Author: Peter Cantelon, Executive Director
There are two topics it is suggested you never broach in polite conversation (or writing) – politics and religion. You will be happy to hear we will not be talking about politics here.
Of course what this means is we need to sensitively and appropriately broach the subject of religion. Specifically, when your client base, membership, staff, stakeholders, board members etc. represent a diverse number of different faiths (and of course many who do not identify with a faith at all)?
There are loads of differing perspectives on this, each coloured by the experience and belief system of the person or people who hold them. Some subscribe to the “nobody move and nobody gets hurt” school of thought which is sort of a status quo approach.
In Canada there are some holidays that are more visible than others. Christmas comes to mind. This is due to the modern settler history of the country and the primary faith of those settlers – Christianity. There are also varying and significant differences within Christianity and other faiths in terms of how holidays like Christmas are observed. Understanding these nuances can make the difference between insult and compliment.
As Canada continues to grow in the 21st century we recognize a need to make space for and appreciate the value of myriad faith perspectives, not the least of which would be Indigenous people’s varying expressions of faith, having existed and developed here well ahead of colonial settlement.
We should also recognize that the history of Christian faith and Indigenous peoples in Canada and around the globe is fraught with trauma and pain on the part of these same Indigenous peoples. Compassion and genuine humanity demand a sensitive approach.
Canada is a diverse and multicultural country, this is one of its primary strengths. As organizations within this country we should seek to celebrate these things and learn.
It is important to be humble and honest as an organization about what you know. A non-profit made up of staff and volunteers who are entirely Christian should not seek to celebrate other non-Christian faith-based holidays without the advice and guidance of a member of that faith community. They should also be VERY sensitive to the make-up of their client-base and community and seek to avoid causing harm where they meant simply to offer joy and goodwill.
It is ok to wish people a “Happy Chanukah” or wish people the best on Diwali or Ramadan for instance but inappropriate to offer any level of instruction or advice where there is no practitioner or adherent present to do so.
It is also important to avoid using faith-based holidays as an opportunity to market your organization. This could cheapen the holiday in the eyes of adherents and your organization.
Ultimately operating every day with a spirit of openness, providing respectful and equal space for all people regardless of faith, and demonstrating a willingness to listen and learn will give you the privilege of being able to speak into and celebrate holidays alongside your community, whatever their faith or lack thereof.
If you actively and with intention demonstrate a willingness to be an ally you will be welcome to communicate and even celebrate different holidays.