by Matthew Jackson, Student Body President
“When we categorize, not only do we draw a very clear line between those who are like us and those who are not like us, but we also tend to think that all of the people who are not like us are the same,” says Dr. Christena Cleveland in an analysis of how groupthink develops for her book, Disunity in Christ. Often groupthink (decisions made without the consultation or inclusion of diverse thought) develops from an absence of exposure to ideals different than one’s own.
For the American church, the prominence of institutional groupthink has become a major problem. The people ministries are designed to reach are too often defined by the specific interests of the designing group’s population. This occurs both across cultural boundaries and through cultural divides, whenever one regional group sees their worldview as authoritative to any other. Groupthink is not a white issue, a black issue or a Latino issue. Groupthink is a body of Christ issue. Within each cultural or theological divide, a multitude of more specific divides can be found.
One of the most common confusions of our generation is a misunderstanding of the differences between racism and ethnocentrism. Racism is defined by Merriam-Webster as an inherent prejudice or discrimination towards a particular race. Ethnocentrism is defined as an attitude that one group’s ideology is superior to others. As Dr. Cleveland has studied, ethnocentric ideas have been the most prominent perpetuator of cultural divides in our nation.
As humans, we are naturally inclined to build relationships with people who seem to be more like us (race, socio-economic background and theological beliefs). In following this natural inclination, we often intentionally or unintentionally avoid establishing relationships with people we consider to be our “other.” Most recently, this can be seen in the divided understandings of social movements such as Black Lives Matter and All Lives Matter. Being that many white evangelicals (especially in more rural areas) have fewer established relationships with black Americans, movements such as Black Lives Matter can seem unnecessary or offensive due to groupthink.
On the other side of this, being that many black Americans (especially in inner city areas) do not have foundational relationships with white evangelicals, they perceive retaliation movements such as the All Lives Matter one to be racist. However, the problem is not centralized on race. At its core, this misunderstanding is rooted in the lack of relationships between two culturally different people groups. Being that our natural inclination is to be in close proximity to those we fundamentally agree with, assumptions about different cultures or worldviews are unavoidable. Without relationships, it will be impossible for the church to unite. It is through unity that the Body of Christ will learn to relate with one another and avoid the hazards of groupthink. And for the church, unity is a priority clearly outlined by Paul in his letter to the churches of Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi and Colossians.
As Reconciliation scholar Curtis DeYoung states, “In the household of faith, our relationship with God takes priority over our relatedness to family, race, culture, nation, gender or any other group we belong to. This reordering also transforms how we relate to each other.”