In the initial stages of framing Religion Sector 3.0 – “Alignment: Among Congregations – Within Society” – it was immediately evident that there was a lack of knowledge of the religion diversity of the constituents served by the institutions within each Sector: Government, Education, Social Service, Business and Religion.
From the Dialogues and the city and school district based Discussions, city managers and superintendents of schools identified this as a gap in the professional staff diversity training. Initially, one city and one school district contracted with Rabbi Jay Miller to support these institutions with “Multi-Faith Awareness” to guide policy formation and diversity curriculum development.
Rabbi Miller’s met with senior staff as they initiated a review of policy which contained items with a religion dynamic. Rabbi Miller also conducted diversity training seminars to augment current employees’ core competency to include religion with diversity related to race, gender, nationality, sexual orientation, and disabilities. He worked with diversity training personnel to enable them to augment their curriculum in the existing formal and informal “diversity training” classes going forward.
The general outline for Trainings in Multi-Faith Awareness for institutions in all Sectors states, as the 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.
The training covers three areas:
- The Religion Sector in Society
A. Historic perspectives on religion/state policy and practice
B. Augmenting multi-cultural proficiency with multi-faith proficiency
- Religion Sector Considerations
A. Language: inclusive and specific
B. Categories of religious practices
C. Traditions and rituals
D. Religion sector entities and structures
E. Collaborative professional relationships
- Case Studies
A. Religion dynamics in individual and community issues:
– Identification and response
B. Religion considerations related to setting policy and practices
C. Personnel practices containing religion dynamics
D. Client related considerations of religion dynamics:
– Group and individual
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
The goal of Multi-Faith Awareness, as examined in the case studies and grounded in the first two sections, is to bring to each institution a base line for religion diversity institutional core competency to:
(a) Remove institutional gaps in policy and training which result in incidents negatively impacting staff, clients, community.
(b) Position institution leadership to formulate designed strategies to engage with clergy and congregations to garner the full scope of Congregation Based Resources (CBR) in methods that are both appropriate and efficient.
In virtually every consultation, the initial benefit to the institution is Rabbi Miller’s role in framing the first professional “staff meeting” on religion related topics. Because of his presence in the conversation 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.
Lead professionals consistently requested that Rabbi Miller 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 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 that I never shared here because I thought we weren’t supposed to talk about religion.”
Additionally, mostly in educational settings, in a meeting with a principal, Rabbi Miller hears up front that the school has strict guidelines preventing any aspect of religion on campus. That would be followed by a string of stories relating times that there had been an incident on campus involving religion. 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 happen, the response often does not reach the senior level for input before it is addressed ad hoc. This also occurred in the institutions of every Sector. The common results are:
(a) Inconsistent, unequal, responses to similar incidents,
(b) Formation of ad hoc policy going forward based on response to an individual incident, should the incident repeat,
(c) No formation of policy and practice which reflects institutional standards and expertise.
Within the consultations and trainings, two documents are used to guide staff discourse and policy formation, the Religion Sector Glossary and Religion Sector Abbreviations. These have become essential components in providing institutions a sustained framework for continued discussions addressing policy and practice as they develop.
Multi-Faith Awareness and Educational Institutions
Several elements here reflect the lack of consideration of a person’s religion as an aspect of their presence in an educational setting, or the impact of an inconsistent response to situations.
Insight into the impact of such a disregard for one aspect of a person’s identity is found in the document prepared by the California Department of Education, Closing the Achievement Gap, Recommendation #4. A summary of the findings which resulted from the Clergy and Superintendent of Schools Discussions by school district, summarizes the exclusion of religious cultural competency, the specific impact in classrooms, schools and districts, and the subsequent appropriate responses provided through trainings in Multi-Faith Awareness.
Worth noting is Recommendation #3 on developing partnerships, which includes the “faith-based organizations,” which reflects an additional “gap” in the use of a term which does not incorporate congregations.
These gaps are specifically remedied, for the institutions of all Sectors, as outlined above in the statement of the two-pronged goal achieved by Multi-Faith Awareness:
“The goal of Multi-Faith Awareness, as examined in the case studies and grounded in the first two sections, is to bring to each institution a base line of religion diversity institutional core competency to address both these gaps which diminish both diversity awareness and community engagement:
(a) Remove institutional gaps in policy and training which result in incidents negatively impacting staff, clients, community,
(2) Position institution leadership to formulate designed strategies to engage with clergy and congregations to garner the full scope of Congregation Based Resources (CBR) in a method that is both appropriate and efficient.”