A rabbi, an imam, a pundit and a bishop walk into a company office. No, it’s not the start of a joke, it’s my suggestion for the next phase of workplace diversity: getting to grips with faith.
I just spent the Easter weekend getting reacquainted with my collection of Stabat Maters and Easter afternoon listening to Parsifal. I don’t believe in any of the stuff that inspired these works but I enjoyed them nonetheless (well, quite a lot of the Wagner*). They’re all works of faith. I feel justified, as a secular atheist, in admiring the spiritual impetus of these works’ authors. Even if I don’t share it.
Which makes me wonder why we don’t celebrate our co-workers’ spiritual beliefs or at least encourage their expression at work. Instead, our workplaces exist in a kind of spiritual desiccation where only the outer intellectual husks are valued.
There are two reasons why companies should want to engage better and more directly with their employees’ religious beliefs:
- At the Stonewall Workplace Conference, it became clear to me that we’re bumping up against the limits of the broader diversity message as we try to roll them out to more religious societies. There’s an accusation of imposing values or not listening to other people’s sensitivities. We have to have the respectful discussion if everyone can accommodate everyone else’s beliefs. We talk about LGBT people bringing their whole selves to work. Why not also the whole selves of religious people?
- Unlike the Church of England and like Bishop Gene Robinson, I don’t believe that the answer is to ignore but rather to engage in discussion. Companies actually provide a very good, supportive environment in which these discussions can take place. They set boundaries on what can and cannot be said. They’re also usually pretty good places to have polite but firm disagreements – they’re used to it. At the same time, there’s usually a camaraderie and shared set of goals that encourages people to believe everybody is acting in good faith (geddit?).
* Parisfal is fine in parts. There’s some extremely beautiful music. But there is a lot that is extremely plodding. Next time, now that I’ve finally understood the plot (thanks to the synopsis in the sleeve), I can skip through much of Gurnemanz. It’s the same with Götterdämmerung – it’s the Dämmerung not the Götter which has the better tunes.