Integrity Matters
November 9, 2005

Maintain respect for religious differences

Question: (E-195)

Dear Jim:

As an ordained Christian minister, do you believe it's time to replace public prayers that are so specific that they come across as disrespectful, even judgmental?


Yes. But before I expand on my answer, allow me to build a context for my recommendation. As a management consultant, I seek to help individuals and organizations function more effectively and profitably. Teaching powerful people to listen attentively to all of their stakeholders, and then behave graciously, is a complex and demanding task. Always, our goal is to exceed expectations and, then, as an entrepreneur and businessman, to be compensated appropriately.

Clients may be liberal or conservative and may come from diverse cultural, racial and religious groups. We always maintain a clear separation between our personal preferences and our professional competencies. We are not asked by Hindu clients to leave our faith to join theirs, nor do we seek to convert those who hire us to accept our religious practices.

As a mentor taught me years ago, successful individuals go to work, at least in the business world, to make money. How individuals choose to use their wealth and live their cultural and religious beliefs are separate issues. To condemn differences in style and belief borders on the irresponsible in an era when billions of people worldwide are linked by an Internet and united by the desire to create a better and more peaceful world. When individuals seek help from service organizations - whether for food, housing or even freedom from chemical addiction - it would be totally inappropriate for providers to deny them help on racial, cultural or religious grounds. Graciousness and compassion dictate serving all who have needs.

Likewise, dealing with spiritual themes in a public context demands extreme sensitivity to people's differences. One excellent way to approach that is shown by Episcopal Bishop William Swing, of San Francisco, who founded the United Religions Initiative, a global religions organization. When Bishop Swing convenes meetings with individuals whose religious and cultural traditions span the globe, he reminds participants that silence is one activity that does not divide people.

With the sound of a bell, he invites those with whom he is meeting to reflect, in silence, on mutual needs and issues, in keeping with their respective traditions. He concludes the respectful silence with the second ringing of the bell.

This approach could be gracefully employed before a public meal with individuals whose histories and traditions might not be known - or shouldn't be assumed. By suggesting, during the silence, that individuals offer their personal thoughts and prayers, no one is diminished and everyone is shown respect. Can integrity reach a higher level? Probably not.

Home Page | About Us | Ask Bracher | Services | Resources | Contact Us

©Bracher Center for Integrity in Leadership. All Rights Reserved.
1400 Munras Avenue ~ Monterey, California 93940