Cultural Encounters: A Journal For The Theology Of Culture Volume 11 Number 1 (Winter 2015) - Page 43

VOLUME 11, NUMBER 1 A JOURNAL FOR THE THEOLOGY OF CULTURE Moreover, it is worth noting that the derogation that the participants used was subtle but potent. The participants in the study did not need to torch a Jewish temple or force the Jewish woman to eat non-kosher food in order to feel better about themselves. They did not need to take drastic and dramatic measures. They simply needed to say, “Her personality is not that great” or “she’s kind of lame” or “she’s not very cool,” and their self-esteem was immediately restored. This is the sort of subtle derogation that runs rampant on elementary school playgrounds, in high school hallways, and within the body of Christ. We do not often picket each other’s churches or boycott each other’s events. But we do often make snarky comments that threaten our unity in subtle but potent ways. Rather than reaching out to contribute to what God’s doing in other church groups, we would prefer to sit back and talk about how they are missing the point or going about it all wrong. The derogation is subtle, but it is still highly effective. It makes us feel better about ourselves. Unfortunately, it also widens the divide between followers of Christ. We do this because our allegiances are with our particular church group (and not with the larger body of Christ), and because we are using our group identity to maintain a positive sense of self. Research conducted by Fein and Spencer and others suggests that those who derogate other groups are doing so at least partly because their identity is threatened. According to this research, the very presence of divisions in the body of Christ indicates that too many of us possess identities that are primarily based on culture, ethnicity, and theology. Group memberships and identity based on these factors are not inherently bad. In fact, under certain circumstances they can be quite useful. The problem is that, if we place too much value in them, they can prevent us from finding our identity in grander, far more important groups. In this case, the grander, far more important group that often gets overlooked is the body of Christ. Here, the distinction between superordinate and subordinate identities is important. In our quests for identity, we seem to have drifted off course, gaining identity and esteem from membership in subordinate groups rather than membership in the superordinate group of the body of Christ. The Preeminence of Christ in Us Research on the cognitive and emotional antecedents to intergroup division suggests that the way that we categorize and form groups significantly affects 42