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Championing faith and belief in the Civil Service

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Civil Service Leaders, Diversity and inclusion
Head and shoulders shot of Clare Moriarty
Clare Moriarty, Permanent Secretary, Defra

This feels rather overdue. I became Civil Service Diversity Champion for Faith and Belief in October last year. Since then, I’ve had fascinating conversations with people inside and outside the Civil Service about faith and belief, which have helped shape my thinking about this new role. I’ve received offers of help (thank you!) and have been privileged to join in celebrations, with different faith and belief groups, of Hanukkah, Christmas and the advent of Guru Nanak Dev’ Ji. But this is my first blog.

And actually that's a good example of why this champion role has been created. Of all the diversity characteristics, faith and belief is the one we talk about least. Many people, including me, feel a bit uncomfortable talking about their faith or belief.

That's partly because it feels quite a private matter. But that’s not the whole story. We also worry - I worry - that by talking about my faith I'll open myself up to other people's preconceptions. I worry that people may hear what I say as implying that my faith - Christianity - is better than theirs, or better than not having a faith. They may want me to justify my beliefs. Or not to justify them. Or, if I'm talking to someone from another faith group, I worry that we'll fall into that difficult and embarrassing space of tiptoeing around the differences between our faiths in order not to cause offence. In short it feels like a minefield.


Clare Moriarty, CS Faith and Belief ChampionAsking someone about their faith feels equally difficult. Will it come over as intrusive,  patronising, or just ignorant? And shouldn't I know this stuff already?  

Well, no. It really is quite complicated. There are many different faiths, and there are non-faith beliefs such as humanism. Within most faiths there are multiple sub-groups, and the differences in belief within faiths can feel as large as the differences between faiths. I know a bit about Christian denominations and Jewish traditions but I couldn't begin to describe how Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism or Buddhism works.

There are also huge paradoxes within faith and belief. Faith sustains many of us, and underpins so much that is good in the world, from charitable giving, to reconciliation movements, to educational foundations. But the word associations for faith are predominantly negative. Many pejorative phrases have their roots in faith. None of us wants to be described as 'holier than thou', or called a bigot.

Faith matters

With all this going against us, why would we risk talking about faith?

Well, because it matters. My faith is part of the person that I am. It informs my values, which in turn underpins everything that I do, at home and at work. That doesn't mean that without my faith I would have no values, but it's not separable from the rest of me.

I can't truly bring my whole self to work without bringing my faith too. And, as I've said in previous blogs, I believe we all do our best work if we feel that we can be our whole selves at work.

But like everything else about bringing ourselves to work, it has to feel comfortable. So my question is, what does it take to feel comfortable talking about faith and belief at work?

Often it’s helpful to start small. Few of us would launch into a discussion of our deepest feelings with a complete stranger, but it’s easy to start a conversation about shared interests that can lead, over time, to something more. In my discussions with faith and belief networks, we often find ourselves talking about time, food and dress. Small things in some ways, but importantly the outward signs of religious observance.

Could that be a way into talking about faith and belief? I’d love to hear your views. And I’ll be writing more shortly about how I see the role of Faith and Belief Champion developing.

Graphic with legend 'A great place to work'The Civil Service aims to  become the UK’s most inclusive employer by 2020. Our new Diversity and Inclusion Strategy sets out how we aim to achieve this.

Follow Clare on Twitter: @ClareMoriarty.

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  1. Comment by Anon posted on

    Clare, would you consider being a champion of faith, belief *and values* as well?

    My not subscribing to a faith or belief system is something I would like to be able to talk openly about. I feel this position is just as worthy of championing as any other.

    How does adding 'values' help? To illustrate, I value rational discourse; I value diversity and inclusivity; and I value some of the contributions of faiths and belief systems to moral philosophy.

    As you know, those with no faith and no belief are protected under the Equality Act 2010. I think it would be counter-productive/divisive to advocate a separate champion of unbelief!

  2. Comment by Dakota posted on

    OK. So on a civil service training course, a specific faith group was alluded to. What I remember was that what was being discussed was - a person from that faith background has asked to leave early on Friday for prayers, is it discrimination to refuse their request. The answer in the course was it is not discrimination if the manager had evaluated their request and made a decision to refuse as the manager had thought about their request. This sort of logic is not always logic.

  3. Comment by Charlotte Smith posted on

    Sorry i am late with my comments, but here goes.

    Religion is taking centre stage in the world at the moment. I dont really go to church. But i do have religious opinions and thoughts.

    What i find particuarly discouraging is the lack of a room in most offices where people can practice their religous beliefs. I am thinking of a room like you find in hospitals and airports. It should be equipped with the "equiptment" belonging to each religious orders. So Muslims can have prayer mats, Jews can have menorahs, Christians can have a cross and so on. It can also be used simply to meditate.

    What i also find disturbing is the lack of diversity in the work canteen/resturant. There is nothing to accomodate those who have special dietry requirements as part of their relgious practices. I know one cant cater for everyone, but the usual round of fish and chips, pizza, jacket potatoes and the occasional curry is not really diverse.

    We are really lagging behind in this. What improvements will be made over the next twelve months? I do think the widespread introduction of a "generic" prayer room across civil service departments and offices would be a great project to be starting out with.

    • Replies to Charlotte Smith>

      Comment by Chris posted on

      I totally agree that areas for people to 'take a moment' or come together in a shared experience are important in maintaining good mental health.

      However, it's a physical impossibility for such a room to be equipped with paraphernalia "belonging to each religious order" as there are thousands of religions and world-views out there. Better perhaps to have a non-denominational area and people take their own items with them (and away again).

      Language is important and referring to such places as "prayer" rooms can immediately alienate those whose beliefs or world-views aren't based on prayer and perhaps wish simply to sit or meditate in peace. (A large group that it is very easy to discriminate against if we aren't careful.) Even calling these "quiet" areas is a misnomer if group worship is a practice to be catered for.

  4. Comment by Simon posted on

    Good to see this blog. I agree with much of what I read in it and many of the comments. The hardest thing about bringing my faith to work is that when at work we have to work and cannot spend time in fascinating discussions about faith with colleagues from other backgrounds. I have worked in a number of Countries around the world with different faith groups and faith more often than not is the common ground between me and other people. From my Christian viewpoint we may have to agree to disagree on some points but I always feel we are a lot closer to people of other faiths than we realise with much in common. Thanks for bringing up this important subject.

  5. Comment by Michael posted on

    I always thought that ones beliefs are personal and should be kept out of the workplace.

    • Replies to Michael>

      Comment by Michelle posted on

      I believed a lot in my life was personal and shouldn't be bought into the workplace. By hiding large parts of myself I wasn't able to feel like myself in work and wasn't able to connect with my colleagues. I was holding myself back. To be clear I am not throwing my beliefs in peoples faces now. I am just not actively hiding anything. If a topic comes up I will share my viewpoint being mindful that others may not agree and always being ready to listen.

  6. Comment by Brendan Murray posted on

    Although I was born and raised a Catholic, I have never considered myself a religious person, but nor am I an atheist or an agnostic. I am perfectly happy to accept the concept of there being a supreme being (a concept which is just as acceptable to me as that of the ‘big bang’).

    My belief system, such that it is, is based on the fact that none of us have long on this earth, so we should simply make sure we do not offend anyone or take offence from anyone in turn or to quote my dad, ‘Never knowingly take the smile off anybody’s face’
    In this way we can endure that if there is a god, he/she will surely deem us to have lived a good life and reward us for it? If there isn’t a god, then, we shall at least be remembered fondly when we have gone.

  7. Comment by Chris posted on

    Good point Chris M. "Faith" isn't a term used in The Equality Act 2010, which refers to religion and belief (including a lack thereof). The EHRC provides a differentiation between the two:

    "religion, for example an organised religion like Christianity, Judaism, Islam or Buddhism, or a smaller religion like Rastafarianism or Paganism, as long as it has a clear structure and belief system.

    "a philosophical belief must be genuinely held and more than an opinion. It must be cogent, serious and apply to an important aspect of human life or behaviour.

    "a belief must also be worthy of respect in a democratic society and not affect other people’s fundamental rights"

  8. Comment by Chris McLaughlin posted on

    I am grateful and agree with the sentiments expressed in the blog, but would like to make a constructive suggestion.

    May I suggest that we do not use the words "faith" and "religion" interchangably. If I may say so, to reduce religion to a question of belief is a particularly Protestant notion (sola fide), and not one which is shared by many (dare I say most) religious people in the world; Catholics, Jews, and Muslims being but three notable examples. The use of the word "faith" implies the absence of, or a reduced role for, rationality, which is a Lutheran idea which many religious people would not recognise.

    I have a religion, I don't have a faith; and I don't particularly care for my religion being referred to in this way.

  9. Comment by Gavin Thomas posted on

    Thank you Clare for a very informative blog. I believe that we all are lot more aware of the diverse beliefs and faiths that are out there and we are more respectful to others.

  10. Comment by Lesley posted on

    Wow, I've really enjoyed reading the Blog and responses, thank you. I follow a Vegan lifestyle (since June 2017) and sometimes I feel it's like a religion. I've certainly been ridiculed about it so do tend to 'keep quiet' although the more I'm learning the more I feel prepared to open up ....but only a little!

  11. Comment by Janine Toulson posted on

    What a brilliant blog. I wish I had seen this before. So much goes on that we don't know about. This is an area I feel really passionate about.

  12. Comment by Angela Dean posted on

    Everyone has to believe in something. My belief may be in God, but in the words of Dave Allen "may your god go with you"

  13. Comment by Chris posted on

    An interesting and honest post. There are arguments for and against bringing personal life into work, but I recall Malcom Bryant of Legal Aid giving an inspiring talk at CS Live in 2015 highlighting the dangers inherent in not bringing our "whole self" to work.

    I think discussing the topic is made hard by worrying that one may inadvertently cause offence. It's certainly something to be wary of. Bringing your whole self to work cannot be at the expense of another person not being able to. So sharing quotes from Leviticus may not be appropriate. But I'd suggest the first step is to ensure you mean well yourself and to assume that the other person means well too. For instance, atheists might take offence at Humanism being described as "a symptom of faith" or even as a belief, but I assume that isn't the intention so am not offended.

    Atheists are one of the most persecuted groups across the globe with a lack of faith punishable by death in a number of countries. Even in this country many atheists experience the feelings you describe as it's often still a socially awkward admission that one doesn't belong to that particular club. The most common misunderstanding I come across is a believer assuming, without visible evidence to the contrary, that I must be a Christian. "No religion" is actually the largest self-declared 'belief' group in the UK.

    Your view that faith "underpins so much that is good in the world" would certainly make an interesting topic for discussion.

  14. Comment by Christina Lattimer posted on

    Clare, thank you for bringing up the subject of faith and belief. Reaching out across faiths is for me an act of dignity and respect. Unless we understand more about what is important to us individually, how can we respect and accept our differences? Even more importantly only by being open to and seeing our differences without judgement, are we able to clearly see what connects us; what we have in common and what lies at the heart of inclusiveness. I say start the dialogue in a small way, test how things go and set some parameters (i.e. don't let our alternative beliefs be a barrier), then let the conversation flourish. It will in the right spirit.

  15. Comment by Clare posted on

    Many thanks Clare. I have also reflected on how to bring up the topic of faith in conversations. One of the things that helped was setting up a prayer group in our Embassy last year. This is a non-demoninational Christian group and was formed as part of the FCO Christian Fellowship. This has encouraged colleagues to speak to each about faith and helped bridge the gap between the Christian denominations.

  16. Comment by Mark Chambers posted on

    Thank you for this Clare. As a Christian, sometimes very shy at work about expressing my faith, I couldn't agree with you or Aidan more. Without being intrusive and still respecting privacy, it can be very helpful in understanding the beliefs and worldviews that motivate our colleagues. We have much to learn from one another.

  17. Comment by anon posted on

    Err... and those without "faith" or "belief" who have been criticised by those bringing their whole religious self to work?

    What about those bringing their whole religious self to work who would deny others of us our lives and ways of living...

    Could we celebrate Charles Bradlaugh and comment on the discrimination he faced?

  18. Comment by Si posted on

    The assured expectation of things hoped for though not yet beheld. ...... or 'you gotta have faith' (George Michael)

  19. Comment by kevin bowen-lewis posted on

    Namaste Clare ,
    How buddhism works is so simple and can be explained in one word ''compassion''
    That is true compassion and constantly being mindful of this in our life,
    unfortunately my experience of being within the civil service is that its lost this concept completely ,so I wish you luck


  20. Comment by Vaughan Robbins posted on

    Good post. You have suggested starting small.

    It is encouraging that the Civil Service is championing faith and belief. As you indicate this is a deeply personal matter and not everyone is comfortable speaking about it, either those that hold a particular faith or belief or those that may want to know more about faith and belief.

    Yes dress can be an outward sign of religious observance, particularly but not exclusively amongst followers of the major religions. Equally there may be no outward sign that a person holds a particular faith or belief.

  21. Comment by Adam posted on

    This is an interesting subject, and one that people will come to with pretty strong pre-conceptions of what 'faith' means to them.

    You mention humanism as a non-faith belief but, while I understand the sense in which you are saying this, I think humanism is at least a symptom of faith if not faith itself.

    I've always been motivated by public service, all my career pipe dreams and realities have centred around it, and that is driven at least in part by a very deep seated belief that values such as 'the golden rule' of treating others as you would like to be treated are true.

    I tried ways of rationalising that belief, linking it social Darwinianism and reading into what I found to be circular arguments such as 'natural law', but at the end of the day many of my beliefs are not really rational in an classical economic sense and are based on faith.

    Barack Obama, in his book 'the audacity of hope' narrates how he eventually joined the Christian church because he felt that his faith needed a home. I felt the same - I have no trouble admitting that, were I living in a Muslim country then I probably would have discovered and joined Islam rather than the Christian church.

    This is difficult for many Christians, including in my Church, to understand, and many probably think I'm not 'really' a Christian. That's fine by me, but I believe that all of the world's great faiths, at least from what I know of Islam and Buddhism, are on the same golden thread of truth - of finding a way to live our short lives well and of being at peace with the universe, and their respective stories and traditions are means of making that truth understandable and tramissable through the generations.

    • Replies to Adam>

      Comment by Anon posted on

      Adam - what a great comment and worthy of a blog post all of its own. As someone who over time has come to the conclusion that, at best religion makes no sense, and at worst is the root of all ill in today’s world, your take on faith has made me really stop and think. Thanks.

  22. Comment by Aidan posted on

    Thanks for this well written blog Clare and for taking on the role of faith and belief champion. Totally agree that it's impossible to bring one's whole self to work without bringing one's faith.