discussion

An Education in Implicit Bias

2014 WAS NOTHING if not the year when implicit bias was exposed in law enforcement, the justice system, and media reporting. As the nation sorted out reporting on the police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., police treatment of protesters, and the accuracy of the reporting itself, the words “implicit bias” or “unconscious bias” jumped to the fore again and again.

According to the Kirwan Institute report “State of the Science: Implicit Bias Review 2014,” “Implicit bias refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner.”

My question is this: If 2014 opened the eyes of the general public to the presence of implicit biases embedded in our systems, could 2015 be the year when we begin to take a closer look at the impacts of implicit bias in our public systems and structures—and the way we talk about them?

For example, take this tit-for-tat about the education system: On Oct. 11, in his third column in a series called “When Whites Just Don’t Get It,” Nick Kristof wrote in The New York Times, “Too many whites unquestioningly accept a system that disproportionately punishes blacks and that gives public schools serving disadvantaged children many fewer resources than those serving affluent children. We are not racists, but we accept a system that acts in racist ways.”

On Oct. 23, Norman Leahy and Paul Goldman posted their own op-ed in The Washington Post titled, “When ‘whites’ don’t get it—a rebuttal.”

Their direct “rebuttal” didn’t address Kristof’s point at all. Instead, they expressed deep offense that Kristof would paint all whites with the same big brush; they then proceeded to highlight one case of corruption by black legislators in one Southern town. If that’s not painting with a big brush, then what is?

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Disputable Matters

EVANGELICAL CHRISTIANITY has changed significantly over the last 40 years on issues of gender, race, and nation. But until now it has not changed on homosexuality. Until the last five years, any self-identified evangelical Christian (in the United States, at least) suggesting that Christians might need to change some aspect of their teaching about same-sex-oriented people and their relationships has been (metaphorically, so far) banished by the evangelical community.

But that reality has begun to shift. Five books, all published in 2013-14, represent the newest wave of U.S. evangelical reflection on LGBT matters. Evangelical New Testament scholar James Brownson published Bible, Gender, Sexuality in February 2013. Vineyard pastor Ken Wilson unveiled A Letter to My Congregation in February 2014; Matthew Vines posted God and the Gay Christian last April; Wendy VanderWal-Gritter’s Generous Spaciousness came out in May; and evangelical Presbyterian Mark Achtemeier released The Bible’s Yes to Same-Sex Marriage in June. And my own Changing Our Mind came out in October.

Brownson’s work reveals that at least some of those who tackle questions about LGBT people and evangelical Christianity are scaling the great mountain of biblical scholarship and related literature on sexuality. In an early chapter he takes on in a broad way “traditionalist” Christian scholarship, notably in the work of Robert Gagnon, a mainline conservative at Pittsburgh Seminary. Gagnon’s primary claim is that the Bible’s consistent message about sex reveals a God-given design in creation (Genesis 1-2) involving physical/biological sexual complementarity between male and female. Gagnon argues that this creation theme underlies Paul’s condemnation in Romans 1:24-27 as well.

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All Politics (Should Be) Local

A local Parisian restaurant.

You can tell from its menu whether a restaurant expects to serve tourists, locals or regulars.

At a tourist-centered eatery like those near Times Square, the menu typically is huge: many pages, difficult to scan, sometimes difficult even to hold. There's something for everyone and it's designed to please customers who are strangers.

A restaurant catering to locals will have a much leaner menu, maybe just four or five items in each category. They will all be of a certain type—no words like "Asian fusion" to disguise lack of focus. If the joint is Korean, it will serve Korean. 

A third and much rarer type is the restaurant that offers just one multi-course meal each night. Regulars go expecting to be served the chef's whim of the day, not handed a long menu.

When customers are strangers, the owner must imagine what will please a patchwork of German tourists, Chinese tourists, families from Iowa, young techies on the prowl, and marketers in town for a convention.

The better an owner knows the customers, the more focused the menu can be. If not the actual customer, at least the type of person who will come in.

Voting isn't all that different. When politics is local, candidates tend to know their people or at least know their interests, worries and hopes. This is the level at which democracy tends to work best. Leaders know their people, people know their leaders, and known interests are at stake.

In Praise of Episcopalians

The most amazing thing happened this week.

Maybe you missed it.

The Episcopal Church held their General Convention in Indianapolis, Indiana. They gathered. They prayed. They sang. I'm told there were a few sermons, too! And you know they offered the Eucharist. They can't do anything without someone bringing bread, wine, and a blessing. God love 'em.

This week they voted, too. They held up in their bicameral way of doing things and worked out some key issues. Among the issues at hand were whether or not to sell their offices in New York City and to find ways of investing their income in the future of the denomination. They did both. If you followed them on Twitter (Many did. #GC77 trended right up there!), then you know that there was hope and joy in their rooms. This is not why they made the news, of course. They made the news when they voted to formally allow for same-sex blessings within their communion.

Jim Wallis and Richard Land: Join the Great Conversation

People of faith -- including evangelical Christians -- will be voting both ways in the upcoming election. It is simply not true that they will be voting only on one or two issues.

And, if evangelicals focus on many of the issues central to their faith, rather than becoming partisan cheerleaders, they might be able to raise some critical issues in this election and to hold both sides more accountable, even in a campaign that both Richard and I suspect will be one of the ugliest in U.S. history.

At the end of the evening, Amy remarked that if the upcoming election debates were as civil and substantive as this evening was, we would all be very grateful.

Jim Wallis and Richard Land Discuss Evangelicals and 2012 Elections

Tonight, Sojourners and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission are co-sponsoring an event to discuss religion and the 2012 elections. Rev. Wallis and Dr. Richard Land will delve into what they believe the religious issues will be and should be from now until election day.

The event is already turning some heads. A Washington Post article by Michelle Boorstein summed up the unique nature of the event in a headline, "Evangelical opposites to hold discussion on 2012 presidential race."

SOJOURNERS EXCLUSIVE: Salman Rushdie at #OccupyWallStreet

Sunday afternoon in Lower Manhattan, I ran into Salman Rushdie, who was walking nonchalantly through Zuccotti Park with his son. The renowned author's presence went largely unnoticed by the thousands of protesters, media and tourists crowding the park observing the Occupation demonstration.

On his way out of the park, Rushdie graciously took a few moments to talk with me about what he'd just witnessed. It was his first visit to the demonstrations and he was clearly moved by what he saw.

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