Behavior vs. Belief: A Heated Debate

Bernie Sanders | Credit Win McNamee/Getty

Senator Bernie Sanders recently faced criticism for his questioning of Russell Vought during Vought’s confirmation hearing for Deputy Director for the Office of Budget Management. Sanders brought up a blog post in which Vought wrote that Muslims who “have rejected Jesus Christ” stand “condemned”. Sanders called this language “hateful” and said he would vote against Vought’s confirmation. Many leaders from a variety of Christian denominations have responded that Vought’s belief is a core tenant of Christianity, and one shared by many Americans.

Those who thought Sanders’ comments toward Vought were inappropriate, or even unconstitutional, argue that he was imposing a religious test on Vought. Some Muslim advocates have defended Sanders, saying that in the current political climate it’s important to ensure that nominees will treat all Americans fairly. This difference of opinion perhaps stems, not only from the different political or religious ideologies of those who are responding to the encounter, but also in whether they viewed Vought’s beliefs or his behavior as under attack.

One of Tanenbaum’s core principles is that when religious issues emerge in the workplace, employers should  focus on behavior and not belief. Employees are free to believe what they want to believe, and it is not appropriate (or, in many cases, legal) to argue with someone about their deeply held convictions. That said, it is appropriate to have standards for behavior in the workplace, and to require employees to meet those standards. For example, an employee may believe that homosexuality is an abomination, and is entitled to that belief. If, however, the employee starts harassing LGBT colleagues or posting defamatory statements on the company’s intranet page, such behavior would threaten to create a hostile work environment and the company would then be within its rights to discipline that employee.

Similarly, Vought has both a moral and constitutional right to his religious beliefs, including his belief that non-Christians will go to hell. If Sanders was criticizing Vought simply for holding that or any other religious belief, it would be inappropriate. However, Sanders’ office has since stated that he was concerned, not with Vought’s beliefs themselves, but whether the expression of those beliefs would prevent Vought from “carry[ing] out the duties of his office in a way that treats all Americans equally.” That criticism is far more valid because it focuses on what Vought’s behavior would be like if confirmed.

In the future, politicians who are concerned about nominees’ statements on religion should be careful to frame their concerns around the nominee’s behavior, not their beliefs.

By: Eliza Blanchard
Assistant Director, Workplace & Health Care Programs

From Competence to Confidence: Tanenbaum’s 2017 Religious Diversity Leadership Summit

Tanenbaum’s second Religious Diversity Leadership Summit took place on May 23rd at Bloomberg, LP. Over 100 people from more than 35 companies attended the event. In its second year, this event grew 65% in attendance and was twice as long. The Summit was made possible by our generous sponsors: Bloomberg, DTCC, and the Walt Disney Company.

According to our post-event survey, some of the most important takeaways from the event included:

  • “…this summit helped me uncover the fact that religion is often neglected and never discussed yet it’s KEY in bringing our whole selves to work, therefore we should be talking about its impact way more.”
  • “I…was on the fence about interfaith ERG’s, but now I’m sold. I plan to use the notes to start discussion with our team.”
  • “Hearing from leaders who have been successful in implementing religious diversity programs as well as representation from the regulatory agency was a fantastic opportunity.”

We can’t wait to further grow the Summit in 2018!

We’ve Made Our Pledge – 150 CEOs Take Action!

Dear Friends,

Amid the drumbeat of political news, something powerful happened yesterday that I find exciting. Globally, we took a giant step toward justice and respect when the newly formed CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion announced that 150 corporate executives from major companies pledged to work toward more diverse, inclusive and just workplaces. The three initial goals are:

  1. To continue to make workplaces trusting places to have complex, and sometimes difficult, conversations about diversity and inclusion;
  2. To implement and expand unconscious bias education; and
  3. To share best—and unsuccessful—practices

I am honored to represent Tanenbaum as a signatory on the CEO Action pledge and one of the few organizations of our ilk on the list. As the only secular, non-sectarian not-for-profit with more than two decades of experience helping multi-national companies create inclusive environments for employees of all faiths and none, Tanenbaum is uniquely positioned to offer better practices on this topic—including ones we’ve implemented in our own office. Click here to read about our Holiday Swapping policy, and here for other better practices from the global companies represented.

Religious diversity is part of the larger Diversity & Inclusion conversation, and I trust that Tanenbaum’s involvement in the pledge will inspire more companies to proactively address religious diversity in the workplace. The CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion is poised to inspire lasting change in workplaces large and small. And how wonderful is that?

Let’s keep moving the needle toward equity, justice, and respect,

Joyce S. Dubensky
Tanenbaum CEO

The Affordable Care Act and Religion: Impact & Support

As Congress debates if and how to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, many people have spoken out on how losing health coverage would affect various disenfranchised communities. Often missing from the conversation has been the relationship between the ACA and religion—and yet many religious communities either benefit directly from the ACA, and would be affected by losing health insurance, or have spoken out in support of the ACA based on their religious beliefs.

The ACA has been beneficial to pastors and other church employees who struggled to find health care coverage prior to the ACA. Christianity Today profiled how small churches often function similarly to small businesses, and face similar struggles around providing affordable health care to their employees. Many churches simply do not include health insurance as part of their compensation package, and small church pastors and other employees have therefore come to rely on insurance through the ACA. Many expressed concern over what they would do if the ACA were repealed.

Similarly, Sojourners has collected and published testimonials from Americans around the country about their experiences with the ACA, and many of the people expressing appreciation for the ACA were religious leaders and their families. These testimonials included ones by a Presbyterian minister who could not find insurance when he returned to the U.S. after nine years of overseas missionary work; the wife of a preacher whose church did not provide insurance coverage for their daughter’s pre-existing condition; and a pastor’s wife who no longer has to choose between buying groceries and going to the doctor. All of these individuals were positively impacted by being able to obtain insurance through the ACA.

There are also religious communities who support the ACA not only because it benefits themselves or their congregations, but because of their religious mission to care for people in need. The ACA has helped the poor, racial and ethnic minorities, and legal non-citizens have greater access to health care than ever before. As a result, representatives from a wide array of religious traditions have spoken out in support of the ACA as a means of continuing to provide insurance to the poor.

A surprising source of support for the ACA has come from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), who last month sent a letter to Congress urging them not to repeal the ACA without having a replacement plan. They wrote that “a repeal of key provisions of the Affordable Care Act ought not be undertaken without the concurrent passage of a replacement plan that ensures access to adequate health care for the millions of people who now rely upon it for their wellbeing.” In the past the USCCB has been opposed to the ACA largely because it covers abortion and other reproductive health services and included a mandate requiring insurance to cover contraception. In spite of these earlier objections, the USCCB and other Catholic institutions recognized the importance of continuing to provide health insurance to Americans, particularly those without the resources to get this insurance through other channels.

As the debate over the ACA continues, it is important to remember that repealing the ACA without having a plan to replace it can have serious consequences both for religious communities themselves, and for the values around protecting those in need that are at the foundation of many religions’ missions.

Chobani and the American Dream

6 Tips for Starting a Successful Faith-based ERG

By: Liz Joslin, Workplace Program Associate, Tanenbaum
Published in Diversity Best Practices | August 16, 2016

Faith-based ERGs, once unheard of, are becoming more and more popular among companies on the cutting edge of diversity and inclusion. At Tanenbaum, we have advised many clients at all stages of the process—from deciding if the time is right to establish a faith-based ERG, to inclusive communications, to planning a launch event. Use these five tips as a starting point to creating a successful faith-based ERG at your company.

1. Decide which model is best for your company:
There are three main models for faith-based ERGs: faith-specific, interfaith, and interfaith network. Faith-specific ERGs are created around one particular tradition (ex: American Express has Christian, Jewish, and Muslim groups). Interfaith groups are not specific to any one tradition, but are created to recognize a wide array of affiliations (ex: Tanenbaum Corporate Member Merck’s Interfaith Organization). Finally, in an interfaith network model, multiple faith-specific groups are under the umbrella of an interfaith body (ex: Ford Motor Company’s longstanding Interfaith Network). Consider your current ERG structure, what kind of group has been requested, and resources available when deciding which model is the best fit for your company.

2. Solidify the business case:
The rules that apply for ERGs generally apply for faith-based ERGs as well, including having a solid business case. Talk to interested employees to find out how they think the group will benefit the company. Perhaps the group can serve as an internal focus group on religious accommodations the company is considering (such as Quiet Rooms for prayer, meditation, and reflection), or aid the marketing department in reaching different religious communities. There are many ways a faith-based ERG can positively impact the bottom line.

3. Make sure it is inclusive:
No matter what model you choose, your faith-based ERG must be open to employees of all faiths and none. “The nones” (people who are atheist, agnostic, spiritual or not affiliated with a particular religious tradition) are a part of the religious diversity landscape at your company, and must be considered in the creation of a faith-based ERG. Faith-specific ERGs (i.e. a Christian ERG) should also be open to employees from other faiths who are interested in learning more about their colleagues’ beliefs or in participating in an event the ERG is sponsoring, such as a volunteer event at a local soup kitchen.

Another aspect of inclusion worth addressing is the relationship between LGBT inclusion and religion. If you have an existing LGBT ERG, consider asking that group to provide support and guidance in the establishment of the faith-based ERG. This will serve two purposes: the faith-based group will have a mentor group, and the general employee population will see that the two groups are united and working towards the same ultimate goal (inclusion) and are not in opposition.

4. Create a communications strategy:
It may not be immediately clear to employees why the company is putting resources into a faith-based group. Some may feel immediately alienated, or even threatened by the prospect. Your communications strategy will be crucial in conveying the business case, the purpose, and the inclusive nature of the group, while also emphasizing that participating in the group is optional.

5. Seek out strong leaders:
Finding capable employees to take on leadership roles and bringing on an executive sponsor is a crucial part of the creation of any ERG. Finding leaders who are fully aligned with the group’s business case and the company’s values will help to alleviate concerns that employees and senior leaders might have about preferential treatment within the group. An executive sponsor who can be a champion for the group and speak to the inclusive nature of the ERG can also make a positive impact in how the group is viewed within the company.

6. Generate interest through a launch event:
A launch event is a great way to attract members to a new group. The event can be an extension of your communications strategy and showcase the diversity within the group, as well as highlighting the ways in which the group plans to have a positive impact on the business. Having a senior leader (the executive sponsor or another interested party) at the event to give an endorsement can also demonstrate that the company is fully behind the group.

Tanenbaum’s 2016 Religious Diversity Leadership Summit

On Monday, May 23rd, representatives from over 30 companies came together at Gotham Hall in New York City to discuss global strategies for addressing religious diversity and inclusion. Tanenbaum’s first-ever Religious Diversity Leadership Summit was made possible by co-sponsors Disney and DTCC and featured speakers Brian Grim (Religious Freedom and Business Foundation), Pramila Rao (Marymount University) and Neal Goodman (Global Dynamics).

All photos: Jon Nissenbaum

Join us in Minneapolis!

SThomas_general-session

Dear Friends,

Every year, some of the best thinking around Diversity & Inclusion takes place at the Forum on Workplace Inclusion in Minneapolis. We are proud to once again be among the presenters at this important event.

This year, Tanenbaum will be presenting “The Battle for Inclusion: Exploring Veteran Status and Religion in the Workplace.”
Mark Fowler and Liz Joslin will be joined by:

• Kimberly Mitchell: Director, Easter Seals Dixon Center
• Lisa Rosser: CEO and Founder, The Value of a Veteran
• Michael Burns: Director, Head of ICG Diversity, Citi

If you haven’t already registered for the Forum, click here to do so.If you have, we look forward to seeing you there!

In friendship,

Mark Fowler,
Deputy Chief Executive Officer

Lessons from Wheaton College

The very public drama that unfolded at Wheaton College over the past few months revealed stark divisions within the evangelical community, and how they view the responsibility for living in Christ’s footsteps. Even more poignantly, it revealed some truths about more widespread societal divides that ripple far beyond Wheaton.

At the heart of the conflict was the first tenured, female African-American professor at a highly regarded evangelical Christian school, Professor Larycia Hawkins. Two months ago, she posted a statement on Facebook to stand in solidarity with Muslims after the San Bernardino slaughter.  In addition to wearing a hijab (the head covering that many Muslim women wear) during Advent, she described Christians and Muslims as worshiping “the same God.”

Almost immediately, she was placed on administrative leave from Wheaton, triggering a heated debate and the initiation of termination proceedings. The college community split, arguing whether Hawkins’ actions and words had violated the faith statement that she (and all faculty and students) sign as a condition of involvement with the school. That statement reflects the institution’s theological convictions, including belief in the holy trinity, and signature is a requirement of employment. Even today, Hawkins maintains that her personal Facebook post fit within the school’s statement of faith.

The Hawkins-Wheaton controversy raised multiple issues starting with a theological debate, but also including charges of Islamophobia, racism and gender bias. Then, last week, the widely debated dispute ended with a “mutual agreement” that the professor and the institution part ways. A joint decision had been made and whether it was right or wrong is now a question for the Wheaton community to unravel.

For those of us outside the Wheaton drama, however, there is a lot to learn. That is, if we pay attention to the lessons it can teach.

In particular, Wheaton reminds us that religious diversity is not limited to the different traditions that exist in the world. It is also within traditions – and reflected in those who share an affiliation and even attend the same house of worship – but who do not share identical beliefs. Wheaton reminds us of this truth, by dramatically proving that evangelical Christians are not a monolith, but rather, a complex and diverse group of people.

Ultimately, the school was unable to speak with one voice because, even in a small religious community, there is no such thing. Intuitively, we know this. But Wheaton proves that among evangelical Christians there are those who stand in solidarity with others in particular ways, and others who believe those types of solidarity nullify their faith. For the many Americans who view evangelicals through one lens, Wheaton reminds us that such stereotypes have no basis in reality. And that no one person can speak for an entire group. After all, though they parted amicably, Professor Hawkins and Wheaton’s President Ryken are both evangelical Christians. And they disagree on what it means to put the school’s foundational creed into practice.

Wheaton’s lessons don’t stop there. Another is that identity matters. Sixty years ago, the Wheaton contro-versy would predictably have centered on one question, whether Christians and Muslims “worship the same God.” It would have been a purely theological inquiry, a debate for clergy and academics. Today this theological question remains important at Wheaton, but equally important (if not more so) is the role of identity. There, questions of Muslim identity and how evangelical Christians can properly stand in solidarity with them exploded, along with questions about racism and gender bias.

None of us can say with certainty whether Islamophobia played a part in Wheaton’s decision to sever ties with Professor Hawkins. We can, however, say with confidence that given our current climate, this question matters. Anti-Muslim rhetoric and suspicion of all Muslims pervades the media (even though there is great diversity with Islam, too). Professor Hawkins knew this, of course, when she posted her comment. Her aim was to show solidarity with Muslims during a time when many people stereotype the entire community, fail to acknowledge diversity within Islam, and instead, lay blame at the feet of an entire religion. As we consider Wheaton, therefore, it is legitimate to ask whether Islamophobia helped drive the admin-istration’s decisions.

Wheaton’s faculty diversity committee also opposed the move to fire Hawkins, claiming it was discriminatory based on her race and gender. Again, none of us really know the motivating factors, but these challenges need answers. After all, Professor Hawkins was the first tenured Black female professor. So we should ask, what would have happened if she had been a white male? Would she have been suspended so quickly? Would a termination proceeding have been considered? We have passed the point when this story could have been “just” about theology. It is inevitably about identity as well – just like so many other stories in the media.

A third lesson involves questions of Christian identity, and the experience of being an evangelical Christian in the U.S. today. Simply, the Wheaton controversy suggests the isolation that many Christians feel today. This may not sound right to those who think of the U.S. as a Christian majority nation, which it is. After all, the majority of Americans (about 71%, according to Pew) affiliate with some form of Christianity. And that has resulted in our society often following Christian norms such as closing most businesses on Christmas (an example of a phenomenon sometimes described as “default Christianity,” which privileges the practices of Christians over Americans of other faiths or no faith). But does all that mean that Christians do not face bias and discrimination in the U.S.? The answer is no.

In fact, in Tanenbaum’s Survey of American Workers and Religion, almost half of white evangelical Protestants surveyed had personally experienced or actually seen religious bias or non-accommodation affect a colleague at work. This is at the same rate as people in minority religious traditions within the U.S. Additionally, 40% of white evangelical Protestants report that they face “a lot” of discrimination in American society.

To those who are skeptical of these numbers (not of the data’s validity but of the sentiment behind it), I invite you to think differently and try to sit with the fact that many evangelical Protestants at the very least, have the experience of discrimination. This is real. Many Christians in America, and certainly many evangelicals, feel under attack.

Certainly, this sense of isolation, division and being victimized is not unique to evangelical Christians. What is important to understand, however, is that they are among those who can feel alienated in our society. And this is likely to persist, especially as the rates of affiliation continue to decline (while the numbers of Americans who affiliate with non-Christian traditions, or no tradition at all, rise, according to Pew).

In essence, the Hawkins-Wheaton story is a mirror. It calls on us to recognize the power of our multiple identities and of the diversity of our beliefs and practices – and how the challenge of the 21st century is to acknowledge and respect these differences. These are important lessons. And I’d like to think that as educators, Professor Hawkins and President Ryken would approve of us making this a teachable moment.

Joyce S. Dubensky
CEO

Tanenbaum Urges Religious and Cultural Competency Training for Aeroméxico

Yesterday Sikh American actor Waris Ahluwalia was denied entry onto an Aeroméxico flight from México City for wearing a turban. Aeroméxico personnel requested that he remove the turban – or purchase a ticket on another airline.

Speaking on behalf of the Tanenbaum | Center for Interreligious Understanding, its CEO Joyce Dubensky condemned the conduct of the Aeroméxico personnel. “What happened to Mr. Ahluwalia is a travesty. It is humiliating, disrespectful and unnecessary, even in these days when security is a real issue,” said Dubensky. “Sadly, this is not a unique experience.” Over an 18-month period, the Sikh Coalition found that 105 complaints (53%) filed against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security alleged religious discrimination.

Dubensky added, “From Mr. Ahluwalia’s perspective, this was a personal injustice. And for Aeroméxico, it was really bad business. In this climate of heightened security, Aeroméxico does not have to compromise safety for respect. As México’s largest airline, Aeroméxico must train screening personnel on how to respectfully screen passengers wearing religious headwear and clothing.”

One solution that Tanenbaum proposes is having screeners provide privacy for people who wear turbans or other religious coverings so they can be screened, if appropriate, by a same-sex airline employee. “In many instances, people will cooperate with airline personnel in private, as long as they are not being asked to publicly expose themselves and violate their religious beliefs,” Dubensky explained.

Like many Sikhs, Ahluwalia described how his turban and beard represent his commitment to justice and equality. “As fellow travelers, we should all encourage airlines and national security agencies to practice religious and cultural respect, while maintaining real security. Because what happened to Mr. Ahluwalia is inexcusable and it shouldn’t happen to anyone.” Dubensky said.

Tanenbaum offers a range of trainings and resources to help companies leverage religious diversity, create inclusive work environments and meet financial business goals.