Implied/Institutional bias and the old boys network

One of the ongoing conversations on blogs and twitter is about Gospel engagement in urban working class communities.

Ian Williamson has identified two problems.

“One is lack of people willing to serve the W/C…. The other is excluding the W/C from ministry, mission and training which is what I was talking about. Both problems stem from having a majority culture make the rules”[1]

He gives the example that when strategic events are planned then if he gets an invite it’s not to the planning stages.

“….I am the only non university educated, indigenous, working class pastor in the North East (that I know of) and I’ve never been involved in any strategic planning for the area, why is that?” [2]

As a working class, non-graduate his experience is that he is excluded/ignored. Given that he is a frontline pioneer planting a church in one of the very areas we need to reach, then he’s surely the very sort of person we need to be listening to.

I wonder if this is an example of the implicit bias that Duncan Forbes has often talked about. Of course, we are not prejudiced against working class people are we? Nor do we really think that people without degrees are “uneducated.”

Yet, the system/institution (yes my non-conformist brothers, we are institutionalised) works to ensure that working class non graduates are not heard.

Why is that?  Well David Robertson and Stephen Kneale have touched on some of the reasons. Basically, Conservative Evangelicals went for a strategy of reaching the elite hoping this would trickle down. We have also retreated from the inner cities and estates so there hasn’t been a meaningful gospel witness. So, it’s harder to hear working class voices because they are massively under-represented already.

The other reason is this.

  1. The way we work culturally/institutionally depends on being known and/or being recommended by people who are known, recognised and respected.
  2. We adore size -so we associate respect with being involved in leading large churches. Most of those churches have a long historic reputation.

The result is a form of “old boy’s network” If for the wider culture, it was school ties and regiments, in the church it’s which camp you attended and which church or CU you were part of as a student.

This means that if you didn’t go to the camp or church where the right/respected people were involved, then you are unlikely to be known to the prominent leaders. You won’t have been introduced. So, when they are planning something, they are not going to instinctively think “Oh Bob would be a good person for this.”

Now, let’s add a layer onto that. Some of us did not go to the right camps or churches, so we weren’t known that way. However, we did make it to Theological College.  In that context at least, we got to meet and get to know other people and now we have the “right Bible College” to compensate for lack of previous school tie equivalents.

Do you see where I am coming to. The  Gospel minister who did not have the money, or who was already engaged in Gospel ministry and so didn’t have the time to head off to seminary or for various other reasons was excluded from that training is one step further removed.

Now, there is a way to get noticed and that’s to be the maverick who gets everyone’s attention. The result of this is that we have one or two high profile, big personalities and we think “job done” – the working class are represented.  That’s not in any way to knock those people who are naturally big personalities. It’s purely an observation on the risks of relying on a “who knows who” approach.

I’m not sure at this stage that I’ve got practical suggestions on the way forward except to encourage those in national church leadership contexts to be even more proactive in searching out different people to engage and involve.