Multi-Faith & Interfaith Networks

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What does multi-faith and interfaith mean?

Multi-faith: involving, relating to, or made up of people of more than one religion.
To be multi-faith is to feel an affinity with aspects of more than one religion, philosophy or world-view, or to believe that none of them is superior to the others.

Interfaith: involving persons of different religious faiths.
Interfaith dialogue refers to cooperative, constructive, and positive interaction between people of different religious traditions (i.e. "faiths") and/or spiritual or humanistic beliefs, at both the individual and institutional levels. It is distinct from syncretism (the amalgamation or attempted amalgamation of different religions, cultures, or schools of thought) or alternative religion, in that dialogue often involves promoting understanding between different religions or beliefs to increase acceptance of others, rather than to synthesize new beliefs.

Interfaith is a "see also" of multi-faith

As adjectives the difference between interfaith and multi-faith is that interfaith is involving members of different religions while multi-faith is feeling an affinity with aspects of more than one religion, philosophy or world-view, and to believe that no one is superior to the others.

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What has interfaith or multi-faith got to do with work?

An organisation may start a multi / interfaith forum or faith network in response to the Equality Act 2010 to ensure that all faith are equally represented in the workplace.

Multi-faith forums and faith networks can provide the ideal opportunity to create a Christian group.

A number of Christian groups have great working relationships with the multi-faith forums in their organisations such as Rolls Royce, Network Rail the Cabinet Office…

Key objectives of a faith network
  1. Support the Board’s commitment to the Diversity and Inclusion legislation and agenda with respect to faith; in particular, ensuring that the company’s policies and practices do not discriminate against any faiths.
  2. Empower employees to be open and honest about their faith and to bring the whole of themselves to work.
  3. Educate staff with a better understanding of different faiths, how these influence approach to work and how individuals of faith can best be supported.
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Why should I get involved in multi-faith at all if Christianity is the only true religion?

As Christians we should love all our colleagues whatever their religion. Whilst we believe that everyone needs to know Jesus, we will only influence them if they know we genuinely love them and are humble, willing to listen and understand others.

Is a multi-faith Forum a means of mixing up all the faiths?

In no way should this be the aim of a multi-faith forum. Some religions are more open to a wide range of gods and religious ideas, but other faiths are exclusive. This applies to:

  • Christians I am the way the truth and the life, no-one can come to the father except through me
  • Muslims I declare there is no god but Allah and I declare that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah

A one-religion-fits-all approach may be considered ideal by some people in the company, but any attempt to push this should be resisted and should be gently shown that that’s not how religions work.

Models for a Faith Network

There are several forms a Faith Network may take, including:

A single work group covering people of all religious backgrounds with no groups permitted for individual faiths.
If the board is trying to adopt this model, it may meet the first of the objectives listed above, but is unlikely to deliver on 2 or 3 without the opportunity for religious groups to have meetings for their own faith group. The board may not have a good understanding of faith themselves. Some people think all religions are substantially the same and only superficially different, whereas in fact they are superficially the same and substantially different. You may want, politely, to explain to the board that, although individuals of a variety of faiths can be good friends and can work together for common purposes (such as reviewing company policies to avoid unintentional discrimination), they each have distinct beliefs that are which prevent combined worship. It is therefore appropriate for each of them to have the opportunity to organise their own faith groups to serve their members.

A work group representing people of all faiths, with autonomous groups to cover individual faiths (most commonly Christian and Muslim, although others may also exist). This is a better arrangement. A slight variant may be that the individual faith groups are subject to the Multi-Faith Committee. Other organisations allow faith groups to hold their own meetings without any co-ordination, which is OK, but isn’t a multi-faith approach.

What should the Faith Network do?

This will be dependent to some extent on the objectives set by the board, but you may want to consider the following:

1. Define Terms of Reference
  • What are your objectives?
  • What is the scope of the authority?
  • Who is the committee accountable to, and how is this managed?
  • What committee positions will there be?
  • How will elections be held and how often?
  • How often will the committee meet?
2. Building a support base

The status of the group will be dependent to a large extent on how many people are involved.

3. Education

Depending on what the review reveals, you may want to promote to the board methods of educating the staff about the different religions. This may include:

  • Key facts about each religion – beliefs and practices
  • What a manager should know about people of each faith, so they can understand where they are coming from and be able to spot unintentional discrimination before it becomes a problem
  • Lunchtime talks on relevant topics

What should the Faith Network do?

4. Review company policies and culture

To assist the company in meeting the requirements and spirit of the Equality Act, consider whether there is any discrimination in the company, either deliberate or unintentional. If you have a large company, bear in mind that the practices in HQ may be quite different in smaller work units, so these should not be forgotten.

Deliberate discrimination may include:

  • Unfair opportunities or unequal pay for people of different religious groups, or with names that represent certain religions
  • Unreasonable restrictions in fulfilling religious obligations, such as attending Friday prayers, Sunday services, or religious festivals, such as Ramadan
  • Unreasonable restrictions on wearing religious symbols or dress (e.g. cross, turban, hijab)
  • Mocking of individuals’ religions
  • People of certain faiths not being invited to social events

Unintentional discrimination may include:

Social events involving activities that people of certain faiths may feel uncomfortable being involved in, for instance:

  • After work drinks where everyone is expected to drink alcohol
  • Going out for a meal where there are no suitable options for those who have to eat halal or kosher meat

You may consider proposing strategies to cover specific provisions such as:

  • Prayer rooms
  • Supporting religious observances (Sunday services, Friday prayers, Ramadan, pilgrimages, etc.)
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Ideas

  1. If your company has an internal social media site, encourage people of faith to post something relevant on it regularly
  2. Produce a periodic multi-faith newsletter
  3. Encourage individuals to post video clips explaining what they believe and what difference it makes to them at work
  4. Hold one or more events during Inter-Faith Week (normally in November)
  5. Hold a talk on topics like, Is there any evidence for the existence of God? This is relevant for many religions and can be a way of getting people of many different backgrounds together to share their perspectives.
  6. Start a book club covering the big questions of life.
  7. Arrange opportunities to visit places of worship of each religion – e.g. mosque, church, temple.
  8. Hold a company campaign such as Just Ask, to overcome people’s fear of getting things wrong by encouraging staff to ask questions about their colleagues’ religion – e.g. “Why do you wear a turban?” or, “What do you do on Sundays?”
  9. Organise events around religious holidays, e.g. Ramadan, Divali, Christmas, Easter, etc. This could include food, personal stories about what the events mean to staff members.
  10. Do some charitable work together: fundraising, supporting a charitable organisation, making collections (e.g. for Foodbank)

Case Studies

It is easy to think that a multi faith network is a stumbling block to Christian witness in an organisation. We have found that the reverse is more often the case. A multi faith network can provide the perfect opportunity for a Christian group to get going.

These case studies offer a range of examples of how Christian groups have come to life as part of a multi faith network.

Brad McLaughlin - Aviva

Brad works for Aviva, the international insurance company

Before lockdown he had run an ‘in person’ Alpha. He then set up a Yammer group (like facebook at work) for his Christian Group and the group grew as a result. He joined a Committee in his company which promotes the interest of Black & Minority Ethnic and faith groups.

The Christian Group launched Alpha online. Other colleagues set up an Atheist group so Brad invited a couple of them to Alpha. These colleagues found that Alpha helped them to understand the Christian faith better and gain respect for Christians - the leader of the atheist group is now one of the biggest advocates of the Christian network!

Brad is keen to create more opportunities for faith discussions. In the run up to interfaith week last November, he helped colleagues from other faiths to set up their own faith networks in order to facilitate further discussion. By doing so, he provided Christians with an opportunity to have a voice.

In his company, there had been a successful initiative sharing stories about mental health under #mystory. Brad encouraged members of the Christian group – and other faith groups - to tell their stories under #myfaithstory: What I believe / Why I believe it / How it impacts my workplace. This encouraged senior executives and their teams to talk about faith and values.

Brad concludes: “I am always looking for ways to engage my colleagues in discussion about faith to enable the Christian group to have a greater voice”.

TW Multi-Faith Network

Mal started work at a global engineering consultancy

He looked for a Christian Group but didn’t find one. What he did find was 3 separate Yammer groups that weren’t meeting at all and only occasionally posting. So Mal encouraged them to meet as the 3 separate groups virtually on ‘Teams’, and they sought to publish a “Love your Neighbour at Christmas” article on the internal Intranet. However this was not allowed as it was not an official Equality, Diversity & Inclusion network.

Diversity & Inclusion were however willing to support the development of a Multi Faith Network, so Mal brought together members of individual faiths and they jointly launched a Faith Network, which includes the official umbrella for the Christian Network. The 3 Christian groups are still meeting separately virtually but have different themes (one is fellowship and planning, one is Bible study and prayer, and the third is outreach). In a virtual world, people can go to any of these.

Mal says that one of the objectives with the network is to develop a culture where it is fine to talk about faith. The first formal Faith Network initiative was an online panel event entitled Faith in Lockdown, sharing the way people of Christian, Muslim and Sikh faiths have experienced lockdown.

Mal reported: “71 people attended, so off to a good start. Plenty of interaction in the chat, and people keen to get involved”.

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Dave works for an Ambulance Service NHS Trust

He wanted to set up a Christian group at work but management was not keen. They suggested he set up a multi faith network (MFN). Dave did a web search, found Transform Work UK and was pointed to examples of other MFNs. With Transform Work UK’s help he produced terms of reference for a network. He was invited to meet other staff network leads which was a great joy as he discovered the leader of the BAME group was a Christian and wanted to not only join Dave’s staff group too but to support and encourage him as he led. Dave asked Transform Work UK to join him as he met with the Diversity and Inclusion Manager to discuss the operations around the Multi Faith Group and how it would effectively work in practice. It was a very positive meeting and the D&I manager was extremely supportive once clear working structures were put in place – it was agreed to set up a MFN in the Trust.

Now there is a monthly meeting of the MFN and a distinct Christian group meets as part of that. Dave has started a facebook group for all faiths with a membership of about 30.

Matt A. works for a global healthcare organisation

In late 2019 his employers launched an Employee Resource Group framework, like a Diversity Network in the UK. This was great timing as Matt had written to his UK Site Head asking if a Faith or Multi-Faith Group could be established. With 70,000+ staff across the globe with a very broad range of faith and belief experiences, it would be great for staff to feel they can be open about who they are and ‘bring their whole selves to work’.

The first step was to formulate a Charter for the group with ideals of looking to support the organisation in fostering a culture of openness and diversity amongst people of all faiths or no faith at all. The next step was to find an Executive Sponsor. The UK/ North Europe Vice President found someone within the leadership team who had a passion and interest for their group and provided valuable advice on communicating to a global audience with a wide spectrum of faith and belief.

With formal approval, Matt was able to make use of the company wide communication to raise the group’s profile. HR were very supportive and the group launch was the featured weekly news article. The group went from one member (Matt) to over 120 in a few days. But how to make the group active? Matt set up a Kickoff meeting so members could learn more about the group and to recruit volunteers for leadership roles.

The Leadership is made up of those of different faith and beliefs. A strong contingent of Christian colleagues act as faith and belief representatives for those who want to meet for prayer.

At the start of 2022, Matt says: “We hope to use World Religion Day to encourage members to provide videos, podcasts and write ups of who they are, their faith and belief background and how this complements their work”.

You can see the myriad ways a multi faith network can provide a helpful context to set up a Christian group.
But there is no fixed pattern. Here is quite a different example…
Matt Chapman - Oxfordshire Fir

Matt C. is a member of Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service

This functions as part of the County Council and Matt is a member of their Inclusion Group. One day he raised the question of how the organisation could support individuals’ “spiritual wellbeing” as well as their mental and physical health. The inclusion team suggested contacting the leader of a Christian group in a neighbouring local authority before returning with a proposal. He did so and the leader explained her experience of multi faith networks was that they hadn’t worked particularly well as people hadn’t wanted to come somewhere “for an argument”.

Matt went back to the inclusion group, told them this and asked to set up a Christian group in order to support Christians within the organisation but also be open for anyone to attend in order to find out more about the faith. The group would also offer to pray for anyone and demonstrate acts of kindness and service to the wider organisation. The inclusion group agreed and Matt received support from the other inclusion groups in setting up the network.

Once the group began to meet they formalised their status as a network through a written Charter. The network now reaches out to all parts of the wider County Council and meets with operational fire crews to discuss differences in faith and how to work respectfully with those who believe different things.

Matt concludes: “Over the past year we carried out 6 ‘Donuts and Disagreements’ meetings with fire crews, spending a couple of hours on each discussing deep questions of faith and Christianity”.

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Some key points

  • An organisation may resist a Christian group starting because it may feel that is giving preferential treatment to one faith as opposed to another. They may feel more comfortable agreeing to a multi faith network but this is not always the case as with the Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service.
  • Your organisation is likely to be aware of its responsibilities under the Equality Act 2010. Religion and belief are ‘protected characteristics’ and employers have a duty not to discriminate on the basis of these. Your organisation may be very willing to start a multi faith forum or faith network to ensure that all faiths are equally represented in the workplace. This demonstrates they are fulfilling the requirements of the Equality Act.
  • Get to know the Diversity Lead in your organisation. Personal contact will make it easier to get something set up, whether a Christian group on its own or as part of a multi faith network.
  • You may feel you are compromising my Christian belief by being part of a multi faith network. However, you can resist a multi faith forum which does not accommodate a Christian group, and press for the opportunity to meet separately perhaps under a multi faith umbrella. As can be seen from Brad’s example above, actively encouraging other groups can provide Christians with new opportunities to share their faith.

Other Multi-Faith Articles

The Christians Workplace Group in Royal Bank of Scotland organised an interfaith panel discussion. It turned out to be a thought-provoking look at the factors shaping both individuals' morals and the company values
It was noticed that within organisations Diversity and Inclusion frameworks, the faith networks were often badly supported or missing completely! Here's our response...
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