Addressing injustice wherever we encounter it
Introducing Just Aware, a training resource which helps churches and Associations open up new perspectives on justice issues. By Nike Adebajo
Followers of Jesus are called to be part of God’s answer in identifying, articulating and addressing injustice wherever we encounter it – in ourselves, our families and households, churches or society in general. Some of us might be battle weary having been at the forefront of fighting injustice for decades; others might have more recently been jolted by the murder of George Floyd and those of sisters Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman; yet others can feel overwhelmed by the task fearing there’s very little one can do. This is where Just Aware can help.
Just Aware is a justice training resource that helps churches, regional teams, trustees and groups consider how they open up new perspectives and begin conversations with self and with others on justice issues. The first steps in this engagement can sometimes feel a little uncertain or even scary for some, having maybe never truly confronted their own position before. It requires courage, though not nearly as much courage as those who wake up daily and have to live and suffer under the oppression of such injustice, from micro-aggressions to systemic injustice.
Engaging with Just Aware as a team can be helpful as you get to journey together, listening, actively listening to self and to the other’s stories, and ultimately learning from each other’s experience too. Listening, actively listening to the other, is a very important part of awareness raising; listening to that person who is different to us, doesn’t look like us or talk like us or live like us. And stories are powerful! Several regional teams and churches have begun that process through engaging with Just Aware.
Just Aware is a training session with a difference. It is not a place where you go to be spoon fed answers to racial, gender or disability justice issues, although you might come away with some. Just Aware sessions create a safe space to explore your own unconscious bias at the least (and we all have them in different forms). For some participants, it would be the first time they are able to be vulnerable with themselves and, with the tools provided, to introspect and consider where they stand on specific justice issues. The sessions are bounded in prayer, as we realise our need for the Spirit’s help to search us and to enable us to live the life He has called us to (Psalm 139:23-24). Every session includes an exploration of the theology of the justice area appropriate to the set objectives.
Just Aware does not stop there. Participants are encouraged to examine how all this might impact them and affect the way they do things as the called-out people of God. The facilitators aim to hold the tension between invitation and challenge appropriately. No one should leave the same as they came.
Each regional team/church/trustee group approaching the Just Aware team is in a different context with different needs and aspirations of what they would like to gain from the session. The initial conversation is with the Justice Enabler as together, they begin to frame what might be helpful for them and shape the proposed session. No two Just Aware sessions are the same. Each is bespoke with clear, agreed objectives.
These have included:
Equipping a regional team to resource their Baptist ministers to develop inclusive churches.
Inspiring trustees to commit themselves to being racial justice champions and advocates on behalf of Black and Brown Baptists.
Providing trustees with the practical and theological justice resources to serve the groups they facilitate. Though it’s been challenging, as it’s a lot harder to connect, the facilitators continued to deliver Just Aware during lockdown, with a move to online delivery. It has however meant teams have had opportunities to continue to access Just Aware that they would otherwise not have had.
Just Aware is delivered by a team of facilitators with varied interest areas and training styles, drawn from across the Baptist family. It has been a privilege working with these talented, inspiring, committed and passionate ministers. I’ve learnt much from them. They have a heart to equip God’s people to live out Micah 6:8:
“And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justly,
To love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God?”
Each facilitator’s life and lived experiences alongside their knowledge, skills and expertise, help to shape what we offer to those wishing to engage with Just Aware. This diversity also enables the team to effectively examine areas of intersectionality – the crossover between say gender and race, or how gender inequality can be further exacerbated by racial inequality.
The sessions are delivered using a variety of learning methods including: group work, individual reflection, video clips, stories, fact sheets, scenarios, music, etc. The group size is small enough that no one gets lost. No one is pressurised to share, with the small participant size contributing to the safe environment the facilitators seek to create. Learning together provides a strength through getting to hear other people’s views and input. It’s a conversation and it starts with conversation. This also encourages accountability, The relative proximity of the group of people with whom you experience Just Aware is an ongoing strength.
Just Aware aims to do just what it says on the tin: help participants develop an awareness on a range of inclusion issues and equip them to be able to take action congruent with the objectives agreed with the regional team/trustees/church. It provides an opportunity for conversations around a range of justice issues to encourage personal growth and ultimately, the growth of local church communities. Feedback from a participant at one of the sessions attests to this: “I am much more aware of unconscious bias and ways in which I can begin to combat it.”
However, our Baptist family is clear that awareness raising is not enough to see the sea change required in the war against injustice. In response to the request by Baptist ministers for compulsory equality, diversity and unconscious bias training in racial justice in particular, a filmed resource, Visions of Colour, has been developed and will be ready to roll out later in 2022. Course developers explain that Visions of Colour "seeks to challenge racist attitudes, perspectives, and infrastructures still at play regarding our approaches to mission, the local community, teaching and preaching, the way our church looks, and our responses to social justice issues.”
It will ultimately become part of ministers’ formation training and Continuing Ministerial Development (CMD) helping them to develop plans suited to their own context – their local church and community. They will move from not just wishing for change, but to seeing that change is possible, and to determining the steps to make that change happen.
It is always heartwarming to hear of the impact of Just Aware within teams that have engaged with the training. The Eastern Baptist Association is one. Its Team Leader, the Revd Beth Powney, said: "As a Trustee body the EBA took part in Just Aware which we found to be a useful starting platform from which we can grow our discussions around matters of racial prejudice in ourselves and our churches.
"It doesn’t provide all the answers, and never could, but it provokes good questions and challenges ingrained thought patterns."
If your church, regional team or trustees would like to explore Just Aware, do please contact Wale Hudson-Roberts in the first instance for an exploratory conversation.
The Revd Dr Nike Adebajo is Associate Minister at King’s Centre in Sheffield. She is also a Trustee of the YBA and joined the Just Aware team in January 2021.
The Revd Wale Hudson-Roberts is the Justice Enabler of the Baptist Union of Great Britain
Click here for more information on Visions of Colour