This year’s Inter Faith Week blogger is Peter Benton, Faith and Belief Champion at the Office for National Statistics (ONS), where he is the Director of Census and Survey Operations.
Peter’s work has a direct relevance to diversity and inclusion across the country. The 2021 Census will be the first to collect data on sexual orientation and gender identity, alongside existing questions relating to ethnicity, religion, age, sex, language, national identity, citizenship, education, employment, disability and health. This will provide policy-makers and planners across the country, in central and local government, businesses and charities with the richest-ever picture of diversity and inclusion, enabling the needs of all communities to be better understood.
What we believe shapes who we are. Whether we have a faith or belief, or none, what goes on deep within us shapes our frame of reference and how we behave.
Sometimes, those frames of reference rub up against each other – sometimes in small ways at work or in more dramatic ways in the wider world. We’ve all had conversations about how religion, faith, belief, or whatever we choose to call it, can lead to wars and conflicts because of deeply held views that drive extreme behaviours. And we’re also all too familiar with debates about the relationship between religion, gender, sexual orientation and other aspects of diversity.
But many faiths and beliefs also have at the heart a desire to build and restore relationships, love our neighbours and even love our enemies.
How do we reconcile these seemingly opposing behaviours and experiences? I’m all too aware that my own behaviours sometimes are the opposite of what I’d want them to be, and I’ve learnt the hard way that going the extra mile to help build strong relationships is much more productive than falling out with people. Thankfully, ‘sorry’ really is a very powerful word.
My reaction when asked to take on the role of faith and belief champion for ONS was, “I can’t talk about that at work!” It took me a while to get over the hurdle, but now that I have I’m really enjoying having conversations with people I wouldn’t otherwise have spoken to. It's been great to celebrate differences while having a better appreciation of others’ beliefs.
Commonality, diversity and inclusion
The importance of learning more about each other’s faith and belief feels especially timely given that next week we are marking Inter Faith Week (10 to 17 November). Once again, thanks to the efforts of departmental faith and belief networks, cross-government networks and departmental champions, a range of events are celebrating and building on the contribution that people of different faiths and beliefs make to the Civil Service and wider society. The theme for this year’s celebrations is ‘building bridges’, and we will be joining in with events across the country involving people of all faiths and beliefs and none.
Inter Faith Week is about reflecting on our commonality as well as our diversity. The week is about fostering greater interaction between people from different backgrounds so that we can have open conversations. On that theme, Clare Moriarty, Civil Service Faith and Belief Champion, will be holding an Inter Faith Week mixer on Thursday, 14 November in London. (You can see a full list of Civil Service events during Inter Faith Week here.)
My faith as a Christian affects everything I do at work. I do my best to treat everyone as I’d like to be treated. And if you pass me in the corridor you might get the impression I’m talking to myself – but I’ll probably be saying a quick prayer asking for wisdom for the next meeting I’m heading to (I’ll let others judge whether it’s working!). And though they might not know it, I pray daily for the people I work with. Though the world may seem frightening and uncertain at times, it gives me great comfort to believe that God loves me and the people around me.
Even if you can’t make it along to any events, please feel encouraged to talk about your faith or belief at work and do all you can to create a sense of community and inclusion. If you need some help in understanding how to support people of different faiths and beliefs in your team, the Civil Service faith and belief toolkit is a really helpful place to start!