Christians value Jesus' prayer that they—his followers—may be as one (John 17:22–23). But valuing Christian unity is not the same as realizing it. Sometimes we settle for bland homogeneity rather than delighting in the church's mix of cultures, ethnicities, and social backgrounds. Those like me who work deliberately to cultivate Christian unity face trials and failures along the way. Despite our good intentions, we end up getting mean and nasty, or just plain weary, hurt, and discouraged. Why?
Individual personalities, faults, and sins are not the only factors. Group dynamics also make a difference. "Sometimes," according to social psychologist Christena Cleveland, "we are affected in hidden ways by those around us. The values and perceptions of the groups with which we identify can have a covert effect on us."
Where can we turn for assistance? In Disunity in Christ: Uncovering the Hidden Forces That Keep Us Apart (InterVarsity Press), Cleveland helps readers view people of diverse cultural backgrounds as God's gifts, not thorns in the flesh. She provides invaluable insights, practical recommendations, and tools to help the Christian community identify and address the dynamics that fracture Christ's body.
Cleveland's analysis tackles difficult questions about the social forces that frustrate our quest for unity. What leads people to associate with those who are similar, while distancing themselves from diverse others? What causes us to categorize other groups in distorted ways? How do social identity and self-esteem play into group perceptions of others? How do "cultural threats" lead us to approach other groups with hostility? And how do cultural ...