In her new book, Disunity in Christ: Uncovering the Hidden Forces that Keep us Apart, Dr. Christena Cleveland explores the topic of unity which is dear to my heart. I’m convinced that the way we see, perceive, and respond to others matter, and I am particularly disheartened when I see the mistreatment of Christians by other Christians in the church.
Division and embracing diversity are not new challenges in the church. We see challenges reach a boiling point in the book of Acts and in the epistles. Paul could not possibility be accepted as a follower of “The Way (how the Bible refers to those who followed Christ’s teaching before they were called Christians) because he was a persecutor of the church. You mean God actually has the power to change people? Grecian Jews and Hebraic Jews were at odds because the widows from one group was favored over the widows of another group. That’s division and cultural separation. Let’s be clear that Jews who became followers of the Way did not want Gentiles included in the flock of Jesus Christ. They much preferred their privileged position of the Old Testament. That’s racial/ethnic, cultural and religious division. “Maybe the Gentiles can follow Christ but they must first meet our standards and adhere to our moral laws.”
The New Testament gives numerous examples and teachings of followers of Christ who show partiality to themselves, their own condition, and the condition of those who are like them, while neglecting Christ’s example of considering the needs of others above themselves. Does the brothers, James and John, asking to sit at the right hand of Jesus bring up any memories? When they made the request, the other disciples immediately became jealous. How dare they? Then Jesus uses this situation as a teaching point to correct all of their hearts.
We need a heart change. The reality is that if we spend all of our time isolated and segregated with people who look, think, vote, act like, and share the same passions as we do, we will never be challenged by the sinful idols that are taking shape in our hearts. We will only reaffirm who we are—we are great!—and what we think we know. We do that by putting ourselves on a pedestal and putting those who are not a part of our circle down. We are the “Right Christians” and they are the “Wrong Christians.”
Maybe to you, Wrong Christian attends a church that allows female leadership. Or maybe Wrong Christian attends a church that doesn’t allow female leadership. Maybe Wrong Christian went to a Christian college. Maybe Wrong Christian doesn’t speak English. Maybe Wrong Christian is in a college fraternity. Maybe Wrong Christian drives a Hummer. Maybe Wrong Christian promotes Reformed theology. Maybe Wrong Christian dresses like she’s in a music video. Maybe Wrong Christian is pro-choice. Maybe Wrong Christian takes the bus. Maybe Wrong Christian is just annoying. Maybe Wrong Christian is unequivocally pro-Israel. Maybe Wrong Christian is a Yankees fan. – @CSCleve
Maybe Wrong Christian is an immigrant, Black, Hispanic, White, or Asian. We rarely publically verbalize these convictions but the realities are most evident in our actions. If you are a part of one race or ethnicity, or age group, or social/economic class, how often do you voluntarily and enthusiastically interact (not when you are required to tolerate someone at work for example) with those who are part of a different sub-culture than you? Do you pursue intimate relationships with the “other” out of a firm and mutual commitment to the gospel and the body of Christ?
In her academic presentation, Dr. Cleveland addresses all of these issues and more.
Overcoming differences. Laying aside conflict. Seeing culturally different others as God’s gifts to us rather than thorns in the flesh. That’s what this book is about. The causes of these problems can be devilishly subtle. Sometimes they don’t simply reside in our individual personalities, defects and sins. Sometimes 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 affect on us. Unpacking those dynamics and how we can turn them to God’s glory is also what this book is about. – @CSCleve
This book is eye-opening for the Christian who wants to take seriously Christ’s call to love and his prayer for unity (John 17). It is for those who seek to understand challenges and getting under the layers of “personality conflicts.” It is for the ministry leader who wants to train and develop a team of Christ-minded and others-centered leaders who serve all men and women and welcome the transformation that takes place when we humbly surrender our desire to be right and submit ourselves to Christ while mutually submitting ourselves to each other.
Blessings, Natasha @asistasjourney