Monday, September 11, 2017

Simon Smallwood has joined the 'Reaching the Unreached' leadership

We're very glad to announce that Simon Smallwood recently jointed the leadership team of RTU. He brings a wealth of experience, humility, and encouragement to us (Me, Efrem & Julian). Simon is a pastor in Dagenham, and has been a real Barnabus figure to many working class pastors like myself. As a cross-cultural missionary, Simon has also done a great job of equipping indigenous believers to do ministry on their estate. We are pleased to see how God has been cultivating an ever increasingly diverse leadership team at RTU.

Don't forget the next RTU conference is Saturday 4th November 2017 at London City Mission headquarters.

More info to follow.

Please check my website for more info on Reaching the Unreached.

RTU's vision is to see 
‘a movement of Christ centered churches reaching the social deprived in a grass roots way.’

Our mission (how we do this) is through, 
‘Linking and Training.’

Monday, September 04, 2017

How do I deal with my own bias?

I have implicit bias. Inside my heart there are biases in many forms. I believe my heart is infected with sin (Jer 17:9), so I believe that it contains racist and classist ideas. So how do I deal with this?

1. Being honest that I'm prejudice.
The Bible says that if I say I'm without sin I'm a liar (1 John 1:10). Psychologists say we all have implicit bias. So I openly say, 'I'm a recovering racist, a recovering snob, and a recovering pharisee!'

2. Enjoying Christ's righteousness.
The more I focus on how much I'm accepted by God the Father BECAUSE OF Christ's righteousness, the more happy I am, and the more I can be honest about my sin.

3. Soul Searching before meeting with people.
The Bible tells me to ask God to search my heart and let me know if there's any offensive way in me (Ps 139:23-24). Therefore, before I meet with people, I try to spend time reflecting and praying about what ways I might be biased with this person. Then I repent, and ask God for the grace to treat this person as a fellow image bearer, and a fellow heir of salvation (if they're a believer).

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Isn't classism just as much a lower class problem?

Yes and No! Whenever I talk about prejudice, I hear people say, 'But its also a problem for the lower classes.' This is true, but also misleading.

One the one hand, all unloving attitudes are wrong, and all untruths are wrong.
But on the other hand, the level of power you wield with those attitudes is very significant.
This is why some people define power as a necessary component for true racism (my view is a bit different but that's a whole other convo!).

Notice how the Bible is full of condemnation about those with power being unfair to those without power. This topic is missed out a lot in British preaching, but its all over the Bible. However, the Bible doesn't say much about so called inverted classism. Class prejudice is not a symmetrical sin amongst the classes.

What does this mean for us in the UK? I think it means we need to consider how much power we have. And the more power we have, the more aware we need to be of implicit and explicit bias. Because the leader of church group that has lots of sway and resources is not the same as the homeless bloke in a small church. Both people will have implicit bias, but one will have much more serious consequences than the other. We want both people to have a humble other person centred attitude, but we recognise the church leader could be causing much more harm.

A little note on Centering:
Its interesting when you read American literature on racism to see how white people often center the conversation around themselves. Similarly, in the UK, its common to see those with more power centre class conversations around themselves. This centering tends to either be, 'Well I'm offended by you talking about this,' or 'well I'm actually really down with the culture, I've got black friends!' If we look at the Bible though, correct 'centering' on those with more power tends to be more along the lines of 'you need to repent of how you don't really care about those poorer than you.'

Next time, I'll write about how I try to deal with my own bias.....

Monday, August 21, 2017

Implications for church planting and implicit bias

Many companies now are recognising we all have unconscious bias when we hire people. Even journalists are recognising they cannot write anything without bias (check out what they teach at Stanford about bias). It seems its time for church groups to start looking at how implicit bias might be impacting our ministries.

1) Your bias might effect where you choose to plant.
Even though you might think you're objectively being strategic, or even lead by God,  subconsincously bias will be kicking in. So, think about how bias plays a part. Ask people from other cultures to weigh in on your decision.

2) Your bias could give your group a majority culture, which leads to:
a) subconsciously hiring people who are like you.
b) having micro-behaviours that are hindering diversity and love.
c) having a slight aversion to people from other cultures, but not even aware of this.
d) disempowering people different to you. e.g. If you want to plant in a working class area, but have a large middle class team, chances are that working class people will think, 'These middle class people know what they're doing, they can do a better job than me, I'll sit back and let them do their thing.' In this case bias leads to a monocultural team as well as the other culture's response to that team.

3) Your bias could affect your preaching:
If you want to preach to working class people, bear in mind they may well have unconscious bias towards middle class preaching. You have to work hard to counter that. This work may involve improving your preaching, but also getting a more diverse group of preachers. In all the consultancy work I've done, this has been the most resistant thing to change. Many preachers sadly don't want to change their preaching style to appeal to the lower classes.

4) Your bias could hinder you understanding God's word.
If you want to avoid a myopic white middle class theology, you need different types of people involved in theologising. This is one of the reasons why I developed the Urban Ministry Program, rather than encouraging people to do an already established white middle class theology program. Its the only course I know of that teaches how to get different cultures theologising together.

5) Your bias could be hurting people you work with.
Implicit bias leads to micro behaviours and aggressions. Good counsellors, knowing that certain types of people rub them wrong way, try to prepare their hearts before meeting.  Let's follow their example.

6) Your sympathy to the lower classes doesn't exclude you from bias. 
Sometimes its harder to persuade cross cultural missionaries of their biases. They can wrongly assume their limited experience of your culture means they don't have bias. 

7) Your education can make you more biased than the uneducated.
I recently read a snippet from Mark Maynell's Wilderness of Mirrors where he writes that the educated are more susceptible to propaganda whilst thinking they are immune.

What's the solution?
We need a deeper understanding of justification by faith. This is necessary, so that we can be honest with ourselves, and admit bias. We need in our teams to be able to admit to bias. Then, from that position, we can start to check our biases, to see how they are playing out. Then, with a secure identity in who we are in Christ, we can ask brothers from other cultures, 'What micro behaviours do you think I'm giving off?'
From this position, we can then work in more diverse groups, and allow our brothers and sisters from different social groups to have an equal seat at the table where we can theologise together, and love one another better

Monday, August 14, 2017

My experience of implicit bias

Those of us from minority cultures have often experienced implicit bias from others, yet also had the question, 'Was this bias, or something else? Maybe I was the problem?' We never know for sure, and we question ourselves a lot, and get fatigued by the perceived bias.

It has therefore been very freeing to discover psychologists explaining that implicit bias really is a thing. Its can also be helpful to hear other people's stories of bias, and discovering that you're not the only one experiencing it. 

For me, from a young age I experienced teachers demeaning me (the only estate kids in the class). Consequently, I believed that I was stupid. When we were taught long multiplication, I could do it in my head without any working, but when I did this in a test, I was told off for cheating. The teacher said, 'You've got all the answers right, but you don't have any working, so you must have cheated.' I couldn't tell if that was bias or not, but it felt unfair. Years later, when I did well in the 11+ exam, beating the rest of my class, I was offered a scholarship at a prestigious London school. When I told my teacher this, I was shouted at, told I was lying, and sent to the headmistress for punishment. I had many more similar experiences with teachers that I will not bore you with.

My middle class friends growing up also showed me bias. I remember one friend being stunned when I understood one his cultural references to 'The Importance of being Ernest'. Funny thing was he actually said to me, 'Of course you know what this means don't you?' and when I answered correctly. he said, 'Oh!' and looked very surprised and hurt.

In careers advice I also experienced bias. Firstly, I gave up my dream to be a barrister because I was told they would not let my sort pass the bar. When I turned to the Army, I was told I must drop my working class accent in order to become an Officer. However this was not implicit bias, this was conscious bias.

When I went onto various Universities, I regularly experienced bias. None of it was meant maliciously, but it did communicate how I didn't fully fit in. During one lecture, a professor said in front of over 100 people, 'Duncan, you really are an example of urban youth!' which was met with a roar of laughter from everyone. Even in seminary, years later, I would hear comments like, 'So how do your people sit through sermons? What do you teach them? How come you know so much?' One good brother told me how his school told his class they were in the top 1% of the country, better than people like me, and now meeting me challenged his whole paradigm. Another dear brother came to me years later, confessing that he'd had an attitude towards council estate people, but by God's grace, that changed from sitting in lectures with me. Praise God for humble brothers who admit bias.

As a disabled man, I've had a lot of dealings with medical professionals. In general, I feel like I've been talked down to, and treated as if I don't know what I'm talking about. It's hard to not think this is because they see me with my tracksuit, silver chain, tattoo, and make assumptions about my lack of scientific knowledge (prob not aware I have a BSc and have read the seminal text books on my condition).

The church scene isn't a whole lot different: When I arrived at a church as a visiting speaker, a couple of people went to complain to the pastor as I clearly wasn't the right sort. After the sermon, they came up to me, and confessed that they'd had wrong thoughts about me, and been convicted through my preaching. I have multiple similar examples I won't bore you with.

Even when dealing with Church leaders there's still bias. Again, its not malicious, sometimes its throw away comments that reveal people don't think about your culture the same way as you do. For example, 
'You shouldn't be doing a doctorate, you're one of those guys who should be out on the street doing evangelism,'
'I suppose most of your congregation are drunk a lot',
'you must homeschool because your schools are no good', 
'you've got a high chance of one of your children becoming a teenage mum',  
'you say we need more diverse leadership, but we don't want tokenism brother'
'this estate has the worst stats for ....'
These statements, said mostly by good brothers who I respect, don't massively offend me, but they do indicate their perception of my culture is different to mine. Other times, its not what's said, but the patronising way its said. I'm guessing these brothers don't recognise that they sometimes switch into a patronising mode when they talk to people in a lower class.

Now there's also been situations where I don't know for sure if there was unconscious bias at play. Once I got turned down for funding because 'the paperwork wasn't in order' (even though I followed their guidelines), once I corrected this, I got told, 'the application isn't very strong.' Which is it? Could be both? Could be bias? There's so many situations where you wonder, 'Did I get passed over for that job because of bias, or because I'm not right for the job? Did I get passed over for that opportunity because of bias, or because I'm not suitable. Does that person not like me because of bias, or because I'm a muppet? And that's the problem with bias, neither me nor you know about it, because even when it is bias, its often subconscious.

Here's a video of someone elses' interesting story about implicit bias that at places echoes my own:

Monday, August 07, 2017

Are Medical professionals objective about disabilities

One of the things the recent Charlie Gard case brought out was the widespread belief that medical professionals are objective about disabilities.
As a presuppositionalist, I don't believe that any of us make judgments in a vacuum, we all have deep seated beliefs driving us. I believe over the years, our society (including the Government and medical profession) have demonstrated a bias against disabled people.
Two examples of this can be found in the following article.

Firstly, notice how the disabled Lord Skinkwin was effectively sacked from his role as Disability Commissioner to the EHRC within days of being appointed.

Secondly, notice how he claims that the assessment for whether a foetus's disability has enough severity and risk to be aborted (at any time up till birth) is 'subjective, which he says “is borne out by the abortion of 11 babies in 2015 for surgically rectifiable conditions such as cleft palate and hair lip”.
Lord Skinkwin warns us that we are heading in the direction of wiping out disabled people before they can be born.

In the Charlie Gard case, I so often heard people saying, 'But he's in pain, he should be put out of his misery as quickly as possible'. But in response I say, 'The parents say they didn't think he was in pain', and further more, 'I am in constant pain with my disability, should you put me out of my misery?' I'm not saying there's not a time and place for turning off life support, I'm merely challenging how quickly our society assumes its time to kill because of disability.