Can’t We Just Get Along

Mar 01

We are a diverse community—in beliefs, experience, and background. There is an underlying tension that surfaces when differing viewpoints intersect in the public arena. Case in point; prayer and scripture on the closed-circuit TV channel. A recognized group held devotions during Advent and Lent last year. Some other residents reacted saying it was not appropriate since they did not share the beliefs expressed in the devotions. Oops! Now what!

A focus group was set up representing the various viewpoints. The purpose was to give input to administration so they could make a decision. The outcome—no prayers on the TV channel.  Unfortunately, it was announced at a public meeting that there was a consensus in the focus group. Mistake—as a member of that focus group, I knew that was not true.

So weeks later, the administration suggested a group under the auspices of the Resident Council should work on the topic. This time the charge was broadened. I ended up as the convenor with the goal of answering the following questions.

How do we foster a community where we all feel welcomed, safe, and respected?

How do we live harmoniously in a community of people of many faiths and beliefs  given our values of diversity and inclusion?

So far we have decided that the staff focused Erickson Way or Values apply to us as residents. The values are respect and caring, diversity, friendliness and enthusiasm, integrity, responsibility, excellence, and teamwork. We revised some of the explanations to make them more resident focused. In some ways, it seems like a no-brainer.

The other project was Guidelines for Religious Expression. Although there was not agreement on prayer on TV, we did agree on several other items. We see the issue of religious expression play out in our country. Although our campus was once a religious seminary and founded by John Erickson, a man of faith,  it is not a religious community. Some residents think it is so they think their Christian beliefs should be allowed expression in a public way.

The Task Force was charged with coming up with a framework for dealing with potentially diverse issues. The group used brainstorming with Post-it® notes and the Six Thinking Hat technique to do the group work. I have been doing lots of reading recognizing that I was not as open-minded as I thought. Here is a list of some of the books I have read.

Interfaith Leadership: A Primer by Eboo Patel.

•  Choosing Civility: The Twenty-Five Rules of Considerate Conduct by P.M. Forni

•  American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us by Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell.

•  Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit by Parker J. Palmer.

•  Confident Pluralism: Surviving and Thriving through Deep Differences by John D. Inaz.

•  The Rightous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt.