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Sidney E. Mead
in The Nation With the Soul of a Church, Chapter 4
Harper & Row, 1975
Sidney Mead (1904-) is a distinguished American church historian and a onetime president of the UU theological school, Meadville/Lombard.
This essay serves as an introduction to polity issues in North America. Mead sets the polity issue of particular religious groups into the wider question of the “polity” of the United States. (We should remember there is a far different historical context in Canada – see Phillip Hewett’s Unitarians in Canada,)
The essay poses the issue of how churches and state relate and what secularism truly is. In what way can we call civil government religious? Does the polity of particular denominations influence the expectations and goals of church groups in their relatedness to the state? The chapter also raises the intriguing question of how much theological schools influence American churches. Could it be that the volunteerism, the important role of laity in most parish structures, and the very organization of American religious societies tend to make polity in reality a far more important determinant of how churches actually are than theological ideas and creedo.
This chapter is also available in article form through many online journal indexers, such as JSTOR; however, these often require an academic affiliation to access. The full citation information for the journal article is as follows: “The ‘Nation with the Soul of a Church,'” Sidney E. Mead, Church History, Vol. 36, No. 3 (Sep., 1967), pp. 262-283. An abstract of the article, as well as ordering information, can be found at Cambridge University Press Journals.