Blog #7 – Multi-Faith Awareness

What it is?

What is at stake?

What you can do to make the difference –

   – In the lives of individuals,

   – In the fabric of an inclusive, pluralistic, democratic society

In the initial stages of framing Religion Sector 3.0 – “Alignment: Among Congregations – Within Society” – it was immediately discovered that professionals had a lack of knowledge of religion diversity as it would relate to the clients and constituents served by their institutions within each Sector: Government, Education, Human Services, Business and Religion.

The Context for the Discovery

The first phase of initiating Regional Clergy Engagement (RCE) was composed of two initiatives, (a) Regional Dialogues and (b) city and school district based Discussions

The Regional Dialogues were held three times a year, alternating between Dialogues composed of clergy and those with clergy and the leaders of all the civic sectors.  At each Dialogues, participants interacted with each other around tables of seven which were assigned to reflect the greatest mix of their denomination, demographics, and geography.

The Regional Dialogues were held three times a year, alternating between Dialogues composed of clergy and those with clergy and leaders of all the civic sectors.  At each of the Dialogues, participants interacted with each other around tables of seven, which were assigned to reflect the greatest mix of their denomination, demographics, and geography.

The Discussions were convened for the first three years in selected cities and school districts. In each city they were hosted by the city manager, in each school district by the superintendent of schools, who included the principals.  For each Discussion, calls were made to all the clergy in that city or school district, to reinforce the written invitation and to ensure the mix of denomination, demographic and geographic of the constituents of the city or school district. As necessary, on occasion, clergy from congregations in adjacent areas were included to gain that mix.

The Collective Discovery

In my followup conversations with the city managers and superintendents of schools, I shared my observations about the language which had exhibited a lack of religion diversity awareness and knowledge.  There was full agreement on that observation.  In the words of one: “I have been a superintendent for 25 years and I have never recognized the factor you have identified.” 

In conversations with the leaders of congregations, schools, and cities, they identified this factor as a gap in the diversity training of their profession teams.  Initially, one city and one school district contracted with me to support these institutions by providing diversity training in “Multi-Faith Awareness,” augmenting the existing required diversity training curriculum and giving guidance to policy formation.

Initiating Multi-Faith Awareness

The general outline for Consultation and Training in Multi-Faith Awareness states in its introduction:

Multi-Faith Awareness training augments multi-cultural training to enhance constituent and client relations, community engagement and staff professional development.

Multi-Faith Awareness trainings give participants the skills to comfortably and appropriately engage issues related to religion, enhancing service to constituents, clients, community, and staff.  Individuals gain a knowledge of the diversity of faiths and the structure of religion sector institutions.

This includes: (a) understanding the religion dynamics related to serving constituents, clients, and staff, (b) forming relationships with religion sector professionals to provide support for individuals they jointly serve, (c) establishing congregation partnerships to collaborate in community projects, (d) addressing perceptions and misperceptions of religious beliefs and practices that impact an individual’s feeling of personal advancement, a commitment to civic involvement and a sense of a civil society.

Multi-Faith Awareness focused on three components:

I. The legal status of religion in the United States as it relates to individual practices and institutional function.

            A. The historic fabric of religion in the United States

            B. Misperceptions of a wall between religion and state, as that relates to entities in each of the civic sectors.

            C. The alignment of religion and these various civic entities, which reflects what is the unique relationship of religion within the society and which therefore provides the context for “appropriate and effective” collaboration.

II. Religion practices as they relate to individuals and institutions.
            A. Language: inclusive and specific
            B. Categories of religious practices
            C. Traditions and rituals
            D. Religion sector entities and structure

III. Case Studies

Case studies included these commonly encountered considerations:
A. Religion dynamics related to individual and community issues
B. Religion considerations related to setting policy and practices
C. Personnel practices containing religion dynamics
D. Constituent and client related considerations of religion dynamics
E.  Partnership development to achieve:
        – Extending the institutions education and outreach
        – Deepening and diversifying public engagement
        – Partnering in enhancing and extending the delivery of programs and services

What is at stake?

The overall focus of all three of these components is what all individuals need to know in order to frame their language and engagement with co-workers, clients and constituents.

The overall goal of Multi-Faith Awareness is to bring to each participant a base line capacity and comfort in addressing religion diversity, in order to:

(a) Remove gaps in policy and training which result in incidents negatively impacting staff, clients, constituents and community.

(b) Position participants, their colleagues and community partners to transition to effectively engaging all people within every religion, their congregations, and their clergy (or the equivalent title in some religions).

(c) Ensuring the full force of Cross Sector Collaboration to secure the full assets of:  

Congregation Based Resources (CBR)

Congregation Based Constituent Engagement (CBCE)

(d) Acquiring the methods for the engagement of all congregation in the common work on behalf of our society and comprehensively acknowledging that engagement. Affirming that strategies for engaging people and congregations of every religion are both appropriate and efficient.

In every consultation, by virtue of my involvement, the initial benefit of “Multi Faith Awareness” was its role in framing the first professional encounter and the first “team meeting” on religion related topics.

Because of my presence, in what is usually a “first time” discussion for participants within a professional setting, it is conducted with the guidance of a “religion sector specialist” who is able to center the discussion on Religion Sector language and structures, not individually framed religion perspectives and projections – although consideration of the dynamics of those individually framed attitudes are considered in the discussions.

The lead professionals consistently requested that I assist them in preparing an opening statement for staff on their rationale for initiating a conversation on religion.  In virtually every case, before the professional can complete presenting their statement, a staff person will interrupt with, “Oh, I can tell you why this is important, let me tell you about an incident I dealt with and that I never shared here, because I thought we weren’t allowed to talk about religion.”

Additionally, mostly in education settings as I was meetings with a principal, I would hear up front that the school had strict guidelines preventing any aspect of religion within the campus context.  This would be immediately followed by a string of stories relating times when there was a situation on the campus involving religion, necessitating a random response, often creating a secondary situation.

There seemed to be no realization that an institution that has a perception of an issue never occurring, will never develop policy to cover that issue should it occur.  When it does, in this case inevitably occur, the response does not reach the senior level for input before it is addressed ad hoc. This results in a lack of consideration of (a) framing the response within the parameters of institutional policy and (b) advancing any institutional best practices and policy.

This occurs in the entities of every Sector. The common results are:

(a) Inconsistent and unequal responses in the same entity to similar incidents,

(b) Formation, within the entity, of anecdotal ad hoc policy going forward, based on what was an individual response to a specific incident,

(c) No formation of policy and practice which reflects institutional standards and expertise.

Within the consultations and trainings, three documents are basic to guiding the staff discourse and policy formation, the Multi-Faith Awareness Outline, along with the Religion Sector Glossary and Religion Sector Vocabulary and Abbreviations.  These have become essential components in providing a sustained framework for continued discussions addressing policy and practice as circumstances develop.

What’s Next: The Key is Speaking Multi Faith – The Language of the Glossary and Vocabulary

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