I am not sure why it took me so long to get around to reading Disunity in Christ, but it has. The book came out four years ago and I purchased it two years ago. But I didn’t actually read it until last week.
I did not need convincing that Unity is a pretty important part of Christianity. The problem is not that unity is important, but what unity means and what we should be doing about the lack of unity.
Books on Christian unity are not completely unusual. But most books are either theological explorations of the concept of unity, or practical training on peacemaking. While there are theological reflections and practical ideas on how to build unity, what is unique is the social science that helps to explain both why unity is important and why unity is hard to achieve solely with human means.
Christena Cleveland is a Social Psychologist. She is currently a professor at Duke Divinity School and a frequent trainer. The background in social science research, along with a number of studies that she reports on, were her own, gives her credibility.
I wanted to push back multiple times against some of the focuses of Disunity in Christ, but most of my areas of complaint were answered by the end of the book. Much of my push back is against her assertions that did not seem to give enough weight to the role of power and abuse or too much weight to keeping those in power as part of the discussion and movements toward unity. It is not that she is unaware of those issues. But the focus of the book is to get everyone to hear the call toward unity.
It is not that those in power don’t need to work on unity. Over the past year or so as disunity within the church has become harder to ignore, especially around issues of race and gender and politics. As an African American woman, Cleveland is not ignoring these issues. But she also isn’t focusing solely on issues of gender or race or politics. What I keep seeing is a resistance to those in majority spaces to recognizing that there is a problem. Or when they do, the problem becomes those that are identifying the problem, not the actual issues that are being raised.
Cleveland I think writes Disunity in Christ primarily for those that are resistant to unity, not those that are already convinced that disunity is a problem. I have read a number of books on unity from a variety of perspectives. I think this is probably one that I will frequently recommend in the future. It is readable, quick, practical, theologically informed, filled with social science research, psychologically sophisticated and still practical.