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EFAC Australia

In the following piece, three Christians share stories of what their experience of a push to embrace diversity has been like for them, and how they have thought about and responded to the various sides of the coming of diversity into their work lives.

Workplaces and corporations have lately become more and more reflective and intentional about their culture and values. They spend more time and effort identifying the environment they wish to foster and the values they want their workforces to embrace and work by.

One of the values getting plenty of attention is diversity, and one of the diversities of human beings that is an especially hot topic is the LGBTQI kind of diversity. What effect is all this having on Christians in workplaces where such diversity is being championed, and where there is sometimes an expectation that an endorsement of all these diversities is the way to be on board in the modern workplace?

The following three Christians are probably far from alone in having to figure out how to navigate these waters. Different workplaces no doubt expect different levels of conformity to particular views, and also different Christians feel that their Christian integrity requires different kinds of response. Perhaps we need gently to help each other find our way through the shifting and varied challenges and opportunities that the focus on diversity brings.

Roger Coetzer, WA

I have worked for the same employer for the past 10 years and over this time I have seen an increased focus on the topic of diversity and inclusion. The diversity and inclusion agenda has mainly been driven through training courses and in particular through senior leaders and executives promoting diversity and inclusion in a number of forums.

The communication and messaging I have received on a weekly basis from senior leaders and executives in a number of cases has had a section dedicated to diversity and inclusion. What I found interesting is that even though we are talking about diversity and inclusion the majority of this communication and messaging mainly centres on the LGBTI community, which also encompassed marriage equality. The marriage equality debate especially received a lot of airtime when the government confirmed the postal survey. There has also been a small focus on culture diversity but there has been little to no mention of diversity and inclusion around someone’s beliefs or religion.

As a Christian in the workplace I have found this very challenging because I am fully supportive of promoting a safe work environment and having a better understanding of each other regardless of religion, beliefs, race, sexual orientation or cultural background. All communication and messaging came across that the only voice to be heard was from the LGBTI community. Now there have been some good aspects to the training—mainly getting a better understanding of the struggles and challenges that the LGBTI community face—but there has also been an assumption that off the back of this you will be an advocate and promote their way of life and this is where I as a Christian feel my integrity as a believer starts to be compromised.
I think a lot of godly wisdom is needed to navigate how we uphold our Christian values in a secular work environment and at the same time still have the confidence to share the gospel. The conclusion I have come to is that I will actively promote that everyone in the workplace, no matter what your background, beliefs or sexual orientation, must be treated with dignity and respected and that we cannot elevate one over the other. It is then through individual relationships, where questions are asked and respect is built, that I pray God will open people’s hearts and minds and use me to share the gospel.

Adrian Fry, WA

In early 2017 my employer issued a range of workplace values, formalising a slow movement that had been gaining momentum over the previous two years. Over the previous couple of years the staff had been invited to participate in Aboriginal awareness, disability awareness and LGBTI ally training; and so when diversity featured as one the corporate values it was hardly a surprise.

Most of the values were innocuous, or generally positive: requiring staff to be diligent, provide excellent customer service and act with integrity are good values for any organisation, however the organisation’s framing of their diversity value was a problem. The diversity value statement required all employees fully to accept and endorse the LGBTI sexual framework and ethics—as detailed to staff in the prior training. The LGBTI training had made it was clear that any act, belief or statement that did not accord with the LGBTI sexual ethic could be regarded as an act of harassment and discrimination—and any act found to be harassment or discrimination would be punishable by termination of employment.

As a Christian it seemed evident that there was an inconsistency between what I believe and the beliefs that were now required of me. The Christian faith already contains a robust sexual ethic, with such convictions as God creating people as male and female (which is an affront to the notion that people can create our own sexual identities—which is itself a key part of the LGBTI sexual ethic) or that sexual relations outside of a heterosexual marriage were sinful. Through the lens of the new value of diverity, such a claim or belief is seen as an example of the worst kind of homophobia and should be self-evidently incorrect to any reasonable person.

In spite of the subtle change in culture that had happened over the pervious couple of years I was surprised that any organisation would set the bar so high, rather than at a pluralist ‘live and let live’—which I would have been comfortable endorsing, as it would simply require respect for each other—rather than requiring all staff to take on a specific set of beliefs.

However, after confirming the precise details of the new values with the executive, it was made clear to me that any beliefs I had that did not square with the new values would be a problem for my ongoing employment with the organisation. So I found another job and quietly left the organisation about 8 weeks after my meeting with the executive.

After nearly a year after the events I have these three reflections:

1. When Jesus said not to worry about tomorrow and to trust him to provide for our needs, we need to take him seriously. It’s terrifying to be threatened with job loss because of your faith in Jesus, and perhaps just as terrifying to trust God in the midst of it happening, but it’s been amazing to see God provide for us over the last 12 months.

2. My greatest fear for other Christians facing a similar situation is that they will forget the gospel of grace as announced by Jesus, and choose silence and quiet acceptance over faithfulness to God. I fear that we will forget that God is capable of righting every wrong that is done to us, and instead we decide to defend our patch when really we’re called to love sacrificially as the church. It’s very difficult to tell someone that God loves them when you’re busy sharpening swords and preparing to fight the culture wars or battles in court.

3. It’s been a very long time since we had an obvious enemy anywhere, and I hope we don’t stop praying for and ministering to those who hate us. It seems that as the gospel has receded from our culture, we’re seeing the things that have always been there. In spite of my experience I’m not pessimistic about this change, for a long time it’s been difficult to see any difference between a middle-class Christian and their middle-class neighbour, and I think that will change, and I think that will be a good thing for our witness to people about the kingdom of Jesus Christ.

Tam Jonker, WA

Workplace diversity and its aid, diversity training, are becoming more prevalent in our workplaces, and I had some experience of these while working for a multinational organisation. It was an experience that irritated me and gave me heart, made me think and notice things about others’ reactions, led to conflict and started a longer conversation.

On the face of it, diversity within the workplace is a good thing. I know that studies show diverse workplaces are better able to make good decisions, have increased productivity, higher employee morale, greater innovation and creativity and the list goes on. Additionally from a Christian perspective, workplace diversity embodies a core Christian value of equality. If we naturally favour those like us and familiar to us, it does not surprise me that we would need to make a conscious effort to treat others with equity when they are unlike us and their ways might be unfamiliar and require us to learn and adjust to their diversity. And so I am basically well-disposed to diversity training, as it focuses on the practicalities of life in a diverse workplace, for example; the need for colleagues to be inclusive, understanding and patient with each other.

However, it is also true that many Christians feel threatened by diversity training. Why might this be, and and what can (and should) we do about it? Here are some observations that come from the diversity training that I attended in a multinational organisation.

My first observation is that there was conflict in the room in the training I attended. This conflict was caused by the change that the diversity training was aiming to bring about in the workplace. The changing nature of the workplace is no different to any other change – there are winners and losers with change. Some people were vocal about feeling threatened by diversity (if the company has gender targets, will I lose my job or miss out on the next promotion to a woman?). Others were vocal about the potential benefits (maybe I will get a promotion this year and won’t be overlooked just because I have young children). This conflict was uncomfortable. But uncomfortable conflict is not always bad – in fact, in this situation it was positive that people could voice their opinions and be heard. Despite the conflict in the room, a longer conversation started that day.

The second and more prominent issue that arose for me was that the diversity training I did conflated diversity with an LGBTQI agenda. This included a harsh criticism by the diversity trainer of societies’ failure to accept LGBTQI people in the past and was expressed as a rant against religion, particularly Christianity – whose teachings are the moral foundation upon which Australia has historically been built.

As I listened to the diversity trainer and watched people’s reactions (again, some vocal in support, others more circumspect), I was irritated that the training was largely limited to the idea that all people should accept LGBTQI values. However, it got me thinking.

First, I strongly disagree with the idea that all people should accept LGBTQI values. Jesus calls us to love, accept all people and treat all people equally. He does not call us to accept all value systems. But, secondly, given that I disagreed with the trainer, I had to ask myself what diversity is actually about. I walked away with an appreciation that, at its heart, workplace diversity encapsulates the core Christian value of equality. Jesus treated all people equally and instructed us to do the same. If I have a problem with treating all people, regardless of age, race, gender or sexuality equally, perhaps I need to examine my own heart.

Then, thirdly, in the situation where diversity was confused and conflated with a demand for acceptance of LGBTQI values and a corresponding attack on religion, I realised that I had to accept and take some responsibility for the fact that many things done in the name of religion are racist, sexist and elitist. This is not just a historical phenomenon, it continues today. It became apparent to me that it was only by accepting those things, and apologising for them, that I could have a voice.

I then took heart that equality and inclusivity were on the agenda! This gave me the ability to say that despite the terrible things that have happened and continue to happen in the name of religion, criticising someone for holding a religious view is the antithesis of what diversity training is about. Far from being inclusive, it is exclusive and shows a lack of understanding.

Lastly, I also spent time observing the reactions in the room. Often the most vocal people are also the most wounded. I made a mental note of people to strike up a conversation with at a later time – without the gaggle of onlookers.

 

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