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Vision and Values: Unconscious Bias Initiative

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We are all one in Christ Jesus

In Paul’s letter to the Galatians (Gala­tians 3:28), we see one of his clearest statements that the distinctions and divisions that the world creates, and that dominate the prevailing culture, should not be found in the commu­nity of believers. Paul calls the people of God to embrace unity in Christ no matter what their earthly distinctions.

We serve a diverse city, and the Diocese of London has long valued, and worked hard to develop, communities where every member of Christ’s body takes their equal place. Yet we know that leadership through­out the Diocese is not representative of the people we serve. We are far from perfect, but we try to be self-critical and to encourage ongoing learning.

We welcome the reflections from the Church of England and its appoint­ment of a (part-time) national disability advisor, the shared conversations on human sexuality, and its recommen­dation of unconscious bias training (UBT) from both the Transformations Group (looking at gender issues) and Turning Up The Volume (looking at ethnicity). There is much to do.

What is Unconscious Bias?

As human beings, we can’t avoid making earthly distinctions. Scientific research in neuroscience, cognitive psychology and social psychology shows that our unconscious preferences play a primary part in how we engage with people and the decisions we make about them.

Our brains are quick to categorise people, and we use the most obvious and visible indicators to do this: age, body weight, physical attractiveness, skin colour, gender and disability. We also use other less visible dimensions such as accent, social background, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, education, and even job title.

With these categories, we automatically assign a whole set of unconscious characteristics – good and bad. Categorisation is automatic, happens unconsciously, and influences everyone, no matter how unbiased we think we may be. This is true for us as Christians as well, whatever our church tradition. Like most other responsible institutions, we are now addressing this issue. We believe that unconscious bias is affecting the church’s ability to honestly and openly use the gifts of all God’s creation for the purpose of the Kingdom.

  • Despite London’s rich ethnic diversity, among our 600 parish clergy1, only 5% are from a Black or Minority Ethnic background. For licensed lay ministers, it’s 20%.
  • Research2 from Scope shows that 67% of people worry about even talking to disabled people.

Moving forward

A small working group is coordinating plans, and we are partnering with the respected and experienced organisation Employers Network for Equality and Inclusion (ENEI) to deliver training, alongside trainers who are already part of our Diocese. The Bishop of London’s Senior Staff, Area Staff teams and the Vacancy in See committee have already engaged with the training, and will now deliver it as widely as possible in the Diocese to parishes, clergy and lay leaders.

The training is both theologically and practically based. One priority will be in recruitment, especially for parishes in vacancy, and we are making sure that unconscious bias training (UBT) is widely available in each Area’s training, support and development agenda.

We want the Diocese of London to be a place where all are appreciated and valued, and where individual people can utilise their unique strengths. Using the tools of UBT can help us in our mission to create communities where the human spirit can flourish.

“Doing UB training was an eye-opener for me – not only as to ways in which our structures and ways of doing things can discriminate, but also how individually and together we can challenge ourselves and change to become more like Christ. Don’t miss the opportunity!”

The Very Revd Dr David Ison, Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral

 

“It is wonderful that God created each one of us so gloriously different, but that can sometimes be challenging. I would commend this training to parishes to enable them, both individually and corporately, to engage with their unconscious biases and be open to the unknown possible – which can be so exciting.”

The Revd Jane Manley, Willesden Dean of Women’s Ministry

 

“I’m excited to see the part UB training will play in the transformation of our people and our churches. The programme is a first step in exploring what diversity has to offer, helping us challenge injustices and make steps toward a better Church.”

The Revd Richard Springer, Stepney Dean of Black and Minority Ethnic Ministry

 

“Buildings aren’t the only disabling barriers – access is about both getting in and joining in. UB training is a great tool to inform our understand­ing, encourage our awareness and enable us to do inclusion better.”

Fiona MacMillan, Chair of St Martin-in-the-Fields Disability Advisory Group

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