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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.

Join us in DC on Jan. 12 – Celebrate Religious Freedom and Business

Dear Friends,

On January 16, 2016, the United States will celebrate religious freedom. Each year, the President declares this date as Religious Freedom Day and calls upon Americans to observe this day through appropriate events and activities.
In advance of Religious Freedom Day, on Tuesday, Jan. 12th at 10:00am, we invite you to a high level event on business and religious freedom at the Newseum in Washington, DC. Gordon H. Smith, President & CEO, National Assoc. of Broadcasters, will give the keynote.
Please join Tanenbaum, the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation and the Religious Freedom Center to discuss how businesses can successfully negotiate religious freedom and workplace issues. In an era when millennials are especially concerned for fairness and equality for all, respecting the religion and beliefs of employees is not only fair and good policy, but is also good for business.
Click here to RSVP. We look forward to seeing you there!
In friendship,
Mark Fowler,
Managing Director of Programs
ReligiousFreedomCenterEvent

A different kind of “Ted Talk”

We are excited to share a new video of renowned workplace thought leader, Ted Childs, Principal of Ted Childs, LLC, sharing his thoughts on the necessity of Tanenbaum’s Workplace Program and proactively addressing religious diversity in the workplace.

According to Childs, religion is a critical business issue:
“The risk for companies who ignore the global issue of religion is loss of talent, loss of marketplace access.”Childs explains the business imperative of proactively addressing religious diversity and shares his own experiences of meeting the challenges of managing a diverse workforce.

The Season of Inclusion – Navigate the December Dilemma!

Dear Friends,

What does your office look like during this time of year? Are there Christmas trees and menorahs in the lobby, or are decorations strictly snowflake-themed? Are departments planning Christmas parties or perhaps a holiday potluck?

Whatever is taking place at your office, the December Dilemma is in full swing. Hanukkah starts on December 6th and Christmas is coming up too (many will celebrate on December 24th and 25th, and some will celebrate January 6th [Armenian Orthodox] and 7th [Eastern Orthodox]).

Whether your company acknowledges specific holidays or takes a more general approach to the season, awareness about the holidays taking place during this busy time of year is key.
Use Tanenbaum’s tip sheets on Christmas, Hanukkah, and the December Dilemma to navigate decorations, time off and scheduling, and holiday greetings. Let’s celebrate the season of inclusion!
In friendship,
Mark Fowler,
Managing Director of Programs

Conscientious Refusals – New Fact Sheet Available!

Tanenbaum’s new Conscientious Refusals Fact Sheet is now online!
Religiously-motivated conscientious refusals to provide services in the workplace have increasingly become a topic for debate. From the 2014 Supreme Court decision in the Hobby Lobby case, to health care providers who believe providing abortions violates their faith, to federal employees who object to issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, religiously motivated conscientious refusals are invoked by employees who work in a variety of industries and come from a wide range of religious backgrounds.
Our Conscientious Refusals Fact Sheet provides an overview of the types of conscientious refusals that are most frequently emerging in different workplaces (i.e., health care, government, religious and a range of businesses) as well as better practices for both employers and employees who are looking to address their own or others’ conscientious refusals.

Syrian War Affecting Sunni-Shiite Relations: News Roundup

In the news this week: the Syrian war is growing more sectarian – and the conflict is springing up in more countries, plus other news stories.

The Syrian civil war is increasingly drawing in nations across the Middle East, a regionwide conflict that threatens to pit world powers against each other and Muslim against Muslim.

In a war that is now clearly pitting the two main branches of the Islam — Sunni and Shiite Muslims — against one another, the dithering and differences between world powers is bringing about a desperate situation, according to experts.

“The longer this conflict goes on the more chances it has of spilling over,” said Vali Nasr, dean of John Hopkins University’s Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies in Washington.  Washington Post

Security forces on Wednesday struggled to bring peace to a northern city in Myanmar after Buddhist mobs set fire to a mosque, a Muslim school and shops, the latest outbreak of religious violence in Myanmar and a sign that radical strains of Buddhism may be spreading to a wider area of the country.

The violence afflicting the city, Lashio, in the north near the border with China, is hundreds of miles from towns and villages affected by religious violence this year.

One Muslim man was killed and four Buddhists were wounded in the clashes, said U Wai Lin, an official with the Information Ministry in Lashio.  New York Times

He has criticized the “cult of money” and greed he sees driving the world financial system, reflecting his affinity for liberation theology. He has left Vatican officials struggling to keep up with his off-the-cuff remarks and impromptu forays into the crowds of tens of thousands that fill St. Peter’s Square during his audiences. He has delighted souvenir vendors near the Vatican by increasing tourist traffic.

Pope Francis, the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, has been in office for only two months, but already he has changed the tone of the papacy, lifting morale and bringing a new sense of enthusiasm to the Roman Catholic Church and to the Vatican itself, Vatican officials and the faithful say.

“It’s very positive. There’s a change of air, a sense of energy,” said one Vatican official, speaking with traditional anonymity. “Some people would use the term honeymoon, but there’s no indication that it will let up.”  New York Times

More than three in four of Americans say religion is losing its influence in the United States, according to a new survey, the highest such percentage in more than 40 years. A nearly identical percentage says that trend bodes ill for the country.

"It may be happening, but Americans don't like it," Frank Newport, Gallup's editor in chief, said of religion's waning influence. "It is clear that a lot of Americans don't think this is a good state of affairs."

According to the Gallup survey released Wednesday, 77% of Americans say religion is losing its influence. Since 1957, when the question was first asked, Americans' perception of religion's power has never been lower.  CNN

Boston marathon blasts draw condemnation and dread in Muslim world: News Roundup

In the news this week, fear arises in the Muslim world over the Boston attacks, Oklahoma GOP Lawmaker apologizes To 'The Jews' For 'Jew Me Down' Comment. Buddhist monk uses racism and rumours to spread hatred in Burma, and other stories.

On Sept. 12, the day after Islamist militants attacked a U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya, killing ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans, local Libyans gathered for a public demonstration.

Libyan families waved signs in Arabic and English reading “Benghazi is against Terrorism,” “Thugs and killers don’t represent Benghazi nor Islam,” “Chris Stevens was a Friend To all Libyans.” One photo captured a young boy holding the handwritten sign “Sorry People of America this not the behavior of our ISLAM and Profit.” A similar demonstration soon gathered in Tripoli. The tone at both rallies was positive and pro-American, but there was a second, subtler message being sent to the United States: We’re on your side, not theirs.

So little is known yet about what’s behind the explosions Monday at the Boston Marathon that any conclusion, including terrorism, would be premature. But that fear has been an early reflex not just in the United States but half a world away in the Middle East. There, a number of observers are expressing sympathy – recall that pro-American solidarity rallies were held throughout the region after Sept. 11, 2001 – and, at times, a sense of dread. The Washington Post

Oklahoma state Rep. Dennis Johnson (R-Duncan) apologized Wednesday for recently using the phrase "Jew me down." While speaking on the virtues of small business in debate over a bill Wednesday, he said, "They might try to Jew me down on a price. That's fine … that's free market as well." He was then handed a note about fifteen seconds later.

"Did I?" he said to a colleague. "I apologize to the Jews," he said to laughs. "They're good small businessmen as well." The Huffington Post

His name is Wirathu, he calls himself the "Burmese Bin Laden" and he is a Buddhist monk who is stoking religious hatred across Burma.

The saffron-robed 45-year-old regularly shares his hate-filled rants through DVD and social media, in which he warns against Muslims who "target innocent young Burmese girls and rape them", and "indulge in cronyism".

To ears untrained in the Burmese language, his sermons seem steady and calm – almost trance-like – with Wirathu rocking back and forth, eyes downcast. Translate his softly spoken words, however, and it becomes clear how his paranoia and fear, muddled with racist stereotypes and unfounded rumours, have helped to incite violence and spread misinformation in a nation still stumbling towards democracy. The Guardian 

igh school is full of hypotheticals, like “How does one solve for x?” and “What happens if I skip class?” But this week, students at Albany High School were given an alarming thought puzzle: How do I convince my teacher that I think Jews are evil?That question was posed to about 75 students on Monday by an unidentified 10th-grade English teacher as a “persuasive writing” exercise. The students were instructed to imagine that their teacher was a Nazi and to construct an argument that Jews were “the source of our problems” using historical propaganda and, of course, a traditional high school essay structure.

“Your essay must be five paragraphs long, with an introduction, three body paragraphs containing your strongest arguments, and a conclusion,” the assignment read. “You do not have a choice in your position: you must argue that Jews are evil, and use solid rationale from government propaganda to convince me of your loyalty to the Third Reich!” The New York Times

Anti-Semitic incidents on the rise in the UK: News Roundup

In the news this week, report finds a 5 percent increase in anti-Semitic incidents in the UK, India Pitcher Festival stampede death toll rises, sex abuse allegations surround L.A. Buddhist teacher, and other stories.
 
A report by the Community Security Trust (CST) on anti-Semitic incidents in the UK shows a slight rise of 5 percent in 2012 (640 incidents) compared to 2011. A total of 640 incidents were reported against 608 in 2011. According to the report, the total of 640 incidents included 100 reported under a new exchange program with the Metropolitan Police Service, whereby CST and MPS exchange all anti-Semitic incident reports received by either agency, in full anonymity, throughout the year. The Jerusalem Post
 
Anxious relatives searched for missing family members in northern India on Monday during one of the world's largest religious gatherings, unsure if their loved ones were caught in a stampede that killed 37 people or had simply gotten lost among the tens of millions of pilgrims.
 
People thronged to the main hospital in Allahabad to see if their relatives were among 37 dead and 39 people injured in Sunday evening's stampede at the city's train station. Tens of thousands of people were in the station waiting to board a train when railway officials announced a last-minute change in the platform, triggering the chaos.
 
An estimated 30 million Hindus took a dip Sunday at the Sangam – the confluence of the Ganges, the Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati rivers – as part of the 55-day Kumbh Mela, or Pitcher Festival. Sunday was one of the holiest days to bathe. The Huffington Post
 
At 19, Shari Young was in search of enlightenment. She thought she had found it at the Cimarron Zen Center (now known as Rinzai-ji) in Jefferson Park and in a Buddhist teacher, a man named Joshu Sasaki Roshi.
 
But she said Roshi, as his followers call him, began using their one-on-one meetings to fondle her breasts and grope her body. She consented in confusion but left after nearly a year.
 
That was in the early '60s, she said. A recent investigation by an independent council of Buddhist leaders has suggested that Roshi, a leading figure in Zen Buddhism in the United States, may have abused hundreds of others for decades. According to the group's report, that abuse included allegations of molestation and rape, and some of the incidents had been reported to the Rinzai-ji board, which had taken no effective action. The Los Angeles Times
 
Pope Benedict XVI’s surprise announcement on Monday that he will resign on Feb. 28 sets the stage for a succession battle that is likely to determine the future course of a church troubled by scandal and declining faith in its traditional strongholds around the world.
Citing advanced years and infirmity, Benedict became the first pope in six centuries to resign. Vatican officials said they hoped to have a new pope in place by Easter, while expressing shock at a decision that some said had been made as long as a year ago.

Saying he had examined his conscience “before God,” Benedict said he felt that he was not up to the challenge of guiding the world’s one billion Catholics. That task will fall to his successor, who will have to contend not only with a Roman Catholic Church marred by the sexual abuse crisis, but also with an increasingly secular Europe and the spread of Protestant evangelical movements in the United States, Latin America and Africa. The New York Times
 
When the national director of the Anti-Defamation League takes out a large advertisement in the print edition of The New York Times, you kind of have to take notice. Given the cost of such an ad (surely more than one in the Forward!), the February 7 statement by Abraham Foxman signals that his organization believes the movement to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel — known as BDS — is anti-Semitic hate speech that poses a real and potent threat to Jews everywhere. It is an assertion that you hear repeated by those trying to keep BDS sympathizers far outside the acceptable perimeters of the Jewish communal tent. Are they right? Yes and no. The Jewish Daily Forward

Anti-Islamic filmmaker sentenced to prison: News Roundup

In the news this week, the nones' say 2012 election proves they are a political force, election results raise questions about Christain right's influence, Buddhist, Hindu make history with elections to Congress, and other stories.

According to a Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life study released last month (October), “nones” — those who say they have no religious affiliation or do not believe in God — are the fastest-growing faith group in America, at 20 percent of the population, or 46 million adults.

In addition, nationwide exit polls conducted Tuesday show that “nones” made up 12 percent of all voters — more than the combined number of voters who are Jewish, Muslim or members of other non-Christian faiths (9 percent), and only slightly smaller than the combined number of Hispanic Catholics and Black Protestants (14 percent). The nones also skewed heavily Democratic, 70 to 26 percent. The Washington Post

On multiple levels, Tuesday’s election results raised questions about the Christian right’s agenda on American politics, eight years after the movement helped sweep President George W. Bush into a second term and opened the era of state bans on same-sex marriage.

“For the first time tonight, same-sex marriage has been passed by popular vote in Maine and Maryland,” said Robert P. Jones, a Washington-based pollster who specializes in questions about politics and religion.

“The historic nature of these results are hard to overstate,” Jones said. “Given the strong support of younger Americans for same-sex marriage, it is unlikely this issue will reappear as a major national wedge issue.” CNN

Tuesday's elections brought two historic firsts for religion in American politics: A Buddhist senator and a Hindu representative — both from Hawaii — will join Congress.

Democrat Mazie Hirono beat former Gov. Linda Lingle (R), making Hirono the first Buddhist in the Senate. In Hawaii's 2nd Congressional District, Democrat Tulsi Gabbard defeated Republican opponent Kawika Crowley, making Gabbard the first Hindu in Congress. Both elections were cheered by Hindu and Buddhist Americans, members of two faiths that share a common history that traces back to ancient India. The Huffington Post

Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif., the only openly atheist member of Congress, lost his race for another term on Tuesday (Nov. 6). But secularists will not remain unrepresented in the Capitol. Democrat Kyrsten Sinema, a former Arizona state senator who was raised Mormon and is a bisexual, has narrowly won her pitch for a House seat by 2,000 votes.

“We are sad to see Pete Stark go,” said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association, which gave Stark its Humanist of the Year award in 2008. “He was a pioneer for us, and by being open about his lack of a belief in God we hope that he has opened the door for people like Kyrsten Sinema and others that will come after her.” Religion News Service

Anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. dropped by 13 percent in 2011, according to a report released Thursday (Nov. 1) by the Anti-Defamation League, which tracks assaults and other attacks on Jews. There were 1,080 incidents against Jews last year, according to the ADL, the lowest tallied by the non-profit civil rights group in two decades.

“It is encouraging that over the past five or six years we have seen a consistent decline in the number of anti-Semitic incidents across the country and that the numbers are now at a historic low,” said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL's national director. “To the extent that these incidents serve as a barometer, the decline shows that we have made progress as a society in confronting anti-Semitism and pushing it to the far fringes, making expressions of anti-Jewish hatred unacceptable.” Religion News Service

The man behind the anti-Islamic video that is believed to have sparked protests in the Muslim world was sentenced Wednesday to a year in prison for violating the condition of his probation.

"U.S. District Court Judge Christina Snyder immediately sentenced Mark Basseley Youssef after he admitted to four of the eight alleged violations, including obtaining a fraudulent California driver's license."
 
"None of the violations had to do with the content of Innocence of Muslims, a film that depicts Mohammad as a religious fraud, pedophile and a womanizer. The movie sparked violence in Libya and other parts of the Middle East, killing dozens."
 
Federal authorities were seeking a two-year sentence. NPR

 

38 Tibetan Self-immolations since 2009: News Roundup

In the news this week:   self-immolations in Tibet, support for a Vatican reprimanded nun, NYPD sued over targeting Muslims, and other stories.

At least 38 Tibetans have set fire to themselves since 2009, and 29 have died, according to the International Campaign for Tibet, an advocacy group in Washington. The 2,000 or so monks of Kirti Monastery in Sichuan Province have been at the center of the movement, one of the biggest waves of self-immolations in modern history. The acts evoke the self-immolations in the early 1960s by Buddhist monks in South Vietnam to protest the corrupt government in Saigon. New York Times
 
Jews face special risks that require vigilance, though there is no “specific, credible threat” against Jewish targets, Janet Napolitano, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, told the Forward during a visit to the newspaper’s New York offices.
 
In a June 4 meeting with the paper’s editorial staff, Napolitano cited the particular exposure she said Jews face in explanation of a DHS security grant program that mostly benefits Jewish groups.
 
“Unfortunately there are risks attendant on the Jewish community that are not attendant on all other communities,” she said. Jewish Daily Forward
 
The board of the largest membership organization of U.S. theologians issued a statement of support Thursday afternoon (June 7) for Mercy Sr. Margaret Farley, a member in their ranks who was the subject of harsh criticism from the Vatican just days ago.
 
Writing that it considers Farley’s work “reflective, measured, and wise,” the leadership of the some 1,500 member Catholic Theological Society of America (CTSA) says in the statement it is “especially concerned” that the Vatican’s criticism presents a limiting understanding of the role of Catholic theology.
 
In a formal notification released June 4, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith criticized Farley’s 2006 book on sexual ethics, titled Just Love.
 
Farely’s positions on masturbation, homosexual acts, homosexual unions, the indissolubility of marriage and the problem of divorce and remarriage "contradicts" or "is opposed to" or "does not conform to" church teaching, the Vatican notification said. National Catholic Reporter
 
For whatever reason, neither President Obama nor his Republican challenger is talking much about religion these days — neither about his own faith nor that of his opponent, or the social issues that motivate religious voters.
 
It is a striking departure from the faith-based overtures heard in this year's Republican primary and in some past presidential campaigns, and it serves to mask a central aspect of each man's life story, in which faith plays an important role. But analysts on both sides of the political spectrum say religion is perceived as a no-win subject by both campaigns, and it is not likely to play a prominent role in the 2012 election. LA Times
 
Muslim civil rights activists are headed to court to end a New York City Police Department program that they say violates their constitutional rights by spying on Muslims based only on their religion.
 
The lawsuit, Hassan et al. v. City of New York, is the first legal challenge against the NYPD’s alleged spying and profiling of Muslim Americans in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut that was first reported by The Associated Press last year. The suit, to be filed Wednesday (June 6) in a federal court in New Jersey, seeks an “immediate end” to the NYPD surveillance program, and calls for the NYPD to destroy all records of information obtained through the program. Washington Post