educational Sociology | Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies | Religion


Homosexuality has been a contentious issue within mainline Protestant denominations for at least the last 30 years. While several scholars from a variety of fields have presented arguments supporting specific moral positions about homosexuality, few if any have studied how individuals in congregations construct their beliefs. In this qualitative study of demographically similar but ideologically different congregations of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), individual and corporate beliefs are described with particular attention given to the processes by which beliefs appear to be formed. Unstructured interviews with pastors, administrators and members and observations of a variety of church activities in each congregation were analyzed and coded according to significant themes that emerged. These themes are presented in such a way as to allow the reader to understand the similarities and differences between the two congregations. Implications for understanding organizational conflict in terms of the internal and external struggles of both churches are described. Further, the "pillars of belief" for both churches--biology, psychology, and theology--are explored both in terms of (1) the research on homosexuality within each field and (2) the ways in which these pillars are authoritative in the formation of belief for individuals of both congregations. While specific recommendations are not made regarding the resolution of conflict between these two churches, an alternative--a transcendent third option--is suggested as a means of breaking out of the binary conflict that existed. A glossary and appendices are included.


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