Sociologists have typically defined “sect” and “church” or “denomination”, the polar opposites of church-sect theory, in terms of multiple characteristics. Stark and Bainbridge, noting that competing lists of characteristics have caused confusion and that the use of several characteristics has limited the ability to measure transition from sect to denomination, proposed focusing instead on a single dimension, the religious group’s tension with society. This paper tests the usefulness of this reformulation by exploring one such source of tension: holding a deviant position on military service when a state imposes conscription. Since part of the process of reducing tension between sect and state is accommodation by one or both parties, the paper also examines relations between a religious group and governments in a conflict situation, and the process of accommodation – or failure to come to terms – between them.
The U.S. has received an influx of “new immigrants,” drawn from many parts of the developing world, since 1968. These have, in turn, altered the demographics of congregations and denominations. Of all the denominations operating in metropolitan New York, Seventh-day Adventism has been impacted most dramatically by the changes. Its face has been transformed as it has shifted from a church of primarily Caucasians and Afro-Americans, each dominating separate conferences, to one that is now 90% new immigrant. This paper explores the tensions that emerged, as a result of the changed racial/ethnic balance, in the competition to control leadership positions and resources, initially in local congregations and later in the conferences, and the dynamics as these tensions have played out. Finally, it considers why such conflict has been especially strong within Adventism.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church in the United States has been following a well-defined trajectory from sect toward denomination for the past century: it has reduced tensions with its surrounding environment by removing antagonisms between itself and the state and other religious organizations and as its members have become less peculiar in their lifestyles and beliefs and more integrated into society. However, over the past 30 years it has received an influx of immigrants from countries of the developing world who, generally, are more sectarian in their beliefs and behavior and more confrontative of other religious groups than is the typical American Adventist today. This process is especially advanced in some metropolitan areas such as New York, where Adventism has been transformed from a church of Caucasians and African Americans to a body where nine out of 10 members are now “new immigrants.” This paper poses the question of whether the influx of immigrants will reverse the trajectory of Adventism in North America, making it generally more sectarian.