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Educational programs Essay

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There are of course limits to the parallel between the regulation of firms and the regulation of churches. A basic difference is that a church draws its support on the basis of religious commitment–presumably a quite different source of commitment than consumer preference for many people. In the fundamental relationship between the church and its members, there is no clear unit of exchange that lends itself to quantification. Perhaps much more so than firms, however, churches have the capacity to mobilize their memberships on behalf of their objectives in negotiating with the state.

Another difference is that states’ seeking to regulate churches often lack doctrinal competence. They may be ill-equipped to understand the church’s mission and lack information as to church resources and the best uses of those resources. Finally, another principal difference is that the relationship between a nation and the religious commitments of its citizens is the consequence of many forces acting over long periods of time.

These forces may have created in a population religious commitments of singular intensity or, on the other hand, apparent disinterest that has little to do with the direction of contemporary state regulation of religion. Despite these differences, however, the case can still be made that regulatory theory is relevant to the understanding of church-state relationships. This essay argues that the direction of contemporary state regulation may help shape the direction of a church’s priorities and activities independently of the condition of the population’s religious commitment.

Churches as organizations will respond to regulatory incentives and costs, just as they respond to the political environment. Why do states seek to regulate churches? Historically, as will be shown below, rulers may have sought to impose on their subjects their own respective judgments about the correct institutional expression of their faith. States have seen regulation as a means to weed out corruption or to redress the distribution of resources in their society. Quite often, states have appeared to fear churches as challenges to the political order that need to be contained.

Historically, regulation of churches by the US and European states has embraced some or all of a number of areas. States have played significant roles in regulating or ultimately selecting senior church readerships within the country. States have assumed the power to determine the numbers and types of clergy allowed to practice their religious responsibilities within the nation. The state’s approval has been sought in determining the boundaries of church administrative territories.

The state’s acquiescence has played a role in church reform of doctrine or liturgy. States have from time to time set limits on the nature of church participation in education, public communication, social welfare, and health care. Finally, states have limited- or enhanced- churches’ ability to own property or businesses. At this time, virtually every church, at least in Western Europe, has achieved a remarkable measure of autonomy in the determination of its leadership, its size, and the direction of its clergy.

By contrast, historically in Roman Catholic countries, the state or the aristocracy controlled higher-level clerical appointments or shared in appointment decisions with the Vatican. In many Protestant states, the state exercised the power of appointment with relatively little formal consultation with church hierarchies. At the same time, the capacity of the church to establish a central role in a society’s institutions has diminished and a review of church attendance in Western Europe suggests remarkable declines in membership.

Churches may find that regulation benefits their own positions in society. In many cases these churches confront receding memberships. Catholic churches in nearly all Western European states enjoy sustained and significant declines in the conflicts with state authorities that were recurring crises during the nineteenth and a good deal of the twentieth century. This decline in conflict undoubtedly is related to the effective dechurching of many of the US and European populations. Regulation in these cases appears to be actively sought by churches as a means of sustaining resource flows.

This relationship of negotiating support in exchange for some measure of regulation appears to be the emerging norm of convergence in state-church policy throughout Europe. But it raises the perplexing question of how new churches will respond to a structure of church-state relations that does not reflect the neutral tradition of liberalism but rather expresses clear although measured support for some churches over others in practice and often in theory as well. A church may seek several objectives in regulation. These objectives may undergo change as the regulatory context shifts.

A church may conclude that regulation provides a competitive advantage in dealing with competition with other churches. Established, long-existing churches that now enjoy some measure of recognition from the state may wish to stabilize the situation by delimiting the boundaries of state recognition from newer or missionary churches that threaten the membership base of the established churches. The established churches may simply be concerned with maintaining their existing obligations to staffs, buildings, and educational programs.

The longer established the church, presumably the greater the obligations it has to sustain existing organizations. The theory of regulatory capture would predict these observations. There is always the risk, however, that the capture model of regulation is not predictive of future state-church relationships, given the possibilities for new directions coming from within the state or from groups found neither in established church(es) nor in the state. New churches are the most likely sources of pressure for changes in the direction of regulation.

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