Monday, February 28, 2022

Anonymous Asks (186)

“Do Christians in today’s working world ever find themselves confronted by issues not directly addressed in the Bible?”

This may sound off-topic, but work with me here. I have never been a fan of applying the slave/master verses of the New Testament to modern employment arrangements. The two situations are simply not analogous. I have known people who felt trapped in dead-end jobs, but even in the worst modern employment situations, the employee is legally free to take his leave any time he chooses on a mere two weeks notice. It’s not the law of the land or the middle manager he reports to that make him feel trapped, but rather his personal financial situation.

That’s not to say there is nothing in the New Testament to address the issues faced by Christians in today’s working world, but let’s be careful what we do with those slave and master passages.

Working for a Living

The fact remains that most Christian men and many Christian women need to work for a living, if only because scripture commands us not to be idle and to equip ourselves to share with those in need as we have opportunity. Christians already pensioned off or who are independently wealthy for other reasons are exceptions, not the rule. Most of us also have fairly limited options as we age. The youngster with his newly-printed university degree is free to make choices the fifty-something white male in an office job is not, or at very least any mistakes he makes in navigating his career path are less likely at that early stage to hurt his prospects to quite the same degree.

In the first century there was no employment insurance, and no such thing as welfare or long-term disability to fall back on if you genuinely could not work. Thus many believers today are free to make employment-related choices that first century Christians were not. There is almost always a cost to these choices but the worst case scenario is that you lose your job and look for another.

When we look for spiritual guidance in the workplace then, we are not so much looking at the master/slave verses as to general principles that apply more broadly. We are not without direction, but the onus is on each believer to work out and apply those scriptures for him- or herself.

So here are a few sticky situations I have encountered over the years. My list is very far from comprehensive.

Example #1: The Not-So-White Lie

Our company is multi-national, and few years ago I was asked to travel to a U.S. east coast site to help out for a week. My boss doesn’t like to be bothered with visas, especially for short-term employee movement, so he suggested I tell customs I was taking a training seminar, and he gave me a letter to that effect. It wasn’t true, and I didn’t feel comfortable lying about it. If you need a verse for that, Jesus himself taught that bearing false witness defiles a man. So then, what to do? I agreed to go to the airport, but not to lie about what I was doing. I prayed about it on the way, and was never once asked about the purpose of my trip.

Will that work every time? I imagine it would not. Had I continued to travel repeatedly, I’m sure I would have eventually encountered a situation in which I was faced with a choice that would trouble either my conscience or my employer.

At that point we all have to use our judgment. I know where the line is for me.

Example #2: The Human Resources Nightmare

Human resources departments in major corporations are hives of social justice activity, and every year we are presented with new sets of diversity and inclusion obligations. While many of these cause production inefficiencies and wasted time, that sort of thing is the employer’s business. Most present no crisis of conscience for the Christian: be polite, be considerate, don’t discriminate, and so on. Others are not so wonderful. We were recently directed to use our fellow employees’ pronouns of choice rather than the traditional (and more accurate) “he”, “she”, “her”, “his” and so on.

Now, I’m sorry, but I do not feel confirming a sinner in his sin or the deluded in their delusions is a moral thing to do. I’m not mean-spirited about it, but like Jordan Peterson, I am not about to use anyone else’s pronouns to describe a man as a woman or an individual as a plurality, let alone some of the weird words that are invented which I’m pretty sure nobody has ever requested be used. These too are lies, and lying to your co-workers isn’t exactly a loving thing to do, even when they ask for it.

Our office has yet to hire an employee suffering from or pretending to suffer from gender dysmorphia (don’t laugh: gender trolls are a real thing, though I just can’t bring myself to link to the evidence), so I may never be faced with the dilemma of how to respond. But if forced to choose between being insubordinate in my use of language or keeping my job, I think I’d have to opt for the former.

Sometimes speech is costly, and the toll has to be paid.

Example #3: Use of Company Time

In general, I don’t feel it’s appropriate to use company time to witness to my fellow workers. I’m there to do a job, and I’m not being paid to stand around chatting about the Christian faith to people who may or may not be interested. I consider breaks and lunch time another matter: when I am not on the clock, all bets are off.

I have made exceptions though. After all, my co-workers do have the not-so-occasional non-work-related conversation while on the clock. I try to keep it short, of course, but there are certain statements you just can’t let pass in case you are thought to approve of them. A few years ago, members of a small religious sect were in the news because they expected the Rapture to occur on a specific day. A co-worker read about it and remarked, “Who would believe that nonsense?” I was standing right beside him when he said it, and felt compelled to respond, “I do.” I added, “I just don’t believe the Bible tells us we can know the day or the hour when it will happen.”

“Really?” he asked. “Really,” I replied. That was about all there was to it. We had worked together for years prior, and he knows me to be a generally rational individual, so our relationship has not changed in any measurable way on account of that conversation. All the same, at least he knows a little more about where I stand. Some opportunities are just too in-your-face to pass up.

Example #4: To Speak or Not to Speak

The question of when it’s appropriate for a Christian to speak about his beliefs in a workplace setting is a tough one, and believers will differ in how they approach it. I have bitten my tongue many times when a group of people around me was discussing politics or hot-button issues like homosexuality or abortion. I have Christian opinions on these subjects, but my thoughts were not being solicited, and there is always the potential for a misunderstanding in a conversation about a lesser issue to totally derail one’s opportunity to witness to co-workers at a later date.

It can be difficult dodging direct questions though. One night, the woman beside me had been watching something on TV about the Israelite invasion of Canaan and whether it ever happened. She asked me flat out, “Why would a loving God command genocide?”

Could you leave that one alone? I couldn’t. We had a lively discussion and she heard some suggestions she will probably never hear anywhere else.

Example #5: Health-Related Mandates

This is the issue-of-the-moment, and to say that Christians differ in how they respond to it is a wild understatement. I will mask and distance or submit to a temperature scan on request, but I am not interested in submitting to a vaccination mandate. My thinking is that it’s appropriate to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, but you and I are not his; we are Christ’s. Moreover, Caesar seems to be a bit confused and inconsistent about what he wants on that front for the time being, so Romans 13:1 does not come into this conversation yet. My boss is only a “governing authority” to the extent I choose to allow it, and I do not believe Paul was addressing the employer-employee relationship in that passage.

All the same, many employers are choosing to mandate vaccination for their employees. I consider they are operating outside their area of authority, and thankfully my own employer has not gone that route yet other than in the New York office, where they were complying with a citywide mandate. Now, for some Christians this is a non-issue. They believe the vaccines are safe and effective, and are happy to comply voluntarily. Other Christians who are not quite so near to retirement as I am, or in different financial situations, feel compelled to comply out of necessity. Those in the Lord’s work may find their sphere of ministry contracting if they don’t play along: if your service consists in visiting seniors, jails, reserves and so on, or if travel is a big part of your ministry, then there are decisions to be made and priorities to be weighed. I understand all that, and try not to tell other Christians what I think they should be doing: they stand or fall to their own Master.

All the same, I’m pretty sure the apostle Paul never addressed this sort of dilemma directly. If he did, feel free to fill me in.

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