Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Wedding Announcements as Social Commentary

Engagement announcements are an interesting sociological study. They convey a great deal more information than the details about the event itself and the participants. My interest here is in the relationship of religion to class, Each gives a clue to the other,

For example, if the bride, according to the announcement in The New York Times, is a graduate of Sarah Lawrence and is the daughter of the chief surgeon at a prestigious hospital and the groom is a graduate of Princeton and both his parents are lawyers in one of the biggest law firms in the East, then it is not likely that the happy couple observed their nuptial ceremony in the Independent Bible-Believing Gospel Tabernacle. If the article appears in a small Southern town paper and the bridge and groom of graduates of the local high school and if she works at Wal-Mart and he drives a bread truck, one would not be surprised to learn that they are to be married in an Assembly of God or Congregational Holiness church.

You get the idea. Folks in the upper middle class and highly educated in elite schools might well say their vows in an Episcopal or Presbyterian church if they are Protestants, although it would not be shocking to see them identified as Unitarians.

Middle class people are well distributed in the main line Protestant denominations, but if they are in the lower half, they might well be Baptists or Methodists. In the South, however, where there are more Baptists than people, you will find all classes represented in the many churches large and small that occupy much real estate in the states of the old Confederacy. Affluent couples from rich families wouldn't be out of place at a well-groomed large Baptist church in the nearer suburbs, say Buckhead, if they are in the Atlanta region.

I will not belabor the point. It is elementary sociology of religion first imprinted in my mind by H. Richard Niebuhr's The Social Sources of Denominationalism. Just don't let anyone tell you that the denominations are to be distinguished only or primarily by their doctrinal differences. You can learn a lot by reading wedding announcements.

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