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World’s largest airline hosts roundtable advancing workplace religious inclusion and allyship

27 Oct, 2021

This past week, the American Airlines Christian, Indian, Jewish and Muslim Employee Business Resource Groups (ERGs) partnered with the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation (RFBF) and Dare to Overcome to host other Dallas area faith-oriented ERGs from Fannie Mae, Texas Instruments, Dell, and Qualtrics to discuss and share best practices around the importance of faith in the workplace.

The roundtable also discussed with American Airlines Abilities ERG how faith-and-belief ERGs can be strong allies to those with differing abilities, which is the theme of next year’s Dare to Overcome Faith@Work annual summit in Washington DC, also co-sponsored by RFBF, American Airlines and the Busch School of Business.

“Kudos to RFBF for creating a safe space for inter-faith ERGs to collaborate on creating company cultures that allow faith and spirituality to be a part of the work environment. RFBF believes that business and religious freedom combine to form a powerful force for a better world,” said Millicent Rone, Sr. Specialist of Inclusion and Diversity at American Airlines.

The Roundtable was held at the American Airlines Integrated Flight Operations Control Center (IOC) and hosted by Fr. Greg McBrayer, Chief Flight Controller and global co-lead of American Airlines Christian EBRG. Meetings with senior executives followed the roundtable at Skyview, the global headquarters of the airline, including with Chief Customer Officer Alison Taylor, Cedric Rockamore, Vice President of Global People Operations and Diversity & Inclusion, and RFBF’s Senior Corporate Advisor Kent Johnson.

Other participants from American Airlines included Yvonne Lane, Soniya Hiremath, Mark Fisher and Carlos Landeros, as well as Steve Helms (Dell), Megan Meckstroth and Khubaib Lakhani (Texas Instruments), Eddie Hussein (Qualtrics), and Kamala Thomas (Fannie Mae).

Is It Really a Sucker’s Choice?

26 Oct, 2021


by Steven A Hitz. Steve is a co-founder of Launching Leaders Worldwide. Launching Leaders, a partner of Religious Freedom & Business Foundation, has engaged participants in 60 countries on six continents through a faith-based personal leadership curriculum which empowers participants everywhere. This is part of our ongoing blog series, Authenticity & Connection.


A sucker’s choice happens any time we come to a fork in the road, and it seems there are only two options. If we choose one, we forgo the other. However, most of the time when we face such a dilemma, if we look a little harder we can find several new options. My wife and I have often been reminded of this when discussing two angles to a situation and it dawns on us that it doesn’t have to be a sucker’s choice; we don’t have to throw the baby out with the bath water.

The tension that arises so readily today between differing opinions – the sucker’s choice – is partly what has led us to a culture of those who cancel or ghost another whose ideas are different from their own. This is a culture where social media becomes the stage of division and derision.

But tension between opinions or choices can be healthy. In spiritual terms, the great Italian monk and hermit Carlo Carretto wrote often where his faith and skepticism were manifest. In what is know as his “Ode to the Church,” he states “How much I must criticize you, my church and yet how much I love you! How you have made me suffer much and yet owe much to you. I should like to see you destroyed and yet I need your presence. You have given me much scandal and yet you alone have made me understand holiness. Never in this world have I seen anything more obscurantist, more compromised, more false, and yet never in this world have I touched anything more pure, more generous, and more beautiful. Many times, I have felt like slamming the door of my soul in your face—and yet how often I have prayed that I might die in your sure arms!”

Wow. Some might view this statement and conclude how confused he was. And yet, he could express his ideas and thoughts without putting to rest the unsettled arguments within his mind and heart. The tension allowed him to discover and grow more fully and wholly. He became a revered man.

Life is not black and white in all aspects; there is not always a clear right or wrong. Almost nothing is so cut and dried as our brains would like it to be. We tend to want the world to be easily categorized like heroes and villains in a Marvel movie.

Our minds are not simple. They know the importance of nuance. They can hold things in tension without prematurely resolving that tension. They have equal capacity to have both faith and skepticism; to hold reverence for others’ beliefs and opinions while at the same time allowing tension between two points of view.

I was a rancher for a time in my life, and we built a lot of fences. A proper fence must hold enough tension to fulfill its purpose—of keeping critters in and people out. Too little tension and the fence will be useless, too much tension and it can cause injury when it breaks. Perhaps ideally, we can appreciate and enjoy life on both sides of the fence while we work toward the eventual day when most fences between us can be taken down. Perhaps there are fences between us that should always be there as a reminder that some boundaries are good.

I have heard that loving your enemy doesn’t mean you have to hang out with them. There are acquaintances in my life who I avoid because the anxiety of mingling is greater than my need to be with them. That’s OK. HOWEVER, while distancing myself from these types of folks, I don’t allow the cauldron of my thoughts to swirl singly in the pot of my current beliefs. Analyzing all the information I process solely from my own preexisting ideas and convictions will limit my understanding, empathy, and ability to expand my horizons. So for those I don’t prefer to hang out with, I won’t close the door on my opportunities to gain more understanding – when the time is right.

Three helpful statements to make when there is tension

  1. I appreciate your perspective. If you are honest and authentic in making this statement, then it will create an atmosphere of friendship and trust, allowing tensions to be healthy.
  2. Help me understand. When you disagree or can’t simply visualize someone’s perspective, then seek help in how they arrived at their destination. Only good will come of understanding their point of view, even if there continues to be tension on the topic.
  3. Let’s talk. This might seem like an invitation for anxiety if you are not into verbal tennis. But holding court is how we really discover the tensions that hold us both together and apart.

Statements that are NOT helpful when there is tension

  1. Let’s agree to disagree. What a cop out. What you are really saying is “I’m not interested in your opinion, I have my own, and I’m not budging.” The point of dialogue with tension is NOT to convince the other to come to your side of the fence. Rather, dialogue can create understanding, compassion, and a healthy existence.
  2. That’s “your” truth. I hear this a lot. I understand it. Everyone seeks and discovers their own truth about things. However, this statement to me says, “I might or might not appreciate your “truth,” but I know you own it. Therefore, take your truth and have a nice life.” Wouldn’t it be better to say “I see your point of view. Can we discuss the tension between your point of view and mine? It will help me understand and appreciate the situation in a healthy way.”
  3. Cancelling or ghosting. This usually happens on social media, where a person can state their opinions without any angst about consequences. Again, what a cop out. I have been both cancelled and ghosted. It makes me feel like there is no hope of gaining the perspective of the person who cancelled or ghosted me. Rather than cancelling or ghosting, can’t we have a real conversation using the helpful approaches stated above?

Finally, while we seek to both understand and to be understood, please know the tension that exists between faith and skepticism, does not establish a sucker’s choice. Rather, it allows deeper understanding and appreciation as we think through and discover what settles in our minds and hearts. As individuals, communities, and tribes, who can’t benefit from this approach?

Dare to Overcome 2021 Anthem

21 Oct, 2021

DTO Virtual Choir + full credits: 200 participants, 11 soloists, 16 groups, dozens of countries! Dare to Overcome (DTO) is the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation’s signature global conference, with the mission of shining a light on successes in promoting mutual respect and allyship among diverse communities. American Airlines is the official airline of Dare to Overcome.

Brian Grim Addresses 17,000 Participants at the 7th World Parliament of Science, Religion and Philosophy (Pune, India)

3 Oct, 2021

On October 4, 2021, Dr. Brian Grim, president of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation, addressed an estimated 17,000 participants at the 7th World Parliament of Science, Religion and Philosophy on the connection of these three realms in some for the world’s biggest and best technology companies.

Dr. Grim’s presentation can be viewed here or above.

Other speakers include Dr Elizabeth Denley (Heartfulness Institute), Dr. Vistasp Karbhari (Former President of the University of Texas at Arlington), Dr Kannan Rangaramanujam (Johns Hopkins Hospital), Dr Ashok Joshi (Microlin LLC), and Dr Konden Smith Hansen (Univ. of Arizona). The Parliament is hosted by the MIT World Peace University in Pune, India

Building religious freedom through music. “Without Religious Freedom … there is no freedom at all.” -Kathy Ireland

2 Oct, 2021

Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis Jr.’s commitment to religious freedom is borne of a lifetime of passionate advocacy for all who are vulnerable. “blackbird: Lennon- McCartney Icons” is a paean for freedom and religious rights, celebrating the lives of faithful people who sacrifice their time on Earth to allow all of us to worship freely. Sadly, media searches and scans reveal that “blackbird: Lennon-McCartney Icons” is the only mainstream music release to bring bright light and sharp focus to the thousands of years of religious oppression.

 

Vaccines and Workplace Religious Accommodation

20 Sep, 2021

Vaccines and Workplace Religious Accommodation

  • Wednesday, October 6, 2021
  • View recording below

Under the mandate announced by the White House in September, all employers with 100 or more workers would have to require that their workers be vaccinated or undergo at least weekly Covid-19 testing. Employers that don’t comply can face fines of up to about $14,000, according to the administration.

As companies grapple with questions about the Covid-19 vaccine mandate, one they face is how to respond to employee requests for exemptions based on religious grounds.

Above is a recording of the discussion on vaccines and religious accommodation with Richard Foltin and Kent Johnson from Oct. 6, 2021.


Featuring

Richard T. Foltin is a Fellow with the Freedom Forum’s Religious Freedom Center. Previously, he served in a number of positions at the American Jewish Committee (AJC), most recently as director of national and legislative affairs in the AJC’s Office of Government and International Affairs in Washington, D.C., from 2009 to 2018. In that last role, Mr. Foltin was responsible for a broad range of AJC policy and legislative activities, including religious liberty, civil rights, immigration, energy security, and combatting domestic antisemitism and anti-Israel boycott efforts. Prior to coming to AJC, he was an associate with the litigation department of Stroock & Stroock & Lavan, a New York law firm.

Mr. Foltin has testified before congressional committees and the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, including at several congressional hearings on religious discrimination in the workplace. He serves on the governing council of the American Bar Association’s Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice and as co-chair of the section’s Religious Freedom Committee; he previously served as chair and co-chair of the section’s First Amendment Rights Committee. Mr. Foltin is a member of the Committee on Religious Liberty, founded by the National Council of Churches and today convened by the Religious Freedom Center of the Freedom Forum Institute. A native of New York City and a child of Holocaust survivors, Mr. Foltin received his B.A. magna cum laude with honors in Political Science from New York University and his J.D. cum laude from Harvard Law School. He is a member of the bars of New York State, Washington DC, and the U.S. Supreme Court.


Kent Johnson is the Senior Corporate Advisor for the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation (RFBF). In that role he helps companies design and implement best practices regarding religious diversity and inclusion and promotes authenticity and connection among employees across the belief spectrum in ways that strengthen recruitment, engagement, retention, morale, ethics and personal fulfillment. Kent also helps companies navigate their legal obligation to accommodate employees’ religious expressions and practices while carefully avoiding any impression of compulsion to participate in or agree with them.

Before joining RFBF, Kent served for 37 years as a senior legal counsel at Texas Instruments Incorporated, where, in different assignments over the years, he had responsibility for legal support of nearly all of TI’s businesses and its worldwide ethics, quality, corporate responsibility and risk management functions. He also helped launch the company’s faith-oriented employee resource groups and served as Chair of the TI Diversity Network.

A member of the Texas and American Bar Associations, Kent graduated with honors from Dartmouth College and from Villanova University School of Law.

SHIPWRECKED: Simple Lessons Learned Through Tragedy – Part One

10 Sep, 2021


by Steven A Hitz. Steve is a co-founder of Launching Leaders Worldwide. Launching Leaders, a partner of Religious Freedom & Business Foundation, has engaged participants in 43 countries on six continents through a faith-based personal leadership curriculum which empowers participants everywhere.


Perhaps it is my love of sailing, having gained my ocean sailing certificate last year, that enthralls me about sailing adventures. Particularly shipwrecks and the true stories behind them.

A new friend recently referred me to one of these books, Island of the Lost, by Joan Druett. I imagined the crew and situations as the details of their experiences unfolded, in a day when you couldn’t drop your sails and start the engines to motor sail toward safer waters. This was circa mid 1800’s. They sailed a schooner named Grafton.

I found myself comparing their experience to the lives we live today. To completely surrender to the powers of mother nature and to circumstances beyond our control is a challenge of will and faith. Being at mother nature’s mercy requires a degree of faith and perseverance, especially when our physical powers don’t offset the storms of life. It also demands a certain degree of humility, knowing in the end we may not be able to find reasons for the shipwrecks on the shores of life. For each of us, our journey may be fraught with peril. But through the process we discover previously unknown strengths as we sojourn along this uncertain path called life.

This past year many of us have been beaten on reefs, with winds and gales pounding waves over the deck. Facing global challenges of epidemics, pandemics, and government uncertainties, we find ourselves anxious with many situations out of our control.

In her book, Druett extracts exacting journal entries from the survivors. The Grafton was shipwrecked in a mighty storm in the South Pacific. As they abandoned ship and made it to shore, Francois Raynal, a frail crewman, was left alone to keep a fire alive while the other four survivors looked for shelter. He wrote, while feeling very alone and gripped by a terrible panic, “How and when should I escape from this island, hidden in the midst of the seas, and lying beyond the limits of the inhabited world? Perhaps never! I felt my heart swell; I was almost suffocated; tears which I could not restrain filled my eyes, and I wept like a child.”

I know the pain, having lost a son who was filled with loneliness. I know the pain, recently losing another aging parent to maladies of the day. I know the pain, learning that a friend lost his wife to COVID-19; he certainly knows the pain. My heart breaks for him; he couldn’t even attend his wife’s funeral as he too came down with COVID. For many of us this past year, we can recite similar experiences of pain while trying to weather the storms of life.

Not all pain has to be dramatically tragic. So much of our painful experiences are silent, where the breeding grounds of anxiety and depression find roots. There are many forms of pain which put us on the edge of our sailing ships, looking for calmer waters.

A short time ago, I witnessed a young married man trying to get his family back to Hawaii from the mainland. I was in our UPS Store and watched as the owner of the store informed him that shipping several objects to Hawaii would cost many times the anticipated charge. I witnessed the dejected look on this young man’s face, not being able to process the fact that these important possessions that needed to make the trip to their new home were about to be abandoned. As I watched this scene play out, I was nudged to do something NOW. My heart said “this family needs a pay-it-forward lift; a respite from the storm. I was in a position to help the young man pay the fare. Tears were in both of our eyes, the store owner standing in disbelief, and the line that had formed behind us literally clapping for what had transpired. This young family was on their way, with their important possessions coming along too, nothing left behind. Someday, they will return the favor to someone else stranded on the reef needing a lifeline. I’m not patting myself on the back—anyone with a heart and means would have done the same thing.

As he tended the fire, the shipwrecked Francois Raynal remembered he had experienced a revelation his first night at sea many years prior. Said he “the limitless sea surrounded me; the celestial vault was for the first time displayed before my eyes in all its vastness; I was plunged everywhere into the Infinite – my soul was penetrated with a grave and solemn enthusiasm, the thought of the Supreme Being…. was present in my spirit.”

Everyone has a connection to a version of their God of the universe. When tragedy comes our way, we need to tap into the unspoken power we derive from that. Raynal’s faith was a constant support and prayer restored his courage. He later wrote “For every ill there is a good,” commenting on the lovely bird life that was attracted to their campsite.

I feel the same, along with my family. In our commonality of purpose, the healing powers are present as we enjoy the prayers from those of many faiths – as my Rabbi friend John Borak has coined “Many Faiths, One God.”

Each of us is in our own boat, charting our own course, discovering our true identity and purpose, and hoping for a steady and safe wind and manageable seas. When the sea is too rough and we find ourselves shipwrecked, we hope that others will rescue us and bring us safely to shore. We look yonder and prepare to sojourn once again on yet another journey. As we embark, may I share a few principles to apply if we find ourselves shipwrecked in one form or another.

  1. (1) Move Forward. I have a dear friend who experienced a tragic, unexpected loss of a loved one. She was counseled to “just move on” and not languish in the past. She didn’t feel settled with this counsel. It felt like she was being asked to simply “move on” as if the tragedy never happened. A little while later, she was listening to a podcast regarding grief and heard the counsel to “move forward” (rather than “move on”). What a difference a word makes. Our experiences make us who we are, especially the tragic ones. Moving forward allows us to keep our learned experiences and make our future even more meaningful. This has been our family’s experience also – MOVE FORWARD.

  2. (2) Give yourself a break. The captain in the shipwreck saw the angst and hopelessness on the faces of his crew. There was still much to do to secure their winter shelter should they not be rescued in a timely manner, and time was of the essence. But looking into their eyes, he saw they needed to rest and be allowed to gather themselves and recover; to allow them to process, take a deep breath and prepare to muster their strength for another day. He gave them a day off. Great captains give their crews a break after the storms have passed. We ought to do the same as captains of our own souls.

  3. (3) Rediscover the innate unspeakable spirit that beckons our God to help us. Often when times are smooth, we may forget the force we once felt connected to; tragedy is our opportunity to reconnect and rediscover that peaceful center.

  4. (4) Step up when prompted. There will be times in our lives when we witness the storms of life passing over those we know and love and even those we know not at all. EVERYONE needs a lifeline from time to time, so let’s be very aware that we may hold the line that needs to be thrown and do so immediately.

  5. (5) Listen for the singing birds. I often imagine my deceased son speaking to me through nature. My favorite songbird is a meadow lark. It sings to me every morning from spring to late fall. We can remember as Raynal did, that ‘for every ill there is a good,” and perhaps when we move forward, give ourselves a break, surrender, step up when prompted -THEN we can listen for the songbirds and face our tragic journeys with renewed courage and fresh eyes.

I look forward to sharing more of the lessons learned from shipwrecks. In the meantime, adjust your sails and keep moving forward! Regardless of the challenges and tragedies we face, there are journeys yet to take – much sailing yet to be done.

Faith@Work on 9/11 (Zoom Recording)

10 Sep, 2021

Hear how 9/11 still defines the work of Rev. Dr. Suzan Johnson Cook, (Ambassador Sujay is a former NYPD chaplain and US Ambassador at large for International Religious Freedom), Fr. Greg McBrayer (American Airlines chief flight controller and Christian EBRG leader), and David W. Miller, Ph.D. (Dr. Miller became Director of Princeton University’s Faith & Work Initiative after 16 years in senior executive positions in international business and finance). Moderated by RFBF President, Brian Grim.

News coverage: Religion and 9/11: How tragedy changed the role of faith in the workplace

9/11 was the day that “ministry came out of mayhem,” according to Fr. Greg McBrayer, a Chief Flight Controller and Chaplain at American Airlines, who was on duty that day. 9/11 not only changed the future of air travel, but opened a door for ministry that has only grown wider since that fateful day. Filmed by Tim Antkowiak.

Thank you first responders.