Working for workplace religious diversity, equity & inclusion


Monthly Archives: July 2019

Former General Secretary of the Wesleyan Church: Religion holds women back. Or does it?

22 Jul, 2019

Rev. Dr. Jo Anne Lyon was the General Superintendent of The Wesleyan Church. She was also a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on the Role of Religion.

Together with Brian Grim, she looked at the role of religious freedom in gender empowerment. Religion is often seen as a barrier to gender parity. Stories abound of gender-based violence done in the name of religion. As a result, in many cases, the issues of religion and gender parity are often dismissed as too complicated to address. There appears to be no way to unwind this rather complex multi-institution. However, a critical factor overlooked in this conversation is religious freedom. Unless there is religious freedom, minority groups, including women, will not be at the table and their vital, productive and creative voices will not be heard.

Corporations and economies will suffer if they miss out on the contribution of women. The denial of religious freedom contributes to gender inequality throughout the world. Extremist ideologies such as ISIS represent the complete loss of religious freedom, and when respect for a diversity of religious beliefs and practices disappears, gender equality suffers.

Dr. Lyon has served on the board of directors at many organizations she believes in representing The Wesleyan Church including the National Association of Evangelicals Executive Committee, Christian Community Development Association, National Religious Partnership for the Environment, Asbury Theological Seminary Board, Global Agenda Council on the Role of Faith of the World Economic Forum, and serves as an Ex – Officio member for all Wesleyan Institutions of Higher Education.

Archbishop of Sweden: Role of Faith in Addressing 10 Critical Global Challenges

22 Jul, 2019

Antje Jackelén, Archbishop of Sweden, together with Prof. Linda Woodhead (UK) and Brian Grim (US) – and input from the Global Agenda Council on the Role of Religion – looks at how faith interacts with each of the 10 key global challenges identified by the World Economic Forum ranging from climate change to gender parity.

Also, together with Linda Woodhead, Archbishop Jackelén argues for four reasons for the inclusion of religious traditions in addressing climate change. First, historic religious traditions have a tried and tested cultural integrity, spiritual depth and moral force which can greatly enhance secular approaches. Second, climate change is fundamentally a question of global justice. Third, religious traditions play a role in leadership. Fourth, the dimensions of the challenge can invoke anxiety as well as paralysis.

As Archbishop of Uppsala, Antje Jackelén is the first female head of the Church of Sweden.

In 2015 she made news by becoming the first woman archbishop to be welcomed to the Vatican for an official papal audience. In her address to Pope Francis she spoke of progress made in the dialogue between Catholics and Lutherans, including the joint document ‘From Conflict to Communion’ in preparation for a shared commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the start of the Reformation.

Supermodel to Supermogul – Sports Illustrated Cover to Religious Freedom Advocate

22 Jul, 2019

Kathy Ireland, 2016 Global Business & Interfaith Peace Award Finalist*

Not a lot of businesspeople make the covers of both Forbes and Sports Illustrated magazines. But Kathy Ireland, supermodel and founder of kathy ireland Worldwide (kiWW) did.

Ireland, whose first business was selling painted rocks on the beach in her Southern California hometown, is known as both a supermodel and a supermogul. She appeared in 13 consecutive Sports Illustrated swimsuit editions and graced the covers of three, and her eponymous licensing company now encompasses 17,000 products that bring in $2 billion a year, according to Forbes.

Ireland learned at the hands of some of the biggest business moguls in the world. She once cold-called the actress Elizabeth Taylor, who made her own fortune licensing her name to fragrances and women’s accessories, and asked if the movie star would be willing to mentor her. The two were very close until Taylor’s death in 2011.

She was also mentored by Warren Buffett, who encouraged her to grow her business beyond its original focus on women’s clothing. Now kathy ireland Worldwide licenses everything from rugs and flooring to wedding dresses and baby furniture.

But Ireland keeps her focus not just on the bottom line. “Consider others as more important than yourself,” she said in an interview on NBC’s Today show earlier this year when asked to give advice for creating a successful business. “That can be counterintuitive in today’s world. It works. When you treat the people you work with the way you would want your family members to be treated, there is no limit to what you can accomplish together.”

Ireland and her company have long been involved in charitable work with the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, the YWCA’s anti-racism initiative, 9-1-1 for Kids and the Nomi Network, which fights human trafficking. Ireland also supports the work of Hardwired, a woman-led peace initiative that trains business and community leaders and promotes religious pluralism and tolerance in war-torn areas such as the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa. Ireland has spoken out for Yazidi women, raised awareness about their plight at the hands of ISIS or Daesh and supported an appeal to Congress to act their behalf.

“My priorities are my faith, my family and then being of service to others through my work,” Ireland told Christianity Today.

At the Forbes Women’s Summit, Ireland explained why women and children are often the focus of her charitable work.

“I encourage women, please don’t let anyone or their opinion of you or your circumstances define or destroy you,” she said. “In my old job description as a model it was ‘shut up and pose.’ I reject that today. Allow people to refute you but please don’t ever allow anyone to dismiss you. We have got to let our voices be heard, and not only ours, but women’s everywhere. Proverbs 31 says, ‘Speak out for those who are voiceless and for the rights of all who are vulnerable,’ so I just think it is something that we’ve got to do.”

Religious discrimination and oppression are disintegrating opportunities for stability and freedom in the Middle East. This is made worse where community leaders and government officials fail to appreciate the socio-economic benefits of inter-faith understanding and religious freedom. Kathy Ireland, Founder and President of kathy ireland Worldwide, supports the extraordinary efforts of Hardwired**, a women-led initiative that empowers community and national leaders to advance freedom and dignity in the face of religious oppression. Beyond her support for Hardwired, Kathy engages personally. In one case, she hosted an event for Yazidi women escaping oppression, which included an appeal to Congress to take immediate action to stop ISIS atrocities against the Yazidi.

* This is part of a series highlighting finalists from previous Global Business & Interfaith Peace Awards. The Awards recognize business leaders – current or past CEOs – who have demonstrated leadership in championing interfaith understanding and peace.

** About Hardwired

“Every person deserves the right to live according to the dictates of their conscience – it’s how we are hardwired!”

Hardwired Global is a non-governmental organization that works to make it possible for every person to experience this freedom by training leaders who can help them attain it – in the schools, in the courts, in the media, in their place of worship, in the government, and throughout society.

Hardwired Global has no religious or political affiliation and works to defend the fundamental principle of freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief as defined in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights for all people without distinction.

Economic Growth Slowed by Dramatic Global Decline in Religious Freedom

15 Jul, 2019

IMMEDIATE RELEASE, July 15, 2019, Washington, DC: Two billion more people live in countries with high restrictions on religious freedom than did so just a decade ago, according to an analysis by the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation (RFBF) of a report released today by the Pew Research Center.* The dramatic decline in religious freedom impacts not only peace and stability but also slows global economic growth, according to RFBF.

by Brian J. Grim PhD, Religious Freedom & Business Foundation

Restrictions on religious freedom can come from two main sources: governments and groups in society (Grim and Finke, 2007).

The just-released Pew Research study finds that governments in 52 of the 198 countries and territories analyzed in 2017 had high or very high restrictions on religion, up from 40 in 2007. At the same time, an even larger number of countries  — 56 — had high or very high social hostilities involving religion coming from groups within societies, up from 39 in 2007.

RFBF’s analysis of Pew’s study finds that 83 countries today have high or very high levels of government restrictions and/or social hostilities, but because some of these countries are very populous, such as China and India, 6.5 billion people — or 85% of the world’s 2019 population of 7.7 billion — live today in countries with high restrictions on religious freedom. This is 2 million more people than in 2007, when 4.5 billion people lived in countries with this same level of restrictions. (Note: Population figures estimated by RFBF; Pew did not provide population figures).

This is a dramatic increase in both the number of countries and the share of the world’s population living in countries with high restrictions on religious freedom. In fact, the spread of religious restrictions and hostilities is outpacing population growth 2-to-1. Between 2007 and 2017, the world population increased by about a billion people, which is half the increase in the number of people living with high or very high religious restrictions.

Economic Impact

The global increase in restrictions on religious freedom between 2007-2017 has economic implications. In particular, since the recovery from the 2008 financial crisis, RFBF finds that GDP growth rates in populous countries where religious restrictions and hostilities decreased grew at about double the rate as in countries where religious restrictions and hostilities substantially increased, as shown in the table below.

These new findings echo those of a 2014 study by researchers at Georgetown University and Brigham Young University who found that religious freedom is one of only three factors significantly associated with global economic growth, controlling for two-dozen different financial, social, and regulatory influences.

“Economies of populous countries where religious restrictions and hostilities decreased grew at double the rate as economies where religious restrictions and hostilities substantially increased.”

For country comparability, RFBF’s new analysis looks only at the 57 economies of countries with populations greater than 20 million people, which accounts for most of the world’s GDP. We divide these 57 countries into thirds according to the amount of change in religious restrictions between 2007 and 2017, as reported in the new Pew study.

GDP growth in the 19 countries that reduced or had very low increases in their overall religious restrictions and hostilities averaged 5.1% per year between 2009-18. It is notable that several of the countries in this category had high religious restrictions and hostilities, but even modest decreases in these were associated with economic dividends.

Conversely, countries with significant increases in religious restrictions and/or hostilities averaged 2.6% annual GDP growth. The United States, the world’s largest economy, is among this group of countries, with a significant increase in social hostilities involving religion. Religious hostilities in the U.S. range from the 2017 deadly anti-Semitic and racist demonstrations in the Virginia city of Charlottesville, to workplace religious discrimination witnessed or experience by 36% of the American workforce, impacting some 50 million people across all faiths, beliefs and denominations — including religious majorities and minorities. Given that the history of religious freedom in the U.S. has created an economy where religion contributes nearly $1.2 trillion in goods and services annually to the U.S. economy, addressing religious freedom challenges in the U.S. is not just a cultural or political issue, but an economic imperative.

The People’s Republic of China, the world’s second largest economy, has seen a significant slowdown in its economic growth over the past decade coinciding with its multi-year national campaign to exercise strict control over religion. This includes not only a campaign to remove crosses from churches and control Christian expression, but authorities have put one million or more mostly Uyghur Muslims into re-education camps purportedly to stamp out the possibility of Islamic radicalization. Such moves threaten China’s economic success according to the 2015 study, The Modern Chinese Secret Sustainable Economic Growth: Religious Freedom & Diversity. Indeed, the active participation of religious minorities in society often boosts economic innovation, as shown by a study in the China Economic Review linking Christianity — adhered to by some 5% or more of China’s population — and the nation’s economic growth. In China during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 70s, religion was completely outlawed. But China is now home to the world’s second-largest religious population after India, according to demographic estimates. Indeed, as argued in a World Economic Forum blog, The Link Between Economic and Religious Freedoms, “ensuring freedom for religious groups in China and elsewhere is a way to stimulate and sustain growth in the decades ahead. It’s something every country can benefit from.”

Religious Freedom, Peace and Sustainable Development

RFBF has looked at various ways religious freedom contributes to meeting the Sustainable Development Goals, including ending poverty (SDG 1), empowering women (SDG 5), and fostering peace (SDG 16). Indeed, a large portion of religious freedom’s instrumental contribution to sustainable development is its attachment to other bundled freedoms and rights as well as the peace dividend religious freedom provides (see The Price of Freedom Denied: Religious Persecution and Conflict in the 21st Century, Cambridge Univ., 2011).

*The Pew Research Center kindly granted Brian Grim advance access to their July 15, 2019, report, “A Closer Look at How Religious Restrictions Have Risen Over the Past Ten Years.” The advance access made this analysis possible. RFBF is deeply grateful to the Pew Research Center. Grim will join Pew Research staff and other experts on July 17th to discuss the report and its implication. Grim will also discuss the economic arguments for advancing religious freedom on July 17 at the Ministerial hosted by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.


Grim to Participate in “Quantifying Religious Freedom: A 10-Year Global Analysis of Pew Research”

14 Jul, 2019

Quantifying Religious Freedom: A 10-Year Global Analysis of Pew Research
Open to Public, RSVP Required
Time: 1:30-3:00pm
Organization(s): Christianity Today & Institute for Global Engagement
Location: Second Stage, Marvin Center, George Washington University, Continental Ballroom (3rd Floor), 800 21st St. NW, Washington, DC 20052
Preview: A presentation and analysis of the latest Pew data on governmental and societal restrictions on religion worldwide (new 2019 rankings, plus first-ever 10-year trend analysis), followed by responses from a panel of experts. (RSVP by 10 a.m. Wed preferred, but we will accommodate last-minute arrivals.)
Participants: Brian Grim – Religious Freedom & Business Foundation, Thomas Farr – Religious Freedom Institute, Kristina Arriaga – USCIRF, Julia Bicknell – World Watch Monitor
Discussion Rule: On the Record

Grim Speaks at Ministerial Hosted by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo

9 Jul, 2019

The Economic and Security Benefits of Advancing Religious Freedom

  • – WHEN: Wed. July 17, 2019, 3:30PM
  • – WHERE: U.S. State Department, Burns Auditorium
  • – SOLD OUT
  • – Program: 2019 Ministerial Schedule

Pew Research studies show that approximately 80 percent of the world’s population currently lives in areas with high restrictions or outright hostilities on religion. These findings are particularly relevant because research indicates that the largest markets for potential growth are in countries where religious freedom is highly restricted – casting a question mark over the long-term economic sustainability.

In addition, religious freedom is a key ingredient in fostering peace and stability, allowing for diverse perspectives to emerge and channel important political or religious issues through non-violent discourse. As studies increasingly demonstrate, governments whose policies and institutions protect and promote religious freedom and other human rights, are less likely to experience terrorism and violent extremism.

This session will focus on two broad areas: 1) how can greater religious freedom support open markets and economic growth? 2) how to encourage countries to promote religious freedom as part of their security efforts to counter violent extremism?


  • Brian J. Grim, Ph.D., president of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation
  • Nilay Saiya, Ph.D., assistant professor at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
  • – Moderated by Douglas M. Padgett, Ph.D., State Department

See Brian Grim’s contribution to last year’s Ministerial.

Secretary Pompeo will host the second Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in Washington on July 16-18. The Ministerial will reaffirm international commitments to promote religious freedom for all and focus on concrete outcomes that produce durable, positive change. A broad range of stakeholders, including senior government representatives, international organization representatives, religious leaders, and civil society activists will convene to discuss challenges, identify concrete ways to combat religious persecution and discrimination, and ensure greater respect for freedom of religion or belief. This year’s Ministerial seeks to further conversations from last year’s event and recent regional conferences. We expect participation of up to 1000 civil society and religious community representatives, representing every corner of the world.

Day One – Expanding the Conversation on Religious Freedom: On July 16, we will convene civil society, religious leaders and government officials to discuss the opportunities and challenges for promoting and defending religious freedom globally. Through a series of plenary sessions, participants will discuss the necessary building blocks and emerging trends in advancing religious freedom, as well as how religious freedom, international development and humanitarian aid can work together to advance mutual interests.

Day Two – Deep Dive: On July 17, we will host three separate, concurrent discussions for the attendees of Day One to unpack ideas generated during Day One. These sessions will be hosted in three different venues within and in the immediate vicinity of the Harry S. Truman Building to allow for more focused discussions and a greater number of breakout sessions. We will invite topical experts, civil society actors, religious leaders, academics and working-level government officials to discuss topics such as best practices for religious freedom advocacy; limitations in forming, registering and recognizing religious communities; challenges facing religious minorities; combatting the rise of anti-Semitism and anti-Islamic behavior; and countering violent extremism; religious freedom and national security; religious freedom and economic development; cultural heritage protection for religious sites; religious minorities and humanitarian crises; international development aid and religious freedom; and mobilizing faith leaders around peace and development goals.

Day Three – Government Action: On July 18, senior government and international organization representatives will participate in plenary sessions focused on: identifying global challenges to religious freedom; developing innovative responses to persecution on the basis of religion; and sharing new commitments to protect religious freedom for all. Invitations will be extended to likeminded governments that have a demonstrated record of advancing religious freedom and are committed to promoting Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, or governments that have taken significant and meaningful steps to do so. Survivors or close relatives of those who suffered persecution due to their religion or beliefs will share their stories. Government delegations will be encouraged to announce new actions and commitments they will take to protect and promote freedom of religion or belief.