(Part 2 in a series. Read Part 1 here)
Okay so can a Christian benefit from sociology? I like to think so. It is my chosen discipline. I do not want to think that what I study has little meaning to my faith.
So how can sociology inform my Christianity? When I first became a Christian I was surrounded by a lot of wonderful people. They were incredibly kind and loving. But they were also very politically conservative and I just did not agree with them on all of those issues. Naturally, I had to wonder if I was wrong and just needed to accept their perspectives.
But then I started studying sociology. I began to see what was happening. My Christian friends tended to have a very individualistic way of looking at the world. I am not saying that the way they looked at the world is wrong. I rather state that it is incomplete. My studies as a sociologist showed me the importance of social structures in shaping our social reality. I tend to look to both individuals’ volition and social structures to understand why things happen in our society. My Christian friends tended to only look at our volition, or free will, to explain social actions. My differences with them on the importance of social structures often shaped our social and political disagreements.
The best way to illustrate this is with my expertise in race and ethnicity. My Christian friends tend to look at racism as something individuals perpetuate. I know that racism is something that individuals can engage in but that institutional racism is a problem as well. Institutional racism creates problems for people of color even if individuals are not personally racist. Institutional racism requires institutional solutions such as laws or governmental regulations. Those are the solutions that many of my friends tend to ignore since they only see racism as a problem due to individual sin.
This illustrates a new perspective my sociology has given me. It has shown me that sin is not just something individuals engage in. It is also something that societies have as well. There is something known as social justice we should be concerned about. Some well-meaning Christians dismiss the notion of social justice. To be fair there are those who are so unbalanced in their promotion of the idea of social justice that they almost totally ignore individual responsibility. That is not right either. Any good concept can become distorted when it is not balanced by other concerns. But for me being concerned with societal structures is vital. Sin is not just something individuals can do but it also is something that can be perpetrated by social institutions.
I think of my sociology as something that helps to complete my Christianity. It gives me a more holistic approach to my faith. I am not arrogant enough to state that all Christians need an appreciation of sociology to complete their faith. But I do wish that more Christians would gain a greater appreciation of social structures and the ways they impact us. I guess I am enough of a sociologist to believe that we can all benefit from the ideas in sociology, even if we all do not need a doctorate in it.
So my Christian faith is informed, and I think made better, by my sociology. But the opposite is true as well. My sociology is also informed by my Christianity.