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Davos and Religious Impact

10 Nov, 2021

By Brian J. Grim, Ph.D. This is part of our ongoing blog series, Authenticity & Connection.


We’re just two months out from Davos 2022, the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF). From January 17-21, 2022, the world’s foremost business, government and civil society leaders will convene in person in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, to address economic, environmental, political and social fault-lines exacerbated by the pandemic.

With the stated commitment of “improving the state of the world,” religion has long had a significant part at Davos. While this is surprising to some, the outputs from the WEF’s global agenda council on the role of faith, which fellow Religious Freedom & Business Foundation Board member Chris Seiple and I had the honor of chairing a few years ago, reveal a side of Davos most media reports miss.

A lasting memory I have from Davos is the Shabbat dinner that starts just as WEF’s annual meeting closes. The tradition began during Shimon Peres’ time as Israeli president. Peres hosted the dinners every year with dignitaries and businesspeople, and the tradition has continued after his passing in 2016.

Argentinian real estate developer Eduardo Elsztain hosted the dinner I attended, during which he challenged the attendees to share how their faith interacted with their Davos experience. A testimonial service ensued, and what testimonies they were! The most memorable was an octogenarian who challenged people to celebrate their 80th birthday in a similar way as he celebrated his: he took a plane load of eye doctors to Ethiopian villages lacking eye care.

I sat at the Shabbat dinner table with Daniel Berkove, who took up the challenge from that evening with a project he’s been working on as a hobby for the past year-and-a-half: being the Executive Producer of The Blessing Israel, a music video that was launched last month with the purpose of raising awareness of and combatting rising antisemitism around the world.

The Jewish/Christian collaboration features top stars from Israel, the US, and Africa who sing, in Hebrew and English, a cover of “The Blessing,” a song that went viral last year among Christian communities around the world. The Israeli singers featured are among the most famous local performers today (Dudu Aharon, Gali Atari, Eden Meiri, Narkis and Avraham Tal). Also featured are Ricky Skaggs and Jacky Clark-Chisholm (from the Clark sisters) from the U.S., TY Bellow from Nigeria, Rahel Getu from Ethiopia, and Mynah Rams from South Africa.

Since its release, The Blessing Israel has received nearly one million views.

Next time you think of Davos, think of the blessings that can emerge when people gather together and authentically bring their faith to bear on problems facing our world.

Please be part of the solution to antisemitism, share the video …

U.S. technology receives the highest positive marks of all U.S. exports

5 Nov, 2021

When asked to compare American technological innovations with those of other developed nations, respondents around the world give U.S. technology the highest positive marks of all U.S. exports, according to a new Pew Research Center survey. Full study.

Part of the secret sauce within America’s ongoing success is that top tech companies ranging from Intel and Google to Texas Instruments and tech-savvy manufactures such as Ford, encourage faith to fuel innovation and teamwork.

This past week RFBF President Brian Grim was invited by the two-decade-old Ford Interfaith Network (FIN) to speak on this innovation-generating faith-friendly movement, and RFBF Senior Corporate Advisor Kent Johnson led a panel of Texas Instruments interfaith pioneers to discuss its impact. Below, see what folks from Ford and Texas Instruments have to say!

Tangible benefits of religious diversity & inclusion!

Let’s Heal the World

2 Nov, 2021

Left to Right: Dr. Siraj Akhtar, Craig Dalley, Dr. Martin Karnett, Kent Johnson

Is it realistic to hope for civility and kindness across cultural and political divides? The Religious Freedom & Business Foundation answers with a resounding YES!

Kent Johnson


Windows to hope were opened at the recent Religious Freedom & Business Foundation (RFBF) roundtable at American Airlines Headquarters, advancing workplace religious inclusion and allyship. (More about that here.)

The same week, and in the same city, we participated in the DFW Summit for Religious Freedom, where SMU’s President R. Gerald Turner testified of the strong motivation of “Gen X” to do good, and speaker after speaker described real-life breakthroughs across people of varied faiths who value human dignity. We learned about how breakthroughs for religious freedom were forged in Philadelphia when the US Constitution was set down. We heard about rescues from religious oppression; and about people of dominant faiths who, following the teachings of their faith, boldly stood for freedom of others who were unlike them. It wasn’t just words. Real life change and solid hope was displayed. It’s possible.

As RFBF’s representative, I (Kent) was privileged to shine a spotlight on the great work of Texas Instruments (see video below). I’d walked for many years alongside the TI panelists in our shared quest to strengthen civility at our company, in accordance with the teachings of our respective faiths. Getting together again was a kind of “family reunion.” What a pleasure. These dear friends – a Jew, a Muslim, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — are the “real deal.” My friendship with them is a good part of the inspiration behind this evangelical Presbyterian’s calling to promote the healing ministry of “authenticity and connection” in workplaces across the globe. People like them are reaching out in sincere compassion in workplaces everywhere.

RFBF has listed reams of logically compelling reasons to unleash and encourage freedom of faith expression in workplaces. The current growing interest in religious diversity and inclusion in companies across the globe is validated and fueled by solid data and information. Just spreading the word of what’s happening in companies like Texas Instruments adds to the momentum of this movement. But in the end, it’s the visceral person-to-person engagements that truly persuade, and truly heal our broken society. For that, I’m thankful that I’ve been blessed with these friends, and thankful for the many other friendships being forged across cultural lines in workplaces everywhere.

Join us, person to person. Let’s heal the world.

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.