Friday, July 20, 2018

Jerome Sahabandhu: Our Jewish Neighbor

Today's post is by Rev. Dr. Jerome Sahabandhu, Mission Theologian in Residence at the General Board of Global Ministries. The opinions and analysis expressed here are Rev. Dr. Sahabandhu's own and do not reflect in any way the official position of Global Ministries.

Following the series of interfaith engagements, Global Ministries’ Atlanta office organized another Mission Dialogue Forum on June 27th, 2018. This time our lecturer was Rabbi Joshua Lesser, who leads Congregation Bet Haverim in Atlanta. Rabbi Lesser belongs to the tradition of Reconstructionist Judaism.

Reconstructionist Judaism
Reconstructionist Judaism is a socio-politically and religiously progressive Jewish movement that is the smallest and youngest of the so-called “big four” American Jewish denominations; the big four being the Orthodox, the Reform, the Conservative and the Reconstructionist. Reconstructionist Judaism was founded in 1922 in the US by Rabbi Mordecai M. Kaplan (1881-1983) in an attempt to adapt classical Judaism to modernity, science, art and reason.

Rabbi Lesser has emphasized several key ideas of reconstructionist Judaism. Let me highlight four of them:

1. Judaism as a civilization: Judaism is understood not just as a religious movement but as a movement of civilization which is active in the world and responding to the changing world and society at large. For Kaplan the term "civilization" has been central to explain his reconstructionist form (Judaism as a Civilization (1934 by Kaplan). Judaism was the evolving religious civilization. Influenced by the ideas of modern social sciences, Kaplan retold the story of Jewish history through the conceptual framework of evolution, arguing that change was central to Jewish development over time. His concept of civilization embraced the aesthetics, artforms, music, laws, science and social transformation in an open way.

2. Inclusive community: Judaism should be inclusive people where Jewish fathers and non-Jewish mothers are accepted as fully Jewish, non-Jews are welcomed as major participants in community life, intermarriage (with some restrictions) is permitted, women have full rights, and people of any sexual orientation are accorded equal rights. Reconstructionists appreciate the universal nature of human dignity, rights, values and the global nature of humanity.

3. Social Justice: Judaism and working for social justice are inseparable. Tikkun olam - which means 'repairing the world' through social action - is a way to live out Jewish values. Therefore, working for social justice is a spiritual practice, like prayer, meditation and study. Working for social justice takes humanity closer to realizing "a Messianic age" in this world. Working for social justice is the way to achieve salvation in this world, which is the only world in which salvation can be achieved.

4. Prayer Life: Reconstructionists don't believe that they must pray in order to comply with religious law, but they do regard prayer as being very important, because it is a way of finding and expressing meaning and values. The effect of prayer is the change that it brings about in the person doing the praying, or in the praying community as a whole. Prayer serves many purposes: prayer reinforces values, prayer creates community and brings the community together, prayer connects the individual with other Jewish people, prayer connects the individual to history, prayer acknowledges that human beings are not all-powerful, prayer deepens spiritual lives, prayer increases connection with God (or with godliness), prayer increases awareness of what people hope for in their lives, prayer increases awareness of what people are grateful for in their lives.

Jewish Demographics
Recent Pew research says as of 2010, there were about 14 million Jews around the world, representing 0.2% of the global population. In 2050, the Jewish population is expected to number about 16 million. The share of the world’s population that is Jewish – 0.2% – is expected to remain about the same in 2050 as it was in 2010. http://www.globalreligiousfutures.org/religions/jews

A Washington Post article analyzing the US Jewish demographics highlighted that ‘in 2016, the American Jewish Population Project at Brandeis University estimated the U.S. Jewish population at 7.2 million. The American Jewish Year Book estimated 6.9 mllion’. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2018/02/23/measuring-the-size-of-the-u-s-jewish-population-comes-down-to-identity/?utm_term=.f38e3a919959

Conclusion
Rabbi Lesser also emphasized the need of Jews and Christians to engage in dialogue and also of all faiths working together for a better world, global peace and justice. There has been a growing interest in Jewish-Christian Dialogue in the last several decades; some of these encounters have been led by the World Council of Churches and others by the individual denominations. Encouraging Jewish-Christian dialogue, the United Methodists also have resolved (Book of Resolutions 2016) that:

"While the Jewish and Christian traditions understand and express their faith in the same God in significantly different ways, we believe with Paul that God, who was in Christ reconciling the world to God’s own self (2 Corinthians 5:18-19), is none other than the God of Israel, maker of heaven and earth. Above all else, Christians and Jews are bonded in our joyful and faithful response to the one God, living our faith as each understands God’s call."

The same resolution emphasized that as United Methodist Christians, we are deeply affected by the anguish and suffering that continue for many people who live in the Middle East region that includes modern Israel. In responding to this call, the UMC mission agency Global Ministries has partnered with the World Methodist Council and the Methodist Church UK in creating a liaison office in Jerusalem to work for peace, justice and reconciliation.

Shalom!!

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Robert Hunt: The Connection Between Text and Context, Part 2

Today's post is written by Dr. Robert Hunt, Director of Global Theological Education, Professor of Christian Mission and Interreligious Relations, and Director of the Center for Evangelism at Perkins School of Theology. It is the second of a three-part series on contextualization. The first can be found here.

In the first part of this series, I argued for the close connection between the biblical text and its cultural and religious contexts. We find this same problem even more deeply embedded in matters of what is commonly called “worldview.”

From beginning to end, the Bible assumes that the world is divided into the waters below the earth, the earth, and the heavens above. That worldview continues to be reflected in the apostolic tradition and specifically in the creeds. (“He ascended into Heaven and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.”) Nor is this spacial understanding of the world distinctly “Biblical.” While disputed in parts of the Greek philosophic tradition, it is found in the Aristotelian assumption about the centrality of the earth and the Ptolemaic calculations of the movement of the planets.

For centuries this was the bedrock of a Christian worldview but as context, not text. As my colleague Roy Heller notes, “the Bible does not argue for what it assumes.” And this worldview is the context of all Biblical story telling and all Biblical pictures of the interrelationships of God’s created order.

The spacial structure within which the Bible places the creation of the world and its subsequent history through to the creation of a new heavens and a new earth is closely matched to a metaphysical structure that is likewise assumed by the Bible. In that metaphysical structure there is a distinction between that which is visible, changeable, and temporal, and that which is invisible, unchanging, and eternal; it is the difference between body and spirit.

This metaphysical distinction between body and spirit is not distinctively Christian. It is also found in Greek philosophy that both significantly pre-dated Christianity and provided a congenial home in which emergent Christianity's basic metaphysical assumptions were widely accepted. In other words, both the physics and metaphysics of the Bible aren’t text, they are an assumed context - indeed a widely shared context across many cultures.

That philosophical and scientific context has now passed out of Western culture. We find ourselves in a cultural context that has adopted a different worldview. It is a culture that regards the spacial worldview of the Bible as naive. For this reason, Christians in our cultural context, when pressed, reject the Bible as a normative text telling us the physical structure of the universe. They recognize that the corollary to Roy Heller’s statement is “That which the Bible assumes isn’t necessarily that which it asserts.” Instead, if our culture regards the Bible at all, it regards the assumed special structure of the universe found in the Bible as just one possible context in which some deeper meaning is communicated. So we find that an assumption that runs through the Bible from beginning to end, and influences every aspect of its presentation of reality, is now seen as cultural context.

Do we now assert that it is text in contestation with an alternative text provided by science? That has been tried in the 19th century and it has largely failed to be convincing. The explanatory power of the Bible with regard to the natural world simply cannot match that of science. And as a result, Christians have large abandoned treating the Bible as a text in natural philosophy and see it as a context in which the truth of the gospel is expressed.

What about the metaphysical worldview of the Bible? Of the distinction between body and spirit? Is that a normative claim, a part of the text? Or is it a cultural context within or beneath which we seek a text?

This was the question addressed by Rudolph Bultmann in his famous effort to “demythologize” the Biblical story and thus distinguish the text (God’s Word) from the context (the metaphysical distinction between body and spirit.) Those Christians typically identified as Evangelicals have pushed back. They say that Bultmann, and indeed liberal theologians from Schleiermacher forward, have simply reduced the text to context and lost sight of God’s Word entirely. They assert that Christ without myth becomes simply an empty hole into which we Christians can pour our own context; whatever humanism is the order of the day.

Lesslie Newbigin, and others, offered an alternative. Newbigin pointed out (and I reduce a sophisticated body of argument to terms Newbigin himself doesn’t use) that the distinction between text and context is artificial; whether the text is scripture and the context is ancient culture, or the text is nature and the context is post-Enlightenment epistemology. What we know is always known in the context of a knowing community. There is no context-free observer reporting on a pure text, whether in science or in theology. There is no context free truth whether scientific or dogmatic.

This displaces the problem of abstracting the text from its given context so that it can be contextualized it in a new context. Newbigin shows that the real challenge is knowing which community is most appropriate to the type of knowing in question. The community of science is a marvelous community for a large but ultimately limited body of knowledge about those aspects of reality that its instruments interrogate. It can know a great deal about that world, but as a community it isn’t capable of even perceiving what the Bible calls “spirit” much less examining its meaning. By deciding that nature is its only text, it can’t possibly understand other texts.

Newbigin, following long Church tradition, argues that there definitely is another body of knowledge, knowledge of God and all that pertains to God. And the appropriate community for knowing God isn’t made up of hypothetical disembodied observers, whether scientists or theologians rationally interpreting scripture according to the rules of critical hermeneutics. The appropriate community is the Church and its ongoing life with God. The church at worship and in mission.

With this realization, we can approach the issue of contextualization without the naiveté found in efforts to distinguish a dogmatic text from a cultural context. Instead we can see that there really is no text, only the living relationship between what is known and the knowing community. The “living Word” insists on its own autonomy and refuses to be merely an object of study. Even the Bible isn’t a text as commonly understood. While it is the normative (for Christians) record of God's self-disclosure in the apostolic community, it is not so much revelation itself as it is the world into which Christians enter to meet God. The life of the Church with the Bible, pre-eminently in worship but also in study and service, continually forms and reforms the knowing community.

(Note that I’m not asserting that the Bible is merely a record of the responses of humans to the Christ, a typical post-Schleiermacher liberal tradition. That would make it mere history and not the embodiment of the living Word as has been affirmed by the church through the ages. We might think by way of analogy of the CD recordings that I have of Mozart’s French horn concertos. They are arranged so that I can play along with an orchestra and soloist long past. These recordings both require that I play along, but also offer me the chance to improvise my own credenzas. If I merely study them, score in hand and full of all the analytical knowledge gained from study, both the history of Mozart and music theory, I will never actually understand them. For it isn’t their purpose to be studied, it is their purpose to teach me to play French horn. So the purpose of the Bible isn’t to be studied, but to form the Church in the image of Christ.)

So we see that the Church does not bring a fixed text into new contexts. The Church as a community knowing God is led by God’s Spirit to invite others to join it in its knowing. It invites them to become part of the ongoing process of shaping a community suited to the encounter of humans with God.

This ongoing process begs the question of whether other communities, those invited to join the Church, actually have anything to bring into the Church’s ongoing dialogue with God, or whether they simply adapt to what the church has already learned. I’ll take this up in Part 3.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Recommended Reading: Lumber River Conference of the Holiness Methodist Church Discipline

Plans are underway in The United Methodist Church to develop a "Global Book of Discipline," a subset of the material in the current Book of Discipline that would be binding on all United Methodists everywhere, with the rest up for adaptation by local units of the church.

This push reflects, in part, that the current UMC Book of Discipline is over 800 pages long. Those 800 pages contain a large quantity of material, not all of which is equally relevant in all cultural, political, or social settings.

While 800 pages, may seem particularly long, Books of Discipline in the UMC and its predecessors have never been short. The earliest Books of Discipline that I have been able to find online, the 1791 and 1798 Doctrines and Discipline of the Methodist Episcopal Church, still run to nearly 200 pages.

That is why it is interesting to read the Doctrines and Discipline of the Lumber River Conference of the Holiness Methodist Church. It weighs in at a tight 53 pages, excluding an appendix of denominational paperwork forms.

The Lumber River Conference is a small group of mostly Native American churches in North Carolina that established itself as independent in 1900. Certainly part of the reason why its Doctrines and Discipline is so short is the size of the denomination - it has fewer than a dozen churches and no boards and agencies. Yet there were no boards and agencies in 1791, and the MEC still found material to fill over 190 pages. The LRCHMC's Discipline is shorter than its predecessors. Thus, the Lumber River Conference Doctrines and Discipline stands as a reminder that ever-lengthening Books of Discipline are not inevitable; they are a choice we make.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Elaine Robinson: #MyHope4Methodism

Today's post is part of a series that features United Methodist scholars and leaders from around the world reflecting on their hope for the future of The United Methodist Church as a global movement within the larger context of worldwide Methodism as a whole. Today's post is written by Dr. Elaine Robinson, Professor of Methodist Studies and Christian Theology at Saint Paul School of Theology.

United Methodism is at a crossroads. After fifty years as a denomination, we now face the possibility of schism. By the time the 2020 General Conference convenes, the church may be in the process of reforming along lines drawn in the sand over human sexuality.

While I am among those who hope for a solution that might retain our unity, history reminds us that our predecessor denominations experienced schism over a host of issues: slavery and racism; women’s ordination; the authority of bishops; the rights of laity. While the “Trust Clause” in the Book of Discipline complicates separation in ways not present to earlier generations, the reality of human beings holding different opinions on the polity of the institutional church differs little from the nineteenth century. We seek unity, but misinterpret it as sameness.

Moreover, the global nature of United Methodism adds to the complexity of maintaining unity in the midst of diversity. It is this dimension which I intend to emphasize here. Maturing in the capacity to engage in cultural difference with respect and acceptance appears as one of the significant challenges for today’s United Methodists. We want to be a global denomination, but we do not know how to live well in the midst of cultural differences. We do not know how to live well in the midst of differing opinions (especially when scripture is used to justify each position). My hope for United Methodism is that we might grow in our intercultural capacity and compassion, as unanimity of thought and expression cannot be realized this side of the new creation.

Theologically, we must grant the assumption that “now we see in a mirror, dimly” (1 Cor 13:12). Our human reasoning and understanding is subject to our fallen nature, what we sometimes call, “corrupt reason.” Assuming that we know absolutely the will of God always risks the hubris of the human nature asserting itself over the humble way of Christ.

In the nineteenth century, there were those who absolutely knew that God authorized slavery; they even found it inscribed in the scriptures. Whether some of these early Methodists knew they were using biblical passages as self-justification, we can only wonder. Nevertheless, the certainty of their position led to the separation of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South from the Methodist Episcopal Church, mirroring divisions existing in the society. In retrospect, the church understands the complicity of its corruption in upholding slavery and, later, racist structures such as the Central Jurisdiction. If we fail to recognize that our human nature does, can, and will err in its institutional expressions, our hubris can lead us to place human justifications above the way of Christ.

Here we find our first complexity in being a global denomination: the uncertainty of human reason and discernment. As Christians, taking on the “mind of Christ,” learning to discern the depths of the gospel is a lifelong process. We Methodists know this process as sanctification or growing in love of God and neighbor.

When we add cultural diversity to the caution exercised with human reasoning, our ability to find unity is further complicated. The vast majority of United Methodists would claim to “love everyone” and posit our sameness before God. Such understandings are important to our faith development, but insufficient to engage the irreducible diversity created and sustained by God. “Open hearts, open minds, open doors” too often serves as a veneer of cultural domination, in which churches claim to be open, but only to those who will assimilate into the existing cultural norms, rather than recognizing the mutual transformation that inevitably occurs when we open ourselves to those who are not culturally similar to us.

Within the context of the United States, diversification of our congregations is both problematic and increasingly necessary, as the reign of God is not segregated. When we add the global complexity, the United Methodist Church struggles to live together in a way that reflects both unity and diversity. Indeed, unity without the capacity to accept diverse cultural expressions must inevitably fail, as one culture will become normative or considered the “right” way to live. Cultural difference becomes a tool for upholding our way of life, rather than a means of living more deeply into the Gospel.

Perhaps a couple examples can illuminate this point. Predominantly white congregations in the United States often claim that all are welcome. Yet, when pressed to allow for diverse leadership or worship styles, they often refuse to adapt as if Jesus himself ordained the pipe organ and sitting quietly in the pews. Conservatives in the UMC appeal to African delegates to uphold the church’s norm around homosexuality, but turn a blind eye to ongoing practices of polygamy among church members in Africa. Progressives promote liberal understandings of inclusion, but reject African cultural norms as less developed. Most significantly, proposals to restructure the global denomination would appear to have less to do with allowing indigenous development of the church’s mission and more to do with the United States losing majority power (and financial as well as cultural control of the denomination). Caution must be exercised, of course, as not all motivations are self-interested. However, the Gospel provides cautionary warnings into the ways human beings often justify cultural and even religious norms in the name of God.

In response to this dilemma there are few easy answers, given that human beings will always fall short of the fullness of God’s grace and glory. Nonetheless, the more we, as a denomination, develop intercultural capacities, the better equipped we will be to live together and to discern the humble way of Christ.

Human beings are always a “work in progress,” not only spiritually, but intellectually, emotionally, and physically. Intercultural competence is never achieved by declaring that “we love everyone in the name of Christ.” Instead, growing in intercultural capacity is a developmental process like any other. We move along a spectrum from insisting on our own cultural norms to embodying the capacity to accept and adapt to cultural differences in healthy and respectful ways.

The United Methodist Church needs to take seriously the question of how we develop such intercultural understanding and compassion in clergy and laity across the global denomination. Human beings can and do live in various cultures, even multiple cultures simultaneously. Jesus Christ modeled healthy cross-cultural engagement, and called his disciples to grow in this capacity for the sake of God’s mission in the world. In a world so deeply divided by self-interest and narrow cultural perspectives, a UMC capable of deep, cross-cultural listening and understanding could provide an opening for the power of Gospel to weave us together as a denomination. Transforming the world begins with our own transformation into an interculturally capable denomination.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Robert Hunt: The Connection Between Text and Context, Part I

Today's post is written by Dr. Robert Hunt, Director of Global Theological Education, Professor of Christian Mission and Interreligious Relations, and Director of the Center for Evangelism at Perkins School of Theology. It is the first of a three-part series on contextualization.

Interpreters of contextualization as a theological concept often rely on a distinction between text and context to make sense of the term. Yet the Christian “text,” whether conceived of as the Bible or the Apostolic tradition normalized in the Creeds is inseparable from its context, because historically context always precedes the text, even if metaphysically the source of the text (God's Word) creates the context.

The first of this three-part series will show how this relationship characterizes the Bible and its early contexts. The second part will draw on Newbigin to suggest a different approach to the relationship between textual worldview and cultural context than those taken by previous theologies. The third part will present an understanding of inculturation that draws on these reflections and will explore what this new understanding means for the Church’s engagement with the Word about the world.

The challenge of separating text from context runs through our efforts to interpret the Bible. Take Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. In it we have a clear affirmation of the validity of Jewish law.

Matthew 5:17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

In these few sentences Jesus’ text simply reiterates its context in Jewish thought. The righteousness he preaches is non-different from that of other Jewish leaders. Their problem, we learn as we read onward, isn’t that they have the wrong law. It is that they are hypocrites whose actions don’t match their words.

This sermon by Jesus was sufficiently clear that when Gentiles began to seek entry into the church a major dispute arose about whether or not they would be required to follow the complete Jewish law. The context of that debate, which we read about the Acts and the Epistles isn’t just the teaching of Jesus. The debate about the obligations of converts to know and follow the Mosaic law was also part of the Jewish context in the time of Jesus and his followers. As recounted in the Talmud, the rabbis argued over the extent to which Gentile converts to Judaism were required to keep the law. (Shabbat 31a and elsewhere) So the argument among the apostles is taking place not merely in the context of Jesus’ teaching or Peter’s vision or Paul’s call, but a longer internal Jewish argument about what was essential to Jewish identity and thus inclusion in God’s covenant.

Indeed, this context of rabbinic contestation over the meaning and purpose of Mosaic law is in the background of every single saying of Jesus about the law. Much of Jesus' teaching in this regard isn’t unique, and doesn’t set proto-Christian teaching apart from Jewish teaching. As E.P. Sanders showed decades ago, Jesus’ teaching often takes one side of an ongoing debate, so that at least initially Christians could easily be understood to be members of a Jewish sect.

The way in which this distinction between text and context problematizes concepts of contextualization can be found when we examine a paragraph of Bill Payne’s recent essay on contextualization in this forum:

"Furthermore, contextualization is not an excuse for heterodoxy or for affirming practices that apostolic tradition and the witness of Scripture have rejected. For example, the New Testament Church argued against the Judaizers who tried to force Gentile believers to follow certain Jewish practices. Additionally, it rejected many aspects of the receiving cultures. The New Testament vice lists point to the church’s engagement with Hellenistic culture and its rejection of cultural practices that were not compatible with the Gospel. Just because the culture affirms something does not mean that God will affirm the resulting practice or related belief. The gospel is for culture and against culture at the same time.”

Actually both opposition to the “Judaizers” on one hand and to Hellenistic cultural practices on the other were extensions of existing rabbinical teaching by Paul and the apostles into the realm of the Jewish Christian community. They are not the application of a distinct normative text that is now critiquing a cultural context. They are just a new community continuing to debate issues raised in an older context. There may not be anything distinctly “Christian” at work here.

I’ll push the question of what is distinctively “Christian” about the Bible further in the next post as I turn to questions about the biblical “worldview.”

Monday, July 9, 2018

Recommended Reading: Chinese Christians with Methodist Ties

Christianity Today published a piece last fall entitled "10 Chinese Christians the Western Church Should Know." UM & Global is entirely supportive of the idea that Western Christians should learn about and learn from our fellows Christians around the globe, and the piece is worth reading for that reason alone.

Yet it is also worth noting that four out of the ten Chinese Christians profiled had Methodist connections. Look for the stories of Shi Meiyu (Mary Stone), Sung Shangjie (John Sung), Xi Shengmo (Pastor Hsi), and Yu Cidu (Dora Yu).

Xi and Yu's Methodist connections aren't stated, but both had them. David Hill, one of the missionaries mentioned in Xi's write up, was Methodist. After Yu finished medical school, she preached at a Methodist school. She also accompanied MECS missionary Josephine P. Campbell on an early preaching tour of Korea.

To learn more about Chinese Christians with Methodist ties as well as Western missionaries who worked in China, read the collection of China-related biographies from the Methodist Mission Bicentennial website.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Can a (different) book help the church stay together?

Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Director of Mission Theology at the General Board of Global Ministries. The opinions and analysis expressed here are Dr. Scott's own and do not reflect in any way the official position of Global Ministries.

The Anatomy of Peace is a book that the United Methodist Church's Commission on a Way Forward, bishops, and other significant denominational leaders have drawn on in the process of attempting to find a solution to the UMC's decades-long dispute over homosexuality. The significance of the book at this moment in the church is captured by the title of a UMNS story about it "Can a book help the church stay together?"

Yet the book has also been piercingly criticized by United Methodist pastor Hannah Adair Bonner as "an artifice" that allows powerful white men to put words into the mouths of marginalized African Americans and Palestinians without being fully honest about the role of those white men in creating the book and its characters. As Rev. Jeremy Smith writes in a sympathetic response to Rev. Bonner's critique, that obfuscation does not completely invalidate the book's larger point about moving from conflict to peace, but it does raise significant questions about the book.

I will confess that I have not read The Anatomy of Peace and thus cannot comment on the book one way or another.

Yet if you are looking for a book that can help move the church from conflict between competing groups to a new sense of togetherness in Christ and one that takes seriously (and honestly) the perspectives of minority voices, I heartily recommend Christena Cleveland's Disunity in Christ: Uncovering the Hidden Forces That Keep Us Apart (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Press, 2013).

Christena Cleveland is a social psychologist and theologian dedicated to intercultural and interracial reconciliation in the church. She is also African American and a professor at United Methodist-related Duke Divinity School (though not United Methodist herself). This presumably would exempt her and her book from some of Rev. Bonner's criticisms of The Anatomy of Peace.

The book draws on both social psychology and theology to describe the ways in which our natural mental processes and desires for self-esteem, security, and control lead us to distance ourselves from those we see as different from us and how we exaggerate those differences to produce conflict between our ingroup and outgroups. More hopefully, Dr. Cleveland also points out how we can go about overcoming those biases that keep us apart and prevent unity in the body of Christ.

While Dr. Cleveland has cultural differences foremost in mind, she acknowledges that most of her arguments apply to differences of any kind, and she frequently cites theological differences as one type of disunity in the body of Christ. As I read the book, I kept thinking how well what she was saying described the current state of The United Methodist Church.

You should read the book to get the full impact of Dr. Cleveland's argument, but among the solutions she proposes are developing a larger sense of group identity that encompasses opposing groups, using "we" language to reinforce that identity, affirming the basis of our own identity in Christ, and the importance of interacting with those from outgroups.

Ultimately, we do not need to choose between reading The Anatomy of Peace and Disunity in Christ. I would hope that United Methodists can read as many resources as possible to prepare us to discern together how to be faithful and in unity with one another. But I do hope that Disunity in Christ will be one of the resources that United Methodists read.