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dimensions underlying the four positive models. Organizational communication is either (1) one-way or two-way (research based), (2) symmetrical or asymmetrical and (3) mediated or interpersonal (Grunig, Grunig & Dozier, 2002). Other scholars (Haung, 2004; Rhee, 2002; Sha, 1999, 2005) have considered the mediated and interpersonal dimensions independently. From research in Asia, Huang (2004) cited another dimension: social activity. She maintained that social connections were different from interpersonal communication.

Grunig and his associates have contended since 1992 that the two-way symmetrical model presented the only ethical way to practice public relations. In fact, Grunig has suggested that morality may be another distinctive dimension underlying the four models.

If public relations is a process of cultivating relationships with publics, then the value of the profession should reflect a worldview that is likely to produce good relationships. I believe that the primary value of public relations is a simple one—a value I learned in the rural Midwest, this is embraced by most religions of the world, and whose absence has produced wars and civil unrest throughout human history. The value is concern for others as well as ourselves. It is reflected in what I call the symmetrical model of public relations, which suggests that public relations should strive to balance the interests of publics with the interests of the organization. (Grunig, 2006a) The non-symmetrical models could be used to justify almost any cause, Grunig argued. That’s because they do not address the morality of the issue, ideology or behavior being promoted.

Symmetrical interaction, on the other hand, defines public relations as a process, not an outcome. The two-way relationship provides a forum for addressing issues about which people with different values may reach different conclusions. When such dialogue follows ethical rules—such as Habermas’ (1984) concept of an ideal communication system—the outcome should be ethical (Grunig & Grunig, 1992; Grunig, Grunig & Dozier, 2002)).

Research findings from 327 organizations hinted that public relations practitioners might serve as the ethical conscience of an organization. That’s because they introduced values and problems of stakeholders—the concern for others as well as ourselves—into strategic management decision-making. That input might prompt senior managers to consider the moral dimensions of their decisions (Grunig, 1992; Grunig, Grunig & Dozier, 2002). However, the 1984-to-1992 Excellence study did not explicitly study ethics. Grunig has done no empirical research to confirm his suggestion about the ethics of the symmetrical model (Grunig & Grunig, 1992; Grunig, Grunig & Dozier, 2002). Huang (2004), Rhee (2002) and Sha (1999, 2005) all tried to measure ethical communication. The questions they asked dealt more with honesty and openness than moral reasoning behind the communication process.

Additional Elements of Excellence Scholarship Besides seeing how the four models describe various public relations operations, Excellence research has examined six other organizational aspects: (1) status of the top communicator within the management structure and his/her relationship to other executives in the “dominant coalition,” (2) expertise in the communication department, (3) contributions of the communication department to strategic planning and decision making, (4) functional roles that communicators routinely perform, (5) training and professional development of communicators, and (6) expectations of organizational leaders about what communicators should do and how they should contribute to organizational effectiveness.

Surveys among public relations directors, employees and top managers in 327 organizations provided data for analysis at the program, functional, organization and societal levels (Grunig, Grunig & Dozier, 2002, 2006).

Research findings showed that top communicators in those 327 secular organizations spent more of their time on management tasks, such as setting goals, preparing budgets and developing communication strategies, than technical tasks. Those technical tasks included producing publications, writing news releases or coordinating media coverage of an event. But these top communicators rated their departments better prepared to practice the public information and press agentry/publicity models than the two-way models. Those departments reported the lowest expertise for tasks associated with the two-way symmetrical and asymmetrical models (Grunig, Grunig & Dozier, 2002).

Excellence research identified knowledge as the key variable in determining if communication managers practiced two-way asymmetrical or symmetrical public relations (Dozier & Broom, 1995; Grunig, Grunig & Dozier, 2002). Formal education in public relations helped build this knowledge base but was not necessarily correlated to excellent practices. Continuing education, participation in professional associations and reading trade publications were (Grunig, Grunig & Dozier, 2002).

Grunig (2006b) said he wanted his scholarship to institutionalize public relations as a “bridging activity” evaluated on how well it cultivated short- and long-term relationships that contributed to reaching organizational goals. “Eventually, I believe we will be able to show that the total value, the ROI [return on investment], of public relations develops through the intangible assets that relationships provide to organizations,” he said (p. 166).

“I now believe that the concept of relationship cultivation strategies is the heir to the models of public relations and the two-way symmetrical model” (p. 168).

The foregoing summary of public relations history and theory development led to

the following six research questions concerning religion communicators:

RQ3: How much do religion communicators and faith group leaders agree on practices used to measure the four models of public relations in Excellence Theory?

RQ4: How well do religion communicators know what their supervisors think about practices in the four models of public relations?

RQ5: How does expertise of religion communicators to practice each model of public relations compare to their secular counterparts?

RQ6: How does the managerial and technical expertise of religion communications compare to the expertise of secular public relations practitioners?

RQ7: How do formal education, professional association membership and exposure to trade publications affect the way religion communicators practice public relations?

RQ8: How much do religion communicators and faith group leaders agree about contributions of communication to faith group operations?


Church-Sect Theory The first literature about Church-Sect Theory in the United States appeared in 1929, six year after Bernays’ first book about public relations. Initial works on both topics addressed interactions between organizations and various groups in society. Early church-sect writings reflected the common view of sociologists that religion contributed to social problems. Modern society, the thinking went, would eventually overcome the influence of religious organizations through secularization. Church-Sect Theory was a way to explain the secularization process (Neibuhr, 1929; Stark & Finke, 2002;

Troeltsch, 1931; Weber, 1922/1993). This chapter traces the development of Church-Sect Theory in Europe and the United States and points out some parallels with Excellence Public Relations Theory.

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Philosophers and social scientists in the West have written since the Enlightenment about religion—or more precisely, the problem of primitive, irrational thinking that leads to religion. The received wisdom maintained that religion was harmful, dangerous and the product of weak minds. It appealed most to lower social classes. Religion served as a psychological painkiller for frustration, deprivation and suffering. Furthermore, religious pluralism was a threat to social order. By linking religion with irrationality, social scientists in the 19th and early 20th centuries brought religion into intellectual disrepute. Nevertheless, scholars contended that religion was not real. It was merely a mental state. It reflected a fundamental human need that social scientists would work to identify. As humans became more educated (rational), religion would fade away. That position has been called the secularization hypothesis (Stark & Finke, 2000).

Church-Sect Theory is one sociological approach for explaining the secularization process. The theory holds that the more a faith group accepts its social environment and embraces temporal values, the more it is a church. The more a faith group rejects the social environment, the more it is a sect. Faith groups may move in either direction along this acceptance-rejection continuum. Churches are inclusive, usually seeking as broad a membership as possible. Sects are exclusive, requiring specific qualities for membership (Finke & Stark, 2001, 2005; Johnson, 1963; Niebuhr, 1929; Stark & Bainbridge, 1979, 1980, 1985; Stark & Finke, 2000). Within this theoretical context, neither church nor sect connotes any value judgments about faith groups. The words should be considered neutral labels for two types of faith communities in society.

German sociologist Max Weber originated the church-sect line of thinking.

Considering the range of religious behaviors he saw in Western Europe, Weber (1922/1993) proposed two typologies to categorize them: church-sect and asceticismmysticism. He later developed four ideal types to provided “conceptual instruments for comparison with the measurement of reality” (Weber, 1949, p. 97). His critical differentiating variable for churches and sects was the way they recruited members.

People were born into churches (established social institutions open to all). Membership requirements were loose. People decided to join sects (less formalized but more exclusive social groups built around common beliefs or faith experiences). Membership requirements were stricter. Ascetics and mystics also chose their lifestyles. Both rejected secular world values. Ascetics denied themselves worldly pleasures, followed a disciplined lifestyle and gained spiritual fulfillment through rational actions. Mystics contemplated the holy, showed little interest in the material world and received spiritual enlightenment through prayer and meditation.

Weber’s student, Ernst Troeltsch (1931), a theologian, simplified the typology to church-sect-mysticism. He developed ideal types to describe the main categories of religious bodies he found in Christian Europe through the 18th century. Troeltsch, like Weber, generally considered churches inclusive and sects exclusive. The church was “able to receive the masses and adjust itself to the world, because, to a certain extent, it can afford to ignore the need for subjective holiness for the sake of the objective treasures of grace and of redemption” (Troeltsch, 1931, Vol. 2, p. 993). A sect, on the other hand, was “a voluntary society composed of strict and definite Christian believers bound to each other by the fact that all have experienced ‘the new birth’” (Vol. 2, p. 993).

Mysticism needed little formal organization and usually attracted individuals. Mysticism often led to emotional forms of vital piety (Troeltsch, 1931).

American theologian H. Richard Niebuhr (1929) further simplified the social typology to church-sect. Building on Weber and Troeltsch, Niebuhr used the church-sect dynamic to describe the evolution of denominations in America. Niebuhr (1929) described a church as “a natural social group akin to the family or the nation” (p. 17).

Churches were inclusive, stable, often national in scope and characterized by gospel universalism. People were usually born into church membership. As inclusive groups, churches were closely allied with cultural values, national interests and economic priorities. Churches represented the morality of the respectable majority in society.

Churches attached high importance to institutional forms of conduct (rituals and specific decision-making procedures), doctrines and sacraments administered through officially recognized clergy as actual (not symbolic) means of grace.

Sect members, on the other hand, intentionally had to join “a voluntary association” (Niebuhr, 1929, p. 17). Sects were exclusive and unstable social groups.

Sects appealed to individuals, emphasized specific ethical behavior and often required a specific religious experience (such as a vision or conversion) as a prerequisite for membership. Sects emphasized individual spiritual experiences, the priesthood of all believers and sacraments as symbols of fellowship. Sects were always minorities and usually stood apart from the morality of the general society. Sects preferred isolation from general society, not compromise with the secular world (Niebuhr, 1929).

Social conditions, Niebuhr said, determined whether Christian believers formed a church or a sect.

In Protestant history the sect has ever been the child of an outcast minority, taking its rise in the religious revolts of the poor, of those who were without effective representation in the church or state and who formed their conventicles of dissent in the only way open to them, on the democratic, associational pattern. (Niebuhr, 1929, p. 19) Niebuhr said sects seldom lasted more than one generation. That’s because sects had to develop institutions to teach youngsters group beliefs.

Rarely does a second generation hold the convictions it has inherited with a fervor equal to that of its fathers, who fashioned the convictions in the heat of conflict and at the risk of martyrdom. As generation succeeds generation, the isolation of the community from the world becomes more difficult. … Compromise begins, and the ethics of the sect approach the churchly type of morals. As with ethics, so also with doctrine, so also with the administration of religion. … So the sect becomes a church. (Niebuhr, 1929, p. 20) Members dissatisfied with their sect’s accommodations to the world or who found that the evolving faith group no longer met their spiritual needs often left to form new sects. Over time, as these new sects tried to preserve themselves through succeeding generations, they, too, tended to become like the churches they once left (Niebuhr, 1929).

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