Peacemakers in Our Midst by Joyce Dubensky, CEO

A lot of my work at Tanenbaum involves our Peacemakers. Men and women who are driven by religion to pursue peace and confront violence, hate and horror, even when doing so puts them at risk – either because they may be injured or because their freedom may be circumscribed. These Peacemakers are a special breed, coming from places where the world’s most violent crises often play out. Perhaps because this is my perspective, I have been particularly moved by the tragic deaths of unarmed black men in Ferguson and Staten Island, and I have also been touched by the local peacebuilders in our midst, who are trying to help us move beyond the pain and toward justice.

These are very difficult and complicated times. Community members question the seeming intractability of racial tension in America, the use (and abuse) of power by police officers and the fairness (and unfairness) of the judicial system.  Many are angry and frustrated, moved by a profound sense of injustice. And yet, we see police in New York who have shown restraint and significantly upheld our freedom to protest. Additionally, there are those who seek to capitalize on the unrest – by perpetuating the divide, looting, and menacing law enforcement and community members alike.

Standing amid all this tension are anti-racist religious and spiritual leaders, who are working locally and tirelessly to promote peace.

In Ferguson, religious leaders called on their community to respond peacefully to the grand jury’s decision in the Michael Brown case, and to take positive action such as by working collectively and voting. In New York City, spiritual leaders across many faiths have also united to pursue justice following the death of Eric Garner during an arrest by police. Some of them have protested and watched as members of their communities were incarcerated, while others have called on their congregations to speak with one voice for equal treatment for all

In response to the death of Eric Garner, a coalition of NYC religious and spiritual leaders are calling on our political leaders to make changes that they hope will help rebuild the community’s trust with police officers and government officials. In a signed letter, they delineated a series of actions they hope will move us forward, including a call for NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to appoint Special Prosecutors to investigate and prosecute incidents when there is a question of excessive force and wrongful death involving police officers.  Whether in response to their voices or otherwise, I am delighted to note that Mr. Schneiderman has now asked Governor Cuomo to take state action to enable such a process to move forward, subject to subsequent legislation.

These generally unknown anti-racist religious and spiritual leaders in New York are not household names like Martin Luther King, Jr.  But even though they are not widely acknowledged, they are active in our midst, seeking to heal our communities and to restore trust.

So, while we always support the Tanenbaum Peacemakers working in places like Iraq, Nigeria, El Salvador and Israel, we also pause today, and thank those who are working at home, striving to make our communities safer for all of us.

– Joyce S. Dubensky, CEO

The Daily Grind Post-May 21st 2011

As many of you probably saw on countless billboards, busses, and subways, as well as in the news, in bookstores (and pretty much everywhere you looked), Harold Camping, the leader of an independent Christian ministry called Family Radio Worldwide, predicted that the Rapture would come on May 21st 2011.  The Rapture refers to a specifically Christian belief that Christians, both living and dead, will be caught up to heaven, and is a piece of the Christian apocalyptic prophecy.

Harold Camping’s prediction was based on his particular interpretation of Biblical scriptures. However, it wasn’t just Harold Camping and the members of his ministry that believed the end would come last Saturday. Plenty of other independent Christian groups nationwide prepared for the day, as they too studied Biblical scriptures and predicted the end of the world to come on that very same day.  
But then the date passed, and as far as anyone can tell, nothing happened.  And Harold Camping became a punch line in the media.  It’s likely that you’ve noticed the ridicule from “non-believers” that accompanied the apocalyptic prediction, or perhaps you’ve been the one telling the jokes.  However, given the number of Christians in the United States, you’re just as likely to be on the receiving end of that ridicule.  
In the United States, 84% of the population self-identifies as religious. Of that, 78% identify with some form of Christianity, albeit fragmented into countless denominations. Although many Christians may not have thought the end was coming this past Saturday, apocalyptic prophecies are often central to the beliefs of Christians nationwide. And keep in mind that the individuals who subscribe to these beliefs are showing up to work this week, likely facing mockery from their co-workers and supervisors. These jokes at Camping’s expense are quite widespread at this point. For example, just in researching Harold Camping, I could barely stumble across any factual articles on the web that didn’t taunt the prophecy, or sarcastically express a sigh of relief and thanks for surviving the end of the world.  
Across religious traditions, you’ll find a variation of beliefs about life-cycles, resurrections of prophets, the after-life, or end-of-days prophecies like the Rapture.  So, we ask you, what makes scoffing at those who believed Harold Camping’s prediction any different than calling a co-worker’s belief in the trinity ridiculous, or mocking an employee for believing in reincarnation?
In many workplaces, while overt harassment or hatred won’t be tolerated, there’s often a certain permissiveness around ridicule when it can be explained away as “just a joke.”  Overt instances of clear bias are actionable because they can end in a high-profile lawsuit and do considerable damage to an employer’s reputation. Ridicule, however comes in a more subtle (and sometimes seemingly humorous) package, yet it can negatively impact employees’ morale, productivity, and overall satisfaction with their career.
Perhaps those “harmless” jokes about a co-worker’s religious beliefs – beliefs that are core to their identity – aren’t as harmless as you think. We ask you to keep this in mind when religion becomes a hot-topic at the water cooler.