Cleveland is a social psychologist, and in Disunity in Christ she explores why so many Christians affirm the need to celebrate diversity in the Church but yet fail to follow through on these aspirations. She recognises that people are naturally drawn to those who are like-minded or from similar or identical cultural backgrounds, but argues convincingly that participation in the body of Christ gives us a far more basic identity than even such important identity markers as gender or race. The Church as the body of Christ falls into disunity when its members privilege their ‘natural’ identity over the fact that they are members of the body of Christ.
The majority of the book is taken up with Cleveland’s treatment of the various cultural group dynamics that can influence Christian behaviour for ill. Of particular interest to me were her comments on homogeneity in the Church (it’s not good!) and how often we confuse our cultural beliefs with our faith in Christ.
I must confess that, at times, I felt quite disheartened by the enormity of the task true reconciliation and cross-cultural work presents. And so, if the book has a main weakness, I would suggest that maybe there could have been more hints or examples as to how negative group dynamics can be overcome. However, Cleveland’s fine analysis of the problems surely contains within itself the seeds of reconciliation, and, as each chapter concludes with some study questions, there is plenty of scope to discuss the issues and act upon them.
To conclude, let me wax hyperbolic once more: Disunity in Christ is the most important book you’ll read this year.