Jesus' prayer for the Church was that we would be 'one', yet it seems that oneness couldn't be any further from the current reality of the Church in our society. Every imaginable division possible seems to be wreaking havoc in the Church. The Church is divided by race, socio-economics, partisan politics, education, theology, geography, and the list could go on and on. While we all know that we are called to unity in Christ, it seems that we are helplessly lost, moving towards a trajectory of deeper and deeper division. Why can't the church live into its calling, so that we can be a distinct and visible alternative to the normal patterns of division found within society?
**Cue for Christena Cleveland to enter the dialogue**
For those who do not know, Christena Cleveland is a Christian leader, educator and author. She also happens to be a social psychologist. With that particular skill set, coupled with her strong commitment to the unity of the Church, she is situated quite nicely to help the Church understand many of the "hidden forces" at play in our every day interactions that unknowingly divide us. Thankfully, she has written that exact book in Disunity in Christ. In an accessible, thoughtful, and often entertaining manner, Cleveland weaves together social psychology research and theological principles on unity, with effortless grace. She manages to breakdown complex concepts, time and time again, with everyday illustrations and encounters as her teaching tools. Far from a highly theoretical text, Disunity in Christ will leave its readers with a basic yet usable foundation of social psychology when they are done. Yet, much more than that, they will walk away more committed to the unity of the church, and better equipped to actually live out such unity in their lives.
I won't attempt to restate or summarize everything in the book, but I do want to make mention of the first chapter of the book, which compellingly softens the suspicion of those whom might be on the fence, unsure of the 'angle' of the book and its author. To level the playing field, Christena Cleveland does what few Christian authors dare to do; she exposes her own biases and assumptions that left unchecked, would also wreak havoc and division, because they too are harmful stereotypes. And by humorously, yet vulnerably laying out her own dirty laundry, she puts at ease those that might have their guard up, especially because they are worried about whether or not she lines up with their own positions or stances. She accomplishes this feat by openly talking about her "Right Christian" and "Wrong Christian":
Wrong Christian was not a thinker. He hadn't read a book in the previous two years and had the limited vocabulary to prove it. . . He voted based on one or two issues: abortion and homosexuality (two issues that Jesus didn't even mention once, mind you). Wrong Christian lacked crosscultural sensitivity and somehow managed to avoid spending quality time with anyone who did not share his race and culture. (12-13)
If that’s how she had categorized "Wrong Christian", just imagine whom "Right Christian" resembled:
Curiously, Right Christian was a lot more like me. While driving her Prius en route to the farmer's market, she self-righteously zipped past Wrong Christian's lumbering SUV, blithely unaware of the fact that Prius owners (and farmer's market shoppers, who are basically the same people) are consumers, just like everyone else. (13)
Okay, we all saw that coming, her Right Christian looked just like her. She had developed these unhealthy working definitions, unconsciously allowing these “hidden forces” to create divisions in her own life. Of course, she didn’t let herself off the hook. She explains, "The mere act of creating Right Christian and Wrong Christian labels makes Wrong Christians a target of your criticism or simply dead to you--or both." (15) Yet, as we should quickly see, whether or not we have the same "Right Christian" or "Wrong Christian" as Christena Cleveland did, the truth is that we all hold to our own categories and our own versions of "Right Christian" and "Wrong Christian".
Throughout the book, Cleveland uncovers how our separating into homogeneous groups where everyone is of a similar political posture, cultural background, or theological persuasion, only exacerbates these biases. Whether helping us understand how ingroup/outgroup mentalities have undermined the Unity of the Church, or by challenging us to follow the model Jesus has set before us as the one, in humility and love, whom crossed boundaries and constantly bridged divides in his own time, we are sure to have our hearts and minds renewed and ready to struggle for more faithful unity in Christ.
Disunity in Christ by Christena Cleveland is a book that not only every Christian pastor should read, but I believe entire congregations should consider reading together. The Church is so divided, yet our mandate for unity is so clear. I am unapologetically endorsing this book as a must read for every Christian. Go order your copy today!
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