Book Review – Disunity in Christ: Uncovering the Hidden Forces that Keep Us Apart by Christena Cleveland

by Mark Votava

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What a great book by social psychologist Christena Cleveland who helps us to understand the hidden perceptions that often times keep us separated from one another in everyday life.  Based on a lot of research, she draws out how our homogeneous group thinking is destructive and not helpful in the pursuit of unity in the body of Christ.  She focuses on how categorizing and labeling others distorts how we see each other and pollutes our interactions.  This book shows us how the homogeneous groups we form protect our identity and self-esteem often times leading to hostile conflict and cloudy judgments.

  • Striving for cultural diversity and collaboration 

“I believe that churches and Christian organizations should strive for cultural diversity.  Regardless of ethnic demographics, every community is multicultural when one considers the various cultures of age, gender, economic status, education level, political orientation and so on.  Further, every church should fully utilize the multifaceted cultural diversity within itself, express the diversity of its local community, expertly welcome the other, embrace all who are members of the body of Christ and intentionally collaborate with different churches or organizations in order to impact the kingdom…”

  • Fixating on differences causes us to ignore commonalities

“Fixating on differences leads us to ignore glaring commonalities and focus on distinguishing ourselves from other groups, making it less likely for us to think that we should get to know other groups and collaborate with them…”

  • Uncomfortable with ambiguity

“Because we’re uncomfortable with ambiguity, if we can find a concept to help us make sense of the world, we will cling to it – even if the concept is incomplete.  We want to quickly close the door to ambiguity because it threatens who we are.  In our brazen attempts to make sense of the world, we prefer to settle for an answer even if it’s not the answer.  When we encounter different cultural perspectives, the number of possible “answers” is increased and so is ambiguity.  Naturally, we want to squelch those pesky different perspectives.”

  • Becoming valuable members of the all-inclusive we

“When we idolize our cultural group identity, giving it higher priority than our common group identity, minority group members are not truly invited to participate in the organization as valuable members of the all-inclusive we.  Rather, they are invited to participate in the organization as them – subordinate outgroup members and second-class citizens.  Until we relativize our smaller cultural identities and adopt a common ingroup identity, our diversity initiatives are doomed to failure because we will never fully appreciate our diverse brothers and sisters and they will not feel appreciated.”

  • The confines of our homogeneous groups

“If we answer the call to adopt a common identity, our lives as we know them will be destroyed.  However, once the transformation is complete, we will see its beautiful fruit and wonder how we ever lived within the confines of our homogeneous groups.”

What are your thoughts on homogeneous groups within the body of Christ?