There are several clubs who have participated in our District's Net Promoter Score survey. When I present findings to the clubs, I avoid mentioning specific negative comments, except when they refer to behaviors that violate Rotary standards and values. Those behaviors are in my "STOP NOW" category. Instead, we focus on what part of the Rotary experience people's comments refer to, both positive and negative. This tells us what part of their experience is important.
I have noticed, howeer, that several Rotarians have called out a specific behavior in more than one club survey. It is the most emotionally charged issue that I have seen across multiple clubs so far. That behavior is the use of the words God, Jesus, Heavenly Father, Dear Lord, spirit and similar terms, especially when they are part of the meeting often referred to as the "Invocation." Is this a violation of the Four-Way Test?
In the brochure, "What is Rotary?", published by Rotary International, the next to last page states:
Rotary clubs are nonreligious, nonpolitical, and open to every race, culture, and creed. Members represent a cross-section of local, business, professional, and community leaders.
If Rotary clubs are nonreligious, then we should not pray to specific deities or religious personalities during our meetings. In fact, the word invocation itself has a religious meaning. According to the Encarta Dictionary:
1. Calling upon higher power; a calling upon a greater power such as God or a spirit for help
2. Prayer; a short prayer forming part of a religious service
Calling upon a god or higher power is certainly a religious act. Therefore, should we eliminate this practice from our meetings entirely? Is an invocation fair to all concerned? Is calling upon a deity, that some club members do not acknowledge, a way to build better friendships? Is it beneficial to all concerned if some are offended by the use of religious terms when they expect and believe that Rotary is a nonreligious organization?
Take religion out of the Rotary experience. This does not mean abandon values. Many values are well-expressed in religious traditions. This simply means telling and living the truth that Rotary is a nonreligious organization. This is a simple way to eliminate a significant barrier for people who do not practice a specific faith or who choose not to make their spiritual life a public matter.
Do you want to grow membership? Simply take away the big negatives. And for some, religious practice in Rotary is one of those negatives.
What do you think:
- Should we eliminate prayers and invocations in all Rotary gatherings?
- What words should we use to describe the moment of reflection or inspiration in our meetings?
- How do you advise your members of the fact that Rotary is a nonreligious organization - and what that means for behavior?