Christianity in the Cubicle: a Good Thing?
- Wednesday, June 27, 2012
Should religion and business mingle? American culture seems to be increasingly willing to say “yes.” In the last fifteen years two major business periodicals, Business Week and Fortune, devoted cover stories to the growing interest to link spirituality with the workplace. These articles, while a bit perplexed about what to make of the phenomenon, recognized that the office was indeed becoming a place more open to religion. The stories noted the benefits this trend had for business, including bolstered morale and productivity. While the articles did not make a definitive statement as to the helpfulness of this trend, they seemed overall approving of it, even if puzzled.
This would make sense given sociologist Robert Wuthnow’s research on the subject of faith and work. In God and Mammon, Wuthnow recognizes that religion affects the way workers think about work, yet it does so in decidedly therapeutic, subjective, and safe ways. Religion does not challenge the broader systems and structures that comprise the workplace, it does not encourage whistle blowing, it does not seek to correct the greed that fuels many business enterprises, rather religion seems quite content to leave the workplace as is. In this way, the faith at work movement is a fairly tame one that many workplaces seem content to tolerate and even assist with. And they have done such. Whether it is funding sessions and conferences seeking to enhance one’s spiritual life or bringing in spiritual gurus of all stripes to guide their workers through their workplace obstacles, businesses and corporations are realizing the importance of keeping a check on the spiritual state of their workers.
Yet there is a more controversial side to the movement. While pleased with the idea of religion, broadly defined, there seems to be palpable anxiety concerning any attempts to share one’s faith at work with the goal of conversion. This sentiment sprouted in the Business Week article. Referencing the comments of USC business professor Ian I. Mitroff, the article noted that a majority of those polled believed the increase of religion at work was a good thing. Yet this telling caveat was added, “so long as there’s no bully-pulpit promotion of traditional religion.” Similarly, a Boston magazine article focusing on evangelicals and their efforts to bring Christ “to a cubicle near you” sparked nervousness. One reader says, “The movement to bring Jesus into the workplace is appallingly intrusive.” Also expressing uneasiness, Sarah Wunsch with the ACLU of Massachusetts says regarding evangelicals integrating their faith at work: “I think this stuff is screwy…If you know the boss is a born-again Christian and pushing this stuff and you are a Jew or a Muslim, it would almost be impossible not to have this affect your employment.”
These comments suggest uneasiness toward American evangelicals and their evangelistic impulse at work. These articles indicate that while expressing one’s faith at work is a growing trend, there remain certain boundaries to the type of faith one is encouraged to practice at work. The dogma that dominates workplace spirituality is not typically open to faiths that seek to convert others. While the spiritualities finding warm welcome in the workplace seem broad and open they nonetheless appear to have boundaries that are rigorously patrolled.
But is evangelism the only goal for the Christian at work? Are the non-Christians that appear so nervous correct to think that integrating the Christian faith at work means simply evangelism? Is the Christian call in the workplace primarily an evangelistic one? Too often perhaps it is, worries evangelical theologian John Stott who has said that Christians typically reduce the workplace to a “well-stocked lake to fish in.” For the Christian, integrating faith and work are vital tasks that mean far more than simply evangelism. Oklahoma Baptist University business professor, Rich Rudebock, believes that Christians must keep in mind that work is a “subduing the earth.” Rudebock is referring to what has been called the Cultural Mandate (Genesis 1:28). This mandate was given before the Fall which implies that work need not be considered a fallen activity. Yes, work’s difficulty is due to the Fall, but work itself is part of the design of creation. At work, humans are engaged in an activity that has been ordained by God. Like Rudebock, Nancy Pearcey, in her book Total Truth, reminds that the“Christian message does not begin with ‘accept Christ as your Savior’; it begins with ‘in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.’ The Bible teaches that God is the sole source of the entire created order…Thus His word, or laws, or creation ordinances give the world its order and structure.”
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