Church of England

The Church of England’s obsession with diversity is damaging its orthodoxy

“Your Grace, do you by chance know what ‘Sexuality, composition of themed groups’ is? Or what it has to do with the price of fish?” tweeted George Trefgarne in response to the observation that out of 85 General Synod questions, not one was concerned with the plight of the world’s persecuted Christians. He was referring to Synod question No.9:

The Revd Canon Dr Judith Maltby (Universities & TEIs) to ask the Chair of the House of Bishops:
Q9 What steps are being taken to ensure that the themed groups as outlined in GS Misc 1158 which will contribute to a Teaching Document on ‘human’ sexuality are at least somewhat balanced in terms of gender?

This has nothing at all to do with the price of fish (or eggs, or the tea in China), but concerns the statement issued by the Archbishop of Canterbury for “a radical new inclusion” following the General Synod’s vote “not to take note” of a report by the House of Bishops on Marriage and Same-Sex Relationships. GS Misc 1158 is an attempt to put some radically inclusive flesh on the wordy bones: a co-ordinating group of bishops will oversee “thematic working groups” comprised of diverse clergy and laity aided by consultants from such disciplines as theology, biblical ethics, church history, sociology, anthropology, and genetics. Judith Maltby’s concern appears to focus on the gender (ie sex) balance of these groups. Her question received the following response from the Archbishop of Canterbury:

In putting all these groups together, we are seeking to ensure that a very wide range of differing experiences, views, perspectives and areas of expertise are included. GS Misc 1158 makes it clear that many places on the groups remain to be filled and it is premature to comment on the balances within the overall membership as we haven’t got there yet.

Gender (ie sex) balance (ie equality) is a curious fixation in this context. Why not racial balance, since different cultures derive different ethical understandings of human sexuality? Why not sexuality balance, since the human-human-divine relationship is manifestly differently apprehended? Why not diversity of sexuality balance, observing that not all LGBT Christians believe that same-sex marriage is even a thing? Why not conservative-liberal balance, since there is evidently a spectrum of theological understanding relating to these complex matters? Indeed, isn’t the traditionalist-progressive composition of these themed groups rather more significant than the balance of sexes? Isn’t that truly where proponents of revisionist heterodoxy will encounter the doctrine of the Christian faith as the Church of England has received it?

What about the equality of those who uphold biblical truth? What about the equality of those expound doctrinal error? There is no logical end to ensuring that Church of England working groups are balanced in terms of diversity.

A few other Synod questions relate to the diversity obsession:

Miss Prudence Dailey (Oxford) to ask the Chair of the House of Bishops:
Q21 Is the House of Bishops aware of evidence that unconscious bias training is ineffective in increasing the representation or advancement of minority groups within organisations, and may even be counterproductive in that regard?

To which the Bishop of Chelmsford replied:

The question unfortunately misunderstands the nature and purpose of Unconscious Bias training. There has never been any suggestion that this work is designed to increase representation of minority groups. The training addresses the fact that everyone, from whatever social group, is affected in their judgements about others by unconscious factors which can lead to bias. The objective is better and more conscious awareness of one’s self, and better and more conscious decision making which will benefit the Church, as it has demonstrably benefitted many other organisations.

And then this:

The Revd Andrew Foreshew-Cain (London) to ask the Chair of the House of Bishops:
Q22 Unconscious bias training is being offered in many dioceses at present to help address the possibility of unrecognised bias in appointment procedures, most commonly around gender and race. Are there any plans for the House of Bishops to recommend similar training around sexuality in the selection and appointment of LGBTQIA clergy and lay members to Church appointments and in unconscious attitudes towards the LGBTQIA communities in wider society?

To which the Bishop of Newcastle replied:

The training referred to is about uncovering and addressing Unconscious Bias in relation to all aspects of being human. It is not tailored exclusively to gender and/or race, and someone who has fully engaged with Unconscious Bias training will be sensitised to the potential for such bias in many settings and, if they have learned well, will understand how to recognise and resist unconscious bias in their own thinking and in processes in which they take part.

Unconscious Bias training is being offered in at least six dioceses to date and has been undertaken by the CNC, the Joint Employment and Common Services Board, the Appointments Committee and the Church House HR team among other bodies. We will continue to offer this training as widely as possible because we believe it is an essential part of growing closer to the mind of Christ in all our dealings with our own members and others.

Unconscious Bias training is designed to make leaders of organisations and employers (in particular) sensitive to the decisions they make every day on an unconscious basis, since what we think (especially unconsciously) about people determines how we behave towards them. To be human is to hold a natural set of neurological/psychological/social-affinity biases, but in the workplace (and so in the Church), this means that some groups may be favoured over others for quite irrational reasons, such as the belief that tall men make good CEOs (/bishops); Spaniards are lazy; disabled people are unreliable; Gay people make bad youth-workers; Asians make good doctors, etc., etc. You may be wholly persuaded of the fairness of your unconcealed perceptions and biases when confronted by them, but stereotypical discrimination can never be just.

But there is a revealing disparity between the responses of the two bishops to this theory. For the Bishop of Chelmsford (male), Unconscious Bias training is not designed to increase representation of minority groups. For the Bishop of Newcastle (female), Unconscious Bias training has been undertaken by the Crown Nominations Commission, the Joint Employment and Common Services Board, the Appointments Committee and the Church House HR team – ie, all those church bodies concerned with employment and appointment, the objective of which must logically be to increase diversity to ensure greater equality or ‘balance’, for “we believe it is an essential part of growing closer to the mind of Christ”.

The Rev’d Andrew Foreshew-Cain’s priority is to ensure LGBT balance (or at least ‘fair representation’) at all levels of the church: Diversity & Equality training is a mechanism for achieving this.

Or is it?

Toby Young writes in the Spectator that it’s “complete hokum“:

…employees were asked to shortlist candidates for a managerial position, with half of them being given their names and other identity markers and the other half not. If these public servants were suffering from unconscious bias, you would expect the ‘blindfolded’ group to be more likely to shortlist female and minority candidates and less likely to shortlist white men. In fact, the reverse happened.

The participants in the study were 2.9 per cent more likely to shortlist female applicants and 3.2 per cent less likely to shortlist male applicants when their identities were made clear. Minority males were 5.8 per cent more likely to be shortlisted and minority females 8.6 per cent more likely when their identities were known, and candidates who were lucky enough to be both female and from a minority background were virtually guaranteed a job.

The APS employees were suffering from bias all right, but it was bias in the other direction. It was only when the participants were forced to judge the job applicants on their merits, rather than gender or skin colour, that the white males got a fair shout.

You have to wonder if the Church of England’s (expensive) obsession with diversity, equality and working-group ‘balance’ to ensure ‘radical inclusion’ does anything at all for corporate holiness of the church, or for personal discipleship or “growing closer to the mind of Christ”. If, as Toby Young avers, it all amounts to little more than snake-oil, would it not be preferable simply to appoint the best people to the appropriate jobs; to let eyes be eyes, hands hands, and big toes big toes; to let humble hearts and the most intelligent, penetrating and astute minds apply themselves to the complex theological matters at hand, and to do so on the basis of God-given merit rather than on the crass consideration of genitalia and what people do with them?