November 1, 2004

GOD IN THE CUBICLES:

Faith at Work (RUSSELL SHORTO, 10/31/04, NY Times Magazine)

Chuck Ripka says he sometimes slips and says to people, ''Come on over to the church -- I mean the bank.'' He's not literally a man of the cloth, but in the parlance of the initiated, he is a marketplace pastor, one node of a sprawling, vigorous faith-at-work movement. An auto-parts manufacturer in downtown Philadelphia. An advertising agency in Fort Lauderdale. An Ohio prison. A Colorado Springs dental office. A career-counseling firm in Portland, Ore. The Curves chain of fitness centers. American Express. Intel. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The I.R.S. The Pentagon. The White House. Thousands of businesses and other entities, from one-man operations to global corporations to divisions of the federal government, have made room for Christianity on the job, and in some cases have oriented themselves completely around Christian precepts. Well-established Christian groups, including the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and the Promise Keepers, are putting money and support behind the movement. There are faith-at-work newsletters and blogs and books with titles like ''God@Work,'' ''Believers in Business'' and ''Loving Monday.''

The idea is that Christians have for too long practiced their faith on Sundays and left it behind during the workweek, that there is a moral vacuum in the modern workplace, which leads to backstabbing careerism, empty routines for employees and C.E.O.'s who push for profits at the expense of society, the environment and their fellow human beings. No less a figure than the Rev. Billy Graham has predicted that ''one of the next great moves of God is going to be through believers in the workplace.'' To listen to marketplace pastors, you would think churches were almost passe; for them work is the place, and Jesus is the antidote to both cubicle boredom and Enron-style malfeasance.

Os Hillman, a former golf professional and advertising executive in Georgia, is an unofficial leader of the movement. ''We teach men and women to see their work as not just where they collect a check, but actually as their calling in life,'' he says. ''We teach them to see what the Bible says about work, to see the spiritual value of their work.'' Through two organizations, the International Coalition of Workplace Ministries and Marketplace Leaders, Hillman and his wife, Angie, offer workshops, publish books and organize conferences. More than 900 ''workplace ministries'' are listed in I.C.W.M.'s member directory, and Hillman's faith-at-work e-mail devotional -- which features stories noting that Jesus and the apostles all had jobs and that most of the parables in the New Testament have workplace settings -- goes out to 80,000 subscribers daily.

Of course, Christianity isn't the only spiritual force in the workplace. There is an overarching faith-at-work movement afoot. Some companies are paying for, or at least allowing, workplace meditation sessions and Talmudic-study groups and shamanistic-healing retreats for employees. But this remains an overwhelmingly Christian nation. According to the Gallup polling organization (which itself fits into the subject of this article, as George Gallup Jr. is an evangelical Christian who has called his work ''a kind of ministry''), 42 percent of Americans consider themselves evangelical or born again, and the aggressiveness with which some evangelicals are asserting their faith on the job suggests that the movement's impact, for better or worse, is going to come from them.

Most mainline Christian denominations have been slow to embrace the movement. Church leaders either haven't recognized it as significant or have determined that since it takes place outside the walls of their institutions, it is by definition not of concern to them. But some pastors are out in front of their leaders: they have left their churches to become workplace-ministry consultants or have landed jobs as ''corporate chaplains,'' spiritual counselors hired by companies as a perk for employees. Rich Marshall, who is now a consultant, was a pastor in San Jose, Calif., for 25 years. ''I realized what I was preaching in my pulpit wasn't helping people in their work lives,'' he says. ''Now I'm on the road, speaking to businesspeople about integrating faith and work.''

Looked at in light of some recent trends, there is a certain logic in all of this. First came the withering of the mainline Christian denominations and the proliferation of new, breakaway churches. Then consumerism took hold: today, many serious Christians are transient, switching churches and theologies again and again to suit their changing needs. With traditional institutions fragmenting and many people both hungry for spiritual guidance and spending more time at work than ever, it was perhaps inevitable that the job site would become a kind of new church.

When it comes to writing about religion, objectivity is a false god. In the interest of full disclosure, I would like to state here that my own orientation is secular but that I also believe that all religions have more or less equal dollops of spiritual truth in them, which become corrupted by personal and cultural dross. This puts me at a certain distance from most of the people in this article. For one thing, all the marketplace Christians I encountered were firmly of the belief that Christian truth is the only truth and that part of their duty as Christians is to save the unsaved.

My task, then, was to try to understand a phenomenon that has, from my perspective, an inherent conflict in it. One of the movement's objectives is to give Christians an opportunity to ''out'' themselves on the job, to let them express who they are, freely and without feeling persecuted. Few would argue with such a goal: it suits an open society. And if it increases productivity and keeps C.E.O.'s from turning into reptiles, all the better.

Then again, the idea of corporations dominated by a particular religious faith has a hint of oppressiveness, a ''Taliban Inc.'' aspect. As it is, Christian holidays are the only official religious holidays in 99 percent of American workplaces surveyed by the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding. Religious-discrimination complaints to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission have increased 84 percent since 1992 and 30 percent since 2000. Georgette Bennett, the director of the Tanenbaum Center, attributes the rise in part to the influx of workers from Asian and African countries and an overall aging of the largely Christian homegrown workforce, leading to a clash of traditions. ''Added to that is the way in which religion has entered the public square and been politicized,'' she says.

Some friction may come from the insistence of marketplace Christians on seeing offices and factories as arenas for evangelism. Converting others, after all, is what being an evangelical Christian is all about.


The anti-religious are fond of saying they only want to enforce the First Amendment, but challenges to religion in private workplaces obviously put that one to rest.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 1, 2004 9:12 AM
Comments

What a great plan - use work time to strong-arm people to the faith. They can't just leave, they have to be at their desk 9 to 5.

One of the great successes of America is that people of various faiths, including secular, can come together at work and drive the most productive economy in the world. But the christian nannys can't leave well enough alone.

Look for widespread turnover for any large company that tries this, especially from their IT staff.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at November 1, 2004 11:00 AM

This kind of issue leaves me feeling very conflicted. First, there is the obvious pressure that a religious employer can put on his more secular employees, believe as I believe, participate in our 'voluntary' prayer sessions or whatever, or hit the bricks. In fields where finding a new job ain't easy, this is a real impingement on protected rights.

Second, the increasing obtrusiveness of the workplace into the private sphere is frightening. Is this type of prayer set-up any different from Martha Stewart ordering her employees to set up dinner parties in their homes for co-workers? If I don't want the government to butt into my private life, why let my employer do so?

Third, when employers permit or encourage their workers to segregate themselves by race, religion, gender, etc, they create little competing islands of hostility. I've seen this on university faculties, where each subgroup hunkers down with its own, and it's not conducive to getting work done, or encouraging the qualified. Everybody gets into a 'our fair share' mode rather than trying to do their best, and hiring and promotion decisions get made based on whether one fills a category not on how good a scholar one is.

Finally, there is the simple question of freedom. If an employer is up front with people about his faith, what role in plays in his business, how he believes acting out one's faith in public is an integral part of what his company is about, etc., there really shouldn't be any problem. If everyone knocks off at 12-1 for employer-mandated Bible or Talmudic study, is it really the government's business as long as it's in the manual that a prospective employee receives up front.

Posted by: Bart at November 1, 2004 11:30 AM

Bart:

What protected rights?

Posted by: oj at November 1, 2004 11:43 AM

Freedom of religion? The fact that you cannot be discriminated against in hiring on the basis of faith or lack thereof? The last 50 years or so of Supreme Court jurisprudence on the matter along with Federal legislation just blew by you, eh?

Posted by: Bart at November 1, 2004 11:53 AM

Orrin-
You know from your former employer how much of a crock the term "voluntary" in the workplace is. Can you imagine that place with a bunch of religious types running it?
And Bart wrote a nice long piece on how he feels about the issue and you come back with a smug three-word answer. Do better. Address his points.

Posted by: Governor Breck at November 1, 2004 11:53 AM

What protected rights?

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness would make three.

Companies who practice this sort of workplace evangelism would be shooting themselves in the foot. Talent is evenly distributed; evangelism is not. Excluding talent is never part of a good business plan.

Should such a thing happen at Ford, as Robert noted, all IT development would come to an abrupt halt.

Also not part of a good business plan.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at November 1, 2004 11:56 AM

The Island at the Centre of the World is on my, um, short list of books to be read soon.

Posted by: Eugene S. at November 1, 2004 1:03 PM

I just love it. As I always say, libertarians are really liberals who appear conservative to get their way. If libertarians want absolute freedom, then I guess that means CEOs can run their businesses like churches if that is how they want to do it.

Posted by: Vince at November 1, 2004 1:06 PM

Normally I would have some reservations, but the thought of Harry or Jeff being strapped for cash and needing to apply for a loan from Mr. Ripka of the Riverview Community Bank is just too sweet to pass up, so I say go with it.

Posted by: Peter B at November 1, 2004 1:57 PM

Vince, they can do whatever they want, as long as they deal with the consequences. Maybe a second rate fried chicken joint can get away with this, but try it at Ford, as Jeff points out, and you'd be out of business. Maybe Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and Larry Ellison, three of the richest businessmen in the world, should try this with their companies. Except that they are all three athiests. Repeat after me "There is no God, we serve Microsoft Almighty".

Posted by: Robert Duquette at November 1, 2004 2:02 PM

Vince - Yes, many libertarians are just atomistic individualists -- they want to make sure no one else in society can influence them. They don't like it when other people withhold benefits based on their behavior. Yet if you believe in liberty, those other people have that right.

Posted by: pj at November 1, 2004 2:04 PM

PJ, I have nothing with behavior based rules (and I'm not a libertarian, btw, I'm a secular conservative), but the behaviors in question should be ones that contribute to or detract from the society. Employers should enforce behaviors like honesty, hard work, accountability, living up to commitments, etc. When I get my car fixed, I want to make sure that the guy who does it honestly assesses the problem and recommends the repairs that best solve the problem without adding too much to the expense. I really don't give a rip if he reads his Bible or prays before each workday. And if he takes the opportunity of my business to dump his religious views on me, I'm taking my business elsewhere.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at November 1, 2004 2:26 PM

Robert:

Those are all religiously derived.

Posted by: oj at November 1, 2004 2:32 PM

Nonsense.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at November 1, 2004 2:38 PM

Bart:

That which is invented by a few justices is by definition not a protected right--justices change.

Posted by: oj at November 1, 2004 2:39 PM

Jeff:

I missed the one about a right to employment in there and you don't believe in Life.

Posted by: oj at November 1, 2004 2:44 PM

Governor:

Yes, I left when they tirned it into a Chinese re-education camp. I didn't have a right to make them conform to my faith.

Bart's post proceeds from a falsehood--the rest is boilerplate.

Posted by: oj at November 1, 2004 2:45 PM

I've worked with people who thought God had told them to convert me.

Why God would want to be represented by jerks always puzzled me. Can't he recruit good salesmen?

Posted by: Harry Eagar at November 1, 2004 2:49 PM

Robert:

They're antibiological, requiring regard for others rather than just yourself. Only Judeo-Christianity effectively inculcates them, which is why democracy, capitalism and the like are uniquely successful in such societies.

Posted by: oj at November 1, 2004 2:50 PM

I say again, nonsense. These are the behaviors that a society will enforce, and a free marketplace will demand. People who act dishonesty, cheat and avoid accountability lose the support of their fellows. Businesses that act that way lose their customers. No religion is required to realize these behaviors, only the desire to be accepted by your peers within society, and to thrive in the business world.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at November 1, 2004 2:54 PM

Not society will enforce, but the State will enforce. That's the choice--religion or statism.

Posted by: oj at November 1, 2004 3:04 PM

When I get my car fixed, I want to make sure that the guy who does it honestly assesses the problem and recommends the repairs that best solve the problem without adding too much to the expense. I really don't give a rip if he reads his Bible or prays before each workday.

With a Christian shop you are much more likely to get honest repairs at a fair price. A goodly number of auto mechanics actively advertise in Christian publications and they get excellent business. In my experience I've yet to be openly proselytized by any Christian car mechnanic or any other Christian shop that I've given my business to. They do seem nicer and smile more, and you get much better customer service.

Posted by: Gideon at November 1, 2004 3:50 PM

OJ,

Have you ever heard of Japan, Singapore and Taiwan? Capitalism and democracy are doing pretty well there. Certainly a lot better than in Latin America or Eastern Europe.

Gideon,

When I see a used car dealer advertise his business as 'Christian owned and operated' I suspect that he is trying to provide false comfort to potential victims. However, I will say that whenever I have dealt with evangelical repairpeople and artisans, I find them to be uniformly competent and courteous.

Posted by: Bart at November 1, 2004 4:05 PM

Bart:

Japan, an artificial invention of MacArthur, had a brief moment in the sun but its statism sank it. Singapore, a British creation, is statist. Taiwan a virtual American colony is doing alright, but it's early innings.

Posted by: oj at November 1, 2004 4:48 PM

OJ, not the state, society. I'm talking about your family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers. These are the people who will turn you out if you're a lying, cheating, shiftless deadbeat.

Gideon, I am not arguing against religious mechanics, I just see no purpose in selecting for them. You can do so if you wish, but I would suggest that you are engaging in a little selection bias. Do you think they would give me the same courteous service if I brought my car in with a DarwinFish symbol on the trunk (not that I have one)?

Posted by: Robert Duquette at November 1, 2004 5:20 PM

"Only Judeo-Christianity effectively inculcates them ..."

Funny you should mention that. One of the members of our development team recently resigned just ahead of getting fired. It seems there was some resentment among our primary customer, as well as several other members of the team, at how this guy routinely overestimated the time required, then just as routinely underdelivered. In short, he was a fraud.

And, as it turns out, a minister at some evangelistic church on the side.

I don't mean to imply that evangelistic ministers are invariably frauds, but it is noteworthy the reasons he got turfed were precisely those Robert mentioned, and had nothing to do with religion.

As a libertarian, I fully agree that private companies are entitled to practice as much religious discrimination as they choose, while noting the more of it they do, the shorter the road to mediocrity--including any consideration other than merit is an excellent way to exclude talent. Never mind an opportunity to experience sectarian conflict on company time.

There are some good case studies in the pleasant results that obtain from judging people based on theological thought crimes.

North Ireland comes immediately to mind.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at November 1, 2004 6:57 PM

Jeff:

Since the vast majority of Americans are Jews and Christians, why would more CEOs running their businesses in accordance with the Judeo-Christian philosophy be counterproductive?

Posted by: Vince at November 1, 2004 7:20 PM

Robert:

Your argument is that they shouldn't be able to hold you to those religious standards.

Posted by: oj at November 1, 2004 7:37 PM

Jeff:

He should, of course, be jugdged by his own religious standards, as he was.

Posted by: oj at November 1, 2004 7:59 PM

Vince:

As I stated above, talent is randomly distributed, but evangelism is not. Should you choose to arbitraritly limit the size of the population from which you draw employees, by definition there is less talent available to you.

Imagine, for instance, that you insist on hiring only Missouri Synod Lutherans, because they are the only ones of sufficient spiritual purity. Don't you think you would be excluding a great many talented people who will only be too happy to go to work for the competition?

OJ:

Be serious. He was judged by the standards of four Hindus, a Muslim, and an Areligious Agnostic.

And found wanting in the one area that knows no sect: merit.

He just didn't deliver.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at November 1, 2004 8:32 PM

Jeff:

Your standards are Judeo-Christian.

Posted by: oj at November 1, 2004 8:41 PM

Jeff:

If a man wants to hire only Jews and Christians, he will alienate only a handful of people. That would not destroy his business.

Posted by: Vince at November 1, 2004 8:44 PM

Jeff:

If a man wants to hire only Jews and Christians, he will alienate only a handful of people. That would not destroy his business.

Posted by: Vince at November 1, 2004 8:48 PM

It would be immensely helpful if the New York Times could figure out that "evangelistic" and "evangelical" aren't variant spellings of the same word.

Posted by: Random Lawyer at November 1, 2004 9:34 PM

The only people I see regularly evangelizing on this board are the atheists.

Furthermore, Harry, faith is a gift from God, not a salesman. In some ways I am heartened by your confidence that it is you who rejected God.

Posted by: Randall Voth at November 1, 2004 9:57 PM

"Your argument is that they shouldn't be able to hold you to those religious standards."

No, they can and do hold me to those standards. It just has nothing to do with praying or bible study. You don't need the Bible to understand those standards, and you don't need a workplace prayer buddy to keep you focused on them.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at November 1, 2004 10:57 PM

Vince,
It that is true, why don't they do it? I imagine that religious people also see it as a waste of their time and an insult to their integrity to have some breakroom Billy Graham presume to tell them how to lead their spiritual life. Do you really think that the Christian majority of this country sees itself as a single, united religion?

Posted by: Robert Duquette at November 1, 2004 11:03 PM

You do, of course, need the Bible to understand them, but regardless of whether you need a buddy to remind you the argument that your buddy or employer shouldn't be allowed to is odd.

Posted by: oj at November 1, 2004 11:15 PM

Randall, I didn't spend 14 years in Catholic school without understanding the superstitions.

God rejected me by withholding faith; I rejected the Church.

Today is the day I read the tax lien filings. Prominent among them is a solar water heater installer called SonLight. Solar water heaters are going great guns just now. All the others are doin' great. Why not him?

Well, I dunno. Couldn't be his in-your-face evangelism, could it? On an island that's 16% Buddhist.

A lot of Buddhists resent having Christians tell them they're going to hell.

And I think a lot of Christians, while resentfulness may not be the exact reaction, deplore or deprecate evangelism. That seems to explain why evagelicals are classed by most folks along with aluminum siding salesmen.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at November 1, 2004 11:30 PM

Except that most people are evangelicals, including you, oddly enough.

Posted by: oj at November 1, 2004 11:34 PM

Whereas I am a devout Christian, I would be the last to defend evangelical doctrine. (Most members of my family are evangelicals, though their business success, even with blatantly Christian businesses, has been polar opposite to the anecdotal evidence presented in this thread. Likely because they are not jerks, but hard-working and diligent people who don't try to sell things to the five or six Buddhists around here.)

On the other hand, I question the sincerity of anyone who is unwilling to attest strongly his beliefs. Especially that notorious non-evangelical John F. Kerry.

Posted by: Randall Voth at November 2, 2004 1:58 AM

OJ:

My standards--as with my remaining coworkers--are completely merit based, and that merit applies regardless of religion.

Claiming to work four hours, while actually working for 45 minutes, is a discrepancy both easily noticed and assessed regardless of ones religious persuasion.

Vince:

We aren't talking Jews and Christians here, but rather a particular stripe of the latter, who, BTW, probably annoy the heck out of, say, all Catholics. Never mind their effect on Jews.

But that wasn't my point. Arbitrarily excluding people from consideration based upon a characteristic that has nothing to do with marketplace success is ultimately self defeating because you inevitably lose talent. It makes no more sense to exclude other-believers than African Americans, since professional performance has nought to do with religious belief.

And the ability to assess that performance is wholly material, meaning it, too, has nothing to do with belief.

Randal:

Perhaps you could give an example of atheistic evangelizing.

Your family has had success in business because they are hard working and diligent. Absent that, all the Bible study in the world wouldn't save them from the poor house.

Something this article didn't mention, but perhaps should have: Do overtly Christian businesses refuse to do business with other-believers?

And if not, why not?

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at November 2, 2004 7:15 AM

Jeff:

No, it doesn't.

Posted by: oj at November 2, 2004 7:27 AM

It doesn't what?

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at November 2, 2004 11:19 AM

Randall, fine, attest your faith among yourselves. Why would I care?

It requires a load of presumption (sin of Pride) to go up to a stranger and say, 'I'm praying for you.' Who are you to pray for me? Are you (I don't mean Randall, I mean the busybody Christians) better than me?

Better show some evidence first, hadn't you?

As we say in the newspapers biz, if you have something to say to the world, hire a hall and see who shows up.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at November 2, 2004 11:58 AM

Harry:

We all pray for you--we love you. That's the point.

Posted by: oj at November 2, 2004 1:30 PM

Pretty presumptuous. But I don't mind as long as you keep it to yourselves.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at November 2, 2004 10:03 PM

Why? Your soul matters to us, if not to you.

Posted by: oj at November 2, 2004 10:13 PM

Praying for people who don't ask for prayers is impolite.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at November 3, 2004 9:04 PM
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