|Final mark: 19%|
The problem is that when we rely on group-serving biases to maintain our positive group identity, we tend to adopt a defensive and unreconciliatory stance. Regardless of the situation, in our eyes, our particular group is superior. By thinking highly of ourselves, we naturally think less of others. There might be social problems in the world, but our group is not responsible for them. That other group is the cause of all of the ills. There might be friction within our local community of Christians, but we’re innocent. The problem would be solved if the other church would vote differently, or get serious about living the Christian life, or get their theology straight. (p. 105, italics original).
But, Cleveland continues,
These biases can prevent us from receiving useful insight from those outside our group. . . . If someone critiques our group’s theology or lifestyle or political ideology, we are unable to receive it because we’re too busy protecting our positive group identity. Essentially, our defensiveness disables our ability to humbly receive correction and instruction. (p. 105).
When our personal or group identities are attacked, our first strategy is to defend ourselves by attacking the other—even though, at least in the Church, we are members of the same body, that is, Christ. And our identity as Christians is our primary identity, the one that should shape all our other identities. Thus it is crucial that we Christians in particular work out how and why our own biases prevent us from fostering genuinely Christlike relations with others who claim the same primary identity.
Cleveland concludes her chapter by recalling a challenge to watch a video podcast of a sermon delivered by a well-known pastor with whose stance on gender roles she disagrees. I think what she writes is worth quoting at length:
I knew that if I affirmed my identity as a member of the body of Christ, affirmed my belief that Christ is the head of the body (and not me or anyone else) and affirmed the truth that all others in the body of Christ are connected to me, I would be better able to listen humbly without thinking that I know everything there is to know about gender and Christianity and without desperately needing to boost my self-esteem by derogating Famous Pastor. Because, let’s be honest: it would be useless to watch the sermon with a defensive identity that was entirely rooted in being right about the issue of women in the church and Famous Pastor’s idiocy. I also knew that an identity firmly rooted in the body of Christ would serve to buffer any pain that watching the sermon might cause. . . .Before listening to the sermon, I read, prayed through and meditated on passages in the Bible that affirmed my identity as a member of the body of Christ and affirmed my identity as a woman who bears God’s image. These passages reminded me that my identity and significance are not based on my ministry ability or what I believe or whether well-known pastors affirm my beliefs or preach hurtful ideas about me. They reminded me that my identity and significance are rooted in my membership in the family of God. My beliefs and calling are important, but they aren’t the most defining things about me. . . .When my identity is rooted in the right place, I’m able to listen to opposing viewpoints as a member of the body of Christ: with humility, with an eagerness to learn from a different point of view, with a desire to connect across cultural lines, with confidence in my identity and without fear. I not only learned more about his viewpoint, but I also found that one of his critiques of my beliefs was pretty well-taken and I’ve used it to sharpen my own ideas. When it was all said and done, I had a better sense of this pastor’s good and caring heart, felt closer to him and loved him more than I did before I watched the sermon. And aren’t those some of the significant goals of unity? (pp. 113, 114, 115).
I balk inwardly at the thought of spending time to sit and reflect on Scripture before engaging with someone with whom I (might) disagree. Who has time to do that? But perhaps this is precisely what I need to do. If our identity shapes and significantly motivates our behaviour, then perhaps a commitment to spending time with God for this sort of reason is fundamental for our relationships within the Church. And perhaps if I spent more time with God with the intention of recognising and appreciating who I am in Christ, I would be less insecure in myself and less judgemental of and snarky towards those who are also in Christ. To conclude with Cleveland:
Quite simply, we must affirm who we really are as the people of God before we can begin to interact with each other as the people of God. (p. 116).