Science in Christian Perspective




Russell Heddendorf, M.A.
The Christian's Role: The Status Role-Set Frame
Part II

From: JASA 12 (September 1960): 90-91.

In the preceding article on this topic, the emphasis was upon the training of the Christian for efficient perfornance of his role. Such training implies a high degree of conformity to the expectations of the Christian society. The individual, however, does not act in a social vacuum. The pressures of daily living present stimuli which must be reacted to in either a positive or negative fashion. Such pressures impinge themselves upon the individual through the media of status and role-set relationships.

At the root off all status and role theory is the social fact that each individual in society has multiple statuses. One may have parental responsibilities  an eco nomic vocation, and avocational pursuits as well as church membership. In performing the routine tasks of life, one is constantly pushing mental buttons in order to provide the correct status response to fit a situation. Though an individual performing the duties of one status may, at times, revert to actions peculiar to another status, there is generally a mini mum of error in this area. Seldom does a man treat his wife as an employee instead of a spouse. This is partly the result of the individual approaching a situation with a general attitude of co-operation or antagonism. Hence, many of our daily relationships result in consensus or dissensus. It is imperative for the Christian's testimony here that a minimum of errors be made.

Consider the case of the Christian in one social system, namely, the church. As a member, the individual iiiay have a number of roles, i.e., choir member, teacher, parishioner, etc. Generally, however, there is little confusion in the individual's mind as to the proper role performance expected of him since the roles tend to provide for a great deal of consensus in action. Of course, we know that there are many factors motivating for dissensus (one need only count the "denominational splits"), but this is a problem which cannot he covered here.

It is necessary to remember, however, that the individual Christian has responsibilities which take him outside of the church and require him to relate to family groups, economic groups, military groups, etc. The individuals with whom he relates i n these circumstances comprise his role-set. Since the values of the Christian often conflict with the values of the secular world, there is a built-in mechanism motivating for a certain degree of dissensus.

The area of the conflict between Christian standards and the ethics of a business society, for instance, provides a long history of study and concern. To merely state that a conflict exists, however, does not provide a clue as to the degree of tolerance which may be permissible. This problem is further complicated when one considers that all relationships in the economic sphere are not of equal qualitative importance to the individual. Hence, in witnessing to a client or employer, it is quite likely that a much smaller tolerance of antagonism could be permitted without adverse effects than when witnessing to a merchant or fellow employee.

Several basic queries may be relevant here. First, how far does a Christian go in presenting his religious standards to a secular role-set without critically affecting his secular status? Second, is it possible for one to determine when this degree of tolerance is being exceeded f Third, how can a Christian maintain a strong witness in an antagonistic role-set without developing a hostility which would adversely affect a testimony?

If the possession of a Christian status has an effect upon one's relations with others in the secular world, the obverse situation is also true. The Christian brings to his religious role-set the attitudes and values of his many secular statuses. The benefits accruing from this transfer of secular values to the religious sphere are obvious; the church benefits from the various skills, talents, and training which can be learned only in the secular world. There are, however, mechanisms motivating for dissensus which exist in such relationships.

The Christian world does not, in all cases, have a clear statement concerning the acceptability of secular standards. Christian ethics probably vary as much as Christian doctrine. It is a well-known fact that manifestation of secular standards not acceptable to the religious world may harm a Christian's testimony, in the Christian as well as in the secular sphere. One must, however, also consider the reaction of one's particular role-set at any time of role performance. Hence, certain types of "fringe" Christian music may be acceptable in one role-set and rejected in another. The same would hold true for political views, economic practices, recreational pursuits, and so on.

Again, several basic queries may be raised. First, how far can a Christian deviate from Christian standards in the performance of secular statuses before he should become a matter of concern for the Christian community? Second, how does one interpret the Biblical understanding of "judging" in such circumstances? Third, how is it possible (or is it even desirable) to unify Christian ethics despite the divergences of doctrinal beliefs? Fourth, to what extent do Christian standards change as a result of the pressure, on the individual and group level, of the standards of secular statuses?

A more complete presentation of role theory and its implications for the Christian would have to note that an individual's actions in relationship to a role partner are often passed on to the role-set members of that partner, One need only be a member of a small church to realize the truth of this sociological phenomenon. Hence, a Christian's action in relation to a secular role partner may be passed on to a Christian who is within the role-set of the neighbor. Types of such relationships are represented below. Arrows represent action transferred.

Christian Christian                   Secular

Christian Christian                   Christian

Christian Secular                     Christian

Christian Secular                    Secular

The possibilities for dissensus and consensus prob lems are too numerous to be discussed here. A remenibrance of one's experiences should be sufficient to indicate that there is nuch opportunity for error in role performance here.

The foregoing discussion assumes that the Christian role is basically that of a deviant in the world. The problem for such efficient role performance is how to direct this deviancy into constructive rather than destructive lines. In further summation, the problem could be raised concerning the amount of deviancy which is acceptable or desirable in secular or religious relationships. Finally, the problem exists as to whether an adequate performance of a Christian role requires minimization of the mechanisms for dissensus -or maximization within certain limits of tolerance.