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Christianity in the Workplace
 

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March 25, 2006

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This article by Thomas J. Cook was published in the 1996 edition of the Affirmative Action Journal of Lucent Technologies in Columbus, Ohio, as part of the Christian Employee Resource Group emphasis. It is essentially an apologetic, aimed at the non-Christian and based on extra-Biblical arguments. The intent was to help other workers better understand the Christian position and behavior.

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Introduction

"You can't mean that, Bill," Wanda exclaimed. "How can you say that you don't believe in something that everyone I know is doing every day? What right do you have to say that anything is right or wrong?"

Bill answered "Wanda, it's kind of hard to explain, but I'm not saying I think it's right or wrong; I'm saying the Bible says it's wrong."

"But how can you let an ancient book like the Bible determine how you think and act today? That makes no sense."

"It may make no sense to you, Wanda, but it is an extremely important part of my life. The Bible is important to me, and the truths I find in its pages help me survive in today's world. You have to understand that, where I'm coming from, social norms and customary behavior really have nothing to do with what is right or wrong.."

Bill and Wanda might be having a friendly discussion, or might be having a real disagreement which could possibly get in the way of their professional relationship. Their discussion is based on a specific issue, but they are very likely to make little progress toward resolving it because they are coming from two entirely different directions. At a minimum, their communication is less effective because they don't understand each other's world view. At worst, this diversity of viewpoint may lead to resentment, hard feelings, and real friction which will hinder their effectiveness in the workplace.

With the objective of helping others to understand where a typical Christian is coming from in his or her viewpoints, this article will attempt to identify some of the background of the Christian faith and its implications for the workplace. The intention is that this understanding will promote communication and cooperation among Christians and non-Christians in the workplace. Please note the disclaimer at the end of the article, which relates some of the limitations of this approach and identifies some of my personal background which may influence my own viewpoint. In addition, please note that this article is not intended to promote Christianity, to teach Christian doctrine, or to attempt to convert anyone to Christianity. The focus is specifically on AA/EEO awareness issues, with the intent of improving interpersonal relations and productivity in the workplace.

World View

To understand the Christian in the workplace, it helps to begin with the Christian's basic world view. One's world view filters all perceptions and communications, so is the logical place to start. It is also the basis from which one makes value judgments about life and unifies one's perspective on life, death, science, art, learning, work, money, and morals.

The Christian shares several basic aspects of world view with virtually everyone else. These include:

bulletBelief in one's own existence
bulletBelief in reality of an external world which is logical and non-contradictory
bulletBelief in the existence of an ultimate reality

The essential difference between the Christian world view and the typical modern secular world view is the affirmation of absolute truth, implying existence of absolute standards of right and wrong. This is in contradistinction to the relativism and pragmatism prevalent in today's culture. As a Christian, I look to a source outside of myself or my culture for truth, value, meaning, and purpose.

This basic concept is not at all unique to the Christian faith, but is shared with many major religions. To develop the world view further, there are several axioms which will become increasingly more unique to Christianity. These are axioms in the sense that we do not attempt to prove them (nor is this the forum to discuss the foundations for adopting them), but rather assert their tenets by faith.

Axiom One: God Exists.

While we cannot scientifically prove that God exists, neither can science disprove the existence of God. As perceived from a Christian world view, God is personal and benevolent--that is, He is capable of relationships with His creatures and has their best interests at heart. With this axiom of the Christian world view come several implications:

bulletInasmuch as God is Creator, we are subject to God as His creatures
bulletInasmuch as God is eternal and omniscient, He has answers to questions which are beyond our knowledge
bulletInasmuch as God is sovereign, He has authority to set parameters for how we live our lives

Axiom Two: God Reveals Himself

A central axiom of the Christian world view is that God takes the initiative to reveal Himself to humanity. This view tends to be distinctive because most other religions relate humanity's attempt to find God. God's revelation of Himself is seen in general revelation, which is evidenced in such ways as the majesty of nature and in human conscience, and in special revelation, which involves God's specific redemptive interaction with humanity, the record of that activity in the Bible, and ultimately in the person and life of Jesus Christ.

Axiom Three: The Bible is God's Word

The Bible, the written record of God's action in history to reveal Himself to humanity, is seen in the Christian world view as central to comprehending that absolute truth which can be known only by revelation from God. Thus the Bible becomes, for the Christian, the final authority, the point of reference by which all beliefs and behaviors must be evaluated.

Axiom Four: Jesus Christ is God's Son

This is the single most critical axiom for the Christian. Jesus is seen as a unique person in history, embodying fully the very essence and nature of God in the form of a human being. Thus He is viewed as the ultimate model for human thought and action. His teachings, as recorded in the Bible, are esteemed as the highest form of absolute truth. His mission statement for His life, as recorded in the Gospel of John, is "I have come that they might have life, and have it to the full." (John 10:10)

Implications for the Workplace

Given this world view as a foundation, there are specific implications for how a Christian lives his or her life day by day, including interactions in the workplace. Awareness of the world view may aid understanding of these interactions, and help avoid misinterpretation of a Christian's actions. The danger is that words or actions shaped by one employee's world view, if interpreted in the context of an entirely different world view by a different employee, may be viewed as na´ve, uninformed, callous, or even hostile, when the original motivation and intention were actually entirely different.

Some additional areas of potential impact:

bulletChristians tend to view that neither their personal desires or preferences, nor the current social or cultural norms are appropriate bases for making moral decisions. They feel that they must obey all of God's commands and remain within the limits He has set. Such a system is not a tyrannical legalism for two reasons: 1) God has shown Himself to be good and trustworthy, and 2) we voluntarily choose to enter this relationship with God and obey His commands.
bulletFor many Christians, family values and personal moral values are of higher priority than career goals. For instance, Christians may tend to avoid working on Sunday because of their commitment to assemble for worship and the Biblical injunction to observe a day of rest. This may be misinterpreted as lack of drive, ambition, or commitment to the job. In fact, the Bible also commands the Christian to be a diligent worker: "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord and not for man." (Colossians 3:23).
bulletChristians are encouraged by the Bible to develop their own individual ministries of service to the community and church, and tend to invest significant personal resources in such service projects. Thus they may have less discretionary time and money to apply to company-sponsored charitable or social activities, and may be perceived as anti-social or inflexible. While they appreciate consideration of these commitments in making out-of-hours assignments, they do not expect special treatment because of their voluntary activities.
bulletIt is important to note that Christians do not expect others to conform to their own value system, if those others have not made a similar commitment to Christianity. At the same time, because the Christian world view is based on the concept of moral absolutes, the Christian is unlikely to affirm the lifestyle or moral values of others. The distinction between affirming the person and affirming his or her actions is an important one.
bulletWith regard to contemporary social issues, the Christian is unlikely to be impressed by arguments based on individual rights or cultural norms. This does not indicate lack of understanding of the issues or the arguments, but rather is due to the Christian world view which discounts such arguments in favor of revealed absolute truth. An example is the common Christian opposition to abortion, based on the concept of sanctity of human life taught in the Biblical record.

The Common Bond

The AT&T/Lucent Common Bond is entirely compatible with the Christian world view. Here are just a few of the ways the Christian world view supports each area. (See other articles in this issue for more extensive treatment.)

bulletRespect for Individuals. This quality lies at the very core of Christianity. The "Great Commandment" exhorts the Christian to "love your neighbor as yourself." (Luke 12:27), with "neighbor" defined as anyone with whom one comes in contact. Jesus' story of the Good Samaritan made a hero of the member of the socially outcast minority who chose to help a waylaid traveler.
bulletDedication to Helping Customers. In one sense, this is simply good business sense; the customers are paying the bill, so we need to satisfy them. For the Christian, there is an extra moral overtone added, in that we are responsible to God as well as to our "earthly masters." One place this is very clear is in Colossians 3:22: "Obey your earthly masters in everything and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, do it with all your heart."
bulletHighest Standards of Integrity. While the Christian faith de-emphasizes material possessions with respect to spiritual attainment, there is equal emphasis on character and integrity in every area of life. One example is Jesus' teaching in Luke 16:11: "So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?"
bulletInnovation. An important concept to the Christian is that of stewardship, which involves our responsibility to the proper use and application of the created order. God originally gave humanity dominion over the earth, and our task includes making the best use of the resources God provides.
bulletTeamwork The concept of partnering is clear to the Christian in such passages as Ecclesiastes 4:9; "Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work. If one falls down, his friend can help him up."

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Disclaimer

While I attempt in this article to present a generalized view of Christianity in the workplace, this article should not be construed to represent the views of all Christians. Over the two thousand years that Christianity has existed, many diverse groups have come into existence with their own individual interpretations and emphases. Since a single author cannot represent all of them, it seems important for me to provide a summary of my own background and viewpoint.

I became a Christian at the age of twelve, and am currently a member of the Jersey Baptist Church, affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. My (volunteer) responsibility there is Bible Teaching Director, which includes responsibility for administering the Sunday School program (with about 600 in attendance each week) and other short-term programs such as Vacation Bible School. My theological views are basically evangelical Christianity with Calvinist leanings.

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Thomas J. Cook, Webmaster
Updated: Saturday, March 25, 2006
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