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Sunday, March 23, 2014

Disunity in Christ (Part 2)

The following is part two of BTSF's review of Dr. Christena Cleveland's Disunity in Christ:

Identity in Christ
As Christians, our identity within the body of Christ needs to trump that of our individual and cultural alliances. Instead, we often are “clinging to our subordinate identities (e.g., identities base on ethnic, denominational, theological or political affiliations) while distancing ourselves from our common identity —our identity as members of the worldwide body of Christ. It’s more important for us to feel good ourselves than to embrace other members of the body of Christ.“ (94)

In her interview with Smith, Cleveland observers that churches "tend to rely most on our smaller, cultural identities and ignore our larger, common identity as members of the body of Christ. Pastors and churches are pressured to distinguish themselves from others, as we compete for the loyalty of members and seemingly scarce resources.” Do we not believe scripture that tells us the harvest is plentiful?

Somehow, we end up thinking that "all of the wisdom and knowledge that we need to succeed as Christian organizations is located within the boundary of our cultural group. Many Christian groups are like a 5000-piece puzzle that has 5000 duplicate pieces!" (60) However, if we will begin to "enter cultural situations with the belief that our cultural group is holding one piece to the puzzle, we can confidently make our contribution, while also looking for and valuing the contributions that other groups make." (62) Indeed, Cleveland suggests that "we need to adopt the belief that to be a follower of Christ means to allow our identity as member of the body of Christ to trump all other identities." (97)

Moving forward
Cleveland notices that "We believe that we are fighting the good fight for an immutable truth, when in fact we are simply waging war against a cultural threat, a different perspective that threatens ours." (p139) When it comes to theology and doctrinal teaching, we must discern the difference between 'golden standard' cultural bias and the Truths of the spirit. If we learn to tell which is which, we will have a better chance at elevating our greater identity in Christ. 

Harry Wormwood is not a good model for the Church
By bringing these issues, and their underlying phenomena, to the conscious level, we become better able to identify and combat their effects.  Talking about the barriers is a good start, but it is all empty if we leave it there. Cleveland also outlines steps to move forward in "1) working toward a larger goal; 2) creating equal status; 3) engaging in personal interaction; and 4) providing leadership." (158)

Disunity in Christ, includes questions at the end of each chapter to help us process the concepts predestined (well designed for group dialogue--*hint hint*). Cleveland problematizes our binary categorizations and makes room for a richer complexity within the body of Christ. It is a rich invitation to lean into the tension, allowing the challenges to shape us into the image of Christ.

Disclosure: BTSF received an advance reader’s copy of Disunity in Christ from InterVarsity Press for review.


  1. Really love what you are saying here Christina--but the quote that caught my eye was "you can't be a prophet and an oppressor" (which is why I clicked on the Twitter link, actually). Do you mean this in the specific context of a person of privilege experiencing anger/pushback from an oppressed person? Or do you mean this in the wider sense? I am fully on board with the first scenario, and not so much on the second.

  2. This is really helpful. If only privileged white folk were more humble.

    So much work yet to do, but it starts with listening.

  3. Glad it was helpful! Much work indeed. Glad you're a part of it!

  4. Not sure if I understand the two choices, but I interpret Christena's words to suggest that we lose credibility to speak prophetically when we lead an unexamined life in our own perpetuation of the situation. Too often we come into situations of injustice sanctimoniously explaining what the oppression should do to get their own selves out of a situation that we are in fact upholding ourselves.

  5. americanwoman343June 30, 2014 at 8:54 AM

    Are angry oppressed people ever wrong in how they see things, in their interpretations? Does anyone ever correct those things? I recognize that the privileged person is not the one who points that out, but does anyone?

  6. To be sure, oppressed folks are not monolithic. There is often debate and conversation about many aspects of society and the best approaches to address them. But you're right, it is not the role of the oppressor to make correction, or often even to interlope on these conversations.


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