Church or Sect? Exploring a Church of New Chinese Immigrants in Southern California
Existing studies document that while sharing many similarities among themselves, Asian immigrant churches in the United States differ from American mainline churches in certain distinguishing aspects. These distinguishing aspects and the reasons behind them, however, have rarely been subject to theoretical analysis. This study examines a church of new Chinese immigrants within the church-sect theory and market metaphor by analyzing participant observation and interview data. The data reveal that the church in question stands half way along the church-sect continuum, being close to the sect pole in terms of its theologies, while approaching the church pole in terms of its organization. By being a church-sect hybrid, it meets the particular needs of the well-educated, yet marginalized, Chinese immigrants. The findings show that although the church-sect theory is derived from European cases, it can be well applied to Chinese immigrant Christians. The cultural and ethnic backgrounds of Chinese immigrants nonetheless affect their Christian experiences profoundly. In a market-economy metaphor derived from the church-sect theory, such backgrounds situate them in a segmented rather than an entirely free religious market.
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