The social stratification of religious organizations in the United States according to wealth, power, and prestige starting with the highest ranking one (Catholic)


Social inequality is the condition in which members of a society have different amounts of wealth, prestige and power, when a social system of social inequality is based on hierarchy of groups it is referred to as social stratification, social stratification can therefore be defined as the hierarchical division of members of a society, stratification is the structured ranking of groups in a society where groups perpetuate unequal economic rewards and also power. [1]

Social stratification leads to social inequality where some groups of people stand higher in social ranking, control scarce resources, have wield power and receive special treatment. There are four main stratification systems and they include the caste system, slavery, open class and the estate system.


Religious Social Stratification

Slavery is the extreme form of inequality where some people are literary owned by others, the estate system consist of strata which have differing rights, the caste system is merely a rigid class system in which members are born into and in which escape is by extreme difficulties example the India caste system. The open class system is a class system in which there is the possibility of social mobility where one can move up the social ladder through education, marriage or even by chance or luck. [2]

According to the functionalist perspective on social inequality, Davis and Moore perceived social stratification and inequality as one that plays a role in the proper working of society in that all social systems share certain functional prerequisite which must be met for the society to operate efficiently and effectively. One of these prerequisites is effective role allocation and performance and this means that all roles must be filled by those who are best able to perform them. The mechanism that ensures proper role allocation is social stratification, roles are different in terms of importance and therefore there is the need to attach unequal rewards to the role. [3]

We will focus our discussion on social stratification in religion focusing on the Catholic Church, the Anglican Church, the vineyard church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church. We will consider the social stratification of these churches as one that plays an important role in the proper functioning of these religious institutions.



Religious Social Stratification

The Catholic Church:

The Roman Catholic Church is the largest in terms of number of followers, this church is headed by the pope, the pope has final authority in all matters and he appoints cardinals who are below him in command. The catholic churches all over the world share common faith, common principles of church policies and organization and also common liturgy. [4]

The cardinals are directly below the pope in authority, they are appointed by the pope and when a pope in command dies they appoint a new pope, therefore they are second in command after the pope, and however the cardinals are bishops appointed by the pope from all over the world. [5]

The third rank is the bishop’s position, he bishop heads a diocese which is the unit of organization in the Catholic Church, the bishop has the authority to admit priests into his diocese and also to exclude them from his diocese, he also assigns duties and priest to various parishes in his diocese. [6]


Religious Social Stratification

The clergy and the nuns are the last rank where the clergy is responsible of administering worship in the churches or parishes, the stratification into ranks of the Catholic Church can be diagrammatical simplified below. [7]






Religious Social Stratification

The diagram shows social stratification of the Catholic Church starting from those who rank high in the social ladder (the pope) to those who rank low in the social ladder (clergy and nuns), further the pope can only be one and the number increases downwards, cardinals are less than 300 in number and the number of the clergy and the nuns is large.

The pope is in charge of the entire diocese and he enjoys maximum power and prestige over the other members, the cardinals as a group has authority to choose the pope incase the pope dies, the bishop is in charge of dioceses and has the power to admit or exclude priests into his diocese. The clergy is in charge of a parish is the lowest rank and he enjoys very little power and prestige compared to the other ranks.


Religious Social Stratification

The Anglican Church:

The Anglican Church is also high in ranking of churches in the united states, however this church is not as stratified as the catholic church, the Anglican church is similar to the catholic church in that its main unit of organization is the diocese, the dioceses in the Anglican church is headed by the bishop, the Anglican church however has no central governance.

Individual churches form parishes and these parishes are subdivisions of diocese, the diocese are the units of administration which are headed by a bishop, the diocese combine to form provinces, these provinces are autonomous in that no other larger form that is above it. However the provinces may combine to form national churches which form a new layer of administration. [8]

The archbishop heads the national church which is formed by the provinces, the next in command therefore is the bishop who sometimes appoints an assistant bishop, the archbishop has metropolitan power and presides meetings as the chairperson, however the archbishop do not have a diocese of his own. [9] The Anglican Church stratification can be simplified in the diagram below



Religious Social Stratification


Assistant bishop


Evangelical Lutheran Church:

The Evangelical Lutheran Church is a also a church in the US with quite a number of followers, however this church is not well established all over the world, however it is stratified and the


Religious Social Stratification

highest rank in the church is the bishop, the next highest individual is the vice president, then the diaconal minister and then the priest.

This church is more bureaucratically organized in that it has a secretary, treasurer and a vice president, this church however is not as structured as in the Anglican and Catholic Church, therefore the highest ranking individual in this church is the bishop followed by the vice president then the diaconal minister then the priests. The bishop has more power and authority over all the other individuals in that he makes final decisions regarding all matters of the church.

The Vineyard church:

The vineyard church is also another church in the US; this church is centrally governed by a national director, the church is divided into regions and each region is headed by a regional overseer. The regions also have senior pastors which is a higher rank than the pastor.


The national director or the presidents acts as the highest rank in this church, he has power to appoint and dismiss regional directors, the regional directors are appointed among the existing senior pastors and they have the power to make decisions in the regions, they also have the authority to appoint and dismiss pastors and senior pastors in the regions they preside. [11]

From the above discussion on the different churches it is evident that all churches are stratified


Religious Social Stratification

and that all of them have the highest person in rank as the head who makes final decision regarding church matters, the only church that has a worldwide central governance is the catholic church which is led by the pope, the pope is the highest rank in this church who has a lot of power over the other individuals in the church.

The ranking of this churches help them top function properly and so that they conform to rules and regulations that are set by the central administration, each ranking has differing power attached to it also prestige and rewards.

Political power held by churches:

The Catholic Church can be dated back in the roman empire era, during this period the catholic church leaders had high political power, this was because the empire and the catholic church was one, however the political power held by this church declined and the church no longer holds much political power.

The Catholic Church in the present day has the majority of followers and being that decisions are made by a central administration then the church probably holds enormous political power where various political decisions made in certain countries have to consult the church leaders.

Churches are places where propaganda can be passed to the masses therefore the churches hold much power over its individuals in that they may individuals attitude towards certain political figures, a good example of political power held by churches is the arrest of Galileo who discovered that the sun does not go round the world but the earth goes round, Galileo was


Religious Social Stratification

jailed due to the fact that he had given contradicting information against the roman catholic church decisions.

Presently all churches hold political power that influence the political decision made, the leaders of various churches are included in political decision making process, however the catholic church due to its large number of followers holds more political power over the other churches, this can also be associated with the fact that they have the pope who holds the top most position and that makes him a very important person in the world today.


It is evident from the above discussion that in approximately all the churches there exist social stratification, the bureaucratic organization of these churches ensures that there is a hierarchical ranking of position held in these churches, however the most stratified church is the roman catholic church which has a worldwide leader who is the pope, the pope is concerned about all the activities of the churches in the whole world.

The social stratification in these churches ensures the smooth running of these churches, the churches that are stratified share common faith, common principles of church policies and organization and also common liturgy.


Religious Social Stratification



Religious Social Stratification

Field G. (1980) Poverty, Inequality and Development, Cambridge University press, New York

The Catholic Church official wed site (2007) retrieved on 3rd April available at g

The Evangelical Lutheran Church website (2007) retrieved on 3rd April, available at

The official Anglican Church website (2007) retrieved on 3rd April available at

The vineyard church website (2007) retrieved on 3rd April, available at

[1] Field G. (1980)

[2] Field G. (1980)

[3] Field G. (1980)



Religious Social Stratification