What is Woke? image

What is Woke?

Those of us who write on Think are alert to the culture wars that have raged in recent years and often post on issues such as race and sexuality. We have concerns about the direction of travel in these areas and I assume that most readers of Think share these concerns – or if not, at least share an understanding of the issues and terminology. But what about the majority of people in our churches? I recently heard another pastor say that he didn’t have a clue what ‘intersectionality’ meant; my hunch is that a typical member of my church or yours is similarly un-clued.

A fascinating study from King’s College London (full results here, helpful summary here) reveals that around half the population don’t know what ‘woke’ means.

If you were called “woke”, would you take it as a compliment or an insult?
This simple question sums up a lot about the “culture wars” that have become such a focus in the UK in the last couple of years. Only relatively small proportions of the public have engaged in the debate, but those that have often have utterly different perspectives.
Our major new study suggests the public is completely split on the matter, with a quarter saying it’s a compliment, a quarter that it’s an insult – and the rest having little clue what the term even means.

When asked what the phrase ‘culture wars’ brings to mind 43 percent of people are unable to offer any suggestions while only 1.1 percent raise trans/gender identity as an issue and a vanishingly small 0.2 percent suggest the Covid-19 related issues of facemasks, vaccinations, etc. Race was the most frequently cited example of a culture wars issue, but even that was only among 14 per cent of those surveyed.

This seems remarkable given the media coverage of these issues and perhaps unbelievable to those of us for whom thinking and engaging with these things takes up so much time and energy. But it could offer a useful corrective to Think readers (and writers!) who are pastors – that engaging with these issues from the pulpit and other church settings might not be so important as we imagine. While my personal perspective is that anyone ministering in contemporary culture should have a working understanding of what intersectionality is, it might not be that much of a problem if they don’t. Most people are not woke: they don’t even know what it means.


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