I drove through town on the way to, I forget where, when I observed scores of places of worship of varying sizes – megacomplexes to storefronts – doting the landscape. Along the way, I wondered what it was like inside each of the ones I never sat foot in; how their services are conducted, and would I be welcomed in them.
Now when I reached my destination – ah, now I remember, a newly-opened bookstore – and browsed the shelves, I came across an eye-catching book, “How to Become a Perfect Stranger- The Essential Religious Etiquette Handbook.” So, just like that my “prayers” were answered.
When the Jewish New Year arrived, I got many questions about faith and calendars from Human Resource departments. They wanted to know why the holiday occurs on a different day each year according to our secular calendar. And they asked about food associated with the holiday. Offering the traditional apples and honey for a sweet New Year was the easy part. Explaining the timing was the real challenge.
What should I write about religion and religious calendars in these contentious times? I know that many organizations and companies would prefer that the issue of religious diversity would disappear. But every year, thousands of religion-based lawsuits claiming a “hostile or offensive work environment” are registered with the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission).
Why does Diversity & Inclusion include so little religious diversity training? The cultural awareness and cultural competence inherent in D&I are increasingly embraced as the major tools of the global market place of the future. Yet, there is a black hole of information on diverse religions. The silence is surely not due to a lack of interest or visibility. Turn on the TV, open a newspaper, or check the internet and religion pops out as a major issue across the planet. Look at the growing number of EEOC complaints based on religious expression. Yet, the vacuum of expertise in religious diversity exists in most relationship-oriented sectors of our society: business, education, government, and human services. As a result, too few professionals understand how to avoid clashes involving belief systems. How can their paralyzing sense of being overwhelmed and under-prepared be managed?
Our faith and humanity requires renewal given the divisiveness of our culture, boosted by the anonymity of online social networks. Powerful inspiration for reminding us of our spiritual mission towards our fellow human beings, and our inner strength to commit to that mission, come from our religious leaders and traditions.
“As we welcome a New Year many people follow the tradition of New Year’s Resolutions. Others ponder what they would like to see happen to make the world a better place. In the movie ‘Miss Congeniality’ each contestant in the beauty pageant (or scholarship program) when asked what they want, all answer ‘World Peace’. I would agree with them, but how to go about it?
All major religions have the injunction, expressed in one way or another, to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This sentiment can be agreed upon by all people of goodwill. I pray that as more people take seriously in their daily lives this simple injunction, we will begin to experience a more peaceful and sane world.” ~ Monsignor Al Humbrecht, Knoxville TN Catholic Diocese, Soddy Daisy Holy Spirit Catholic Church
I was excited to return to Cincinnati to speak on Religious Diversity in our Schools and at Work at the invitation of a Women of Faith event sponsored by American Jewish Committee, Xavier University & the Brueggeman Center for Dialogue, Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati, and the Jewish Community Relations Council. Always a dynamic city, Cincinnati has become an innovative powerhouse. It was an honor to share the lessons, analysis, and strategies gained during my three decades and two books devoted to the topic of religious diversity.
‘Terry, I’m (gasp) an atheist!’ There was not a hint of anger in her during the entire time “Mary” and I talked that afternoon in the crowded sandwich shop. In fact, it was just the opposite. “Mary” laughed, we laughed, so hard and so much that out of the corner of my eye I could see icy stares from booths nearby “telling us” to pipe down so that they could get back to their business dealings, grandkiddos, tuna sandwiches, chips and lattes. Here’s the email “Mary” sent me the Friday before that prompted that late Monday meeting:
While leadership training will often include issues related to Diversity & Inclusion, few programs include instruction in religious diversity. Yet, cultural awareness, cultural competence, global leadership, and cross-cultural communication are embraced as the tools of the market place of the future. What accounts for this black hole of information on diverse religions? One has only to turn on the TV, open a newspaper, or check the internet headlines to see that religion is a major factor in interactions across the planet. It is both puzzling and disturbing that a virtual vacuum of expertise exists in the relationship-oriented sectors of our society: business, education, government, and human services. Trying to avoid culture clash of belief systems can result in a paralyzing sense of being overwhelmed and under-prepared. Too many leaders are left scrambling for strategies and resources designed to turn the religious diversity novice into an expert.
John T. Pawlikowski, a priest of the Servite Order, is Professor of Social Ethics and Director of the Catholic-Jewish Studies Program at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. He served for six years as President of the International Council of Christians & Jews and its Abrahamic Forum and currently holds the title of Honorary Life President. He has authored/edited some fifteen books on Christian-Jewish Relations as well as on social issues such as economic justice, war and peace, and ecological sustainability. He is the former editor of New Theology Review and a member of the editorial board of the Journal for Ecumenical Studies. He is also a founding member of the US Holocaust Memorial Council.
Anyone listening can hear the loud, raucous controversies surrounding religion and our religious differences. The conversation is rife with words such as terrorism, hate, threatening, ungodly, illegal, and inhumane. The effect of this volcanic environment is to make our adrenalin run so high and long that we are virtually unable to hear the human beings involved. As hyperbole and exaggeration are added, we are witnessing a vicious cycle of protests and counter-protests, threats and counter-threats. Can this cycle be broken, or at least interrupted long enough for us to stop yelling, listen effectively, and initiate some major problem solving?
In a time when racial, political, economic and religious divisions in the United States are increasingly obvious, the people of one southern city, Chattanooga, Tennessee, are attempting, through dialogue, to understand the religious beliefs of one another. On a chilly November Monday evening a group of over fifty people gathered at a Hindu temple for the Sixth Interfaith Panel Discussion. The attendees and panelists were ordinary people, with extra-ordinary beliefs concerning the value of gaining knowledge and understanding of the faith traditions of one another.