Being Christian in a Secular Workplace
In the wake of Kim Davis’s conscientious objector fiasco over the issuing of marriage licenses to gay couples, and the ensuing, and confusing, debates for and against her stance, it is important for Christians to take a step back and at least act like the adults in the room. Too much has been politicized, factionalized and emotionalized; and none to the edification of Christians. Yet, the situation presents an opportunity to teach Christians how to live with godly integrity in a secular society without being guilty of breaking its laws.
Paul told the Church that interacting with the broader society is unavoidable; otherwise we would have to be taken out of the world (1 Corinthians 5:9-10). He taught that the powers of government were ordained and given by God (Romans 13:1-6), and along with Peter (1 Peter 2:13-22), suggests that Christians have an obligation to God for obeying the laws of secular society.
Please note that this is different from the hyperbole of those who claim that every secular law that goes against any religious belief warrants civil disobedience for the sake of obeying God rather than man.
Old Testament Examples
Two examples from the bible will illustrate how Christians may conduct themselves within a godless workplace and society, and maintain their integrity.
First, Joseph maintained his integrity even though he directed the affairs of an idolatrous society (Genesis 37-50). He was second in command to the Pharaoh in Egypt. But nowhere is it recorded that there were any attempts by him to abrogate the laws of that society and prevent the people from practicing their idolatry.
Here was a “Christian” man in the seat of power in a society that was guilty of human sacrifices, idol worship, and all the vices we are familiar with in our own society; yet he did nothing to change it. In fact, he was responsible for making sure that the society had enough food, drink and other things necessary to maintain their cultural and religious practices. Still he was never accused of condoning or supporting any of those ungodly practices.
What may seem crazy to many Christians today is that it was God who put Joseph in that position. And, as Joseph realized, God meant it for good! He did not realize it at first, but he trusted that the God he served was faithful and knew his heart. Joseph would not do anything that was sin against his God. When he was faced with a situation that constituted sin against God, he fled without his outer garment from the room of Potiphar’s wife. He had a keen sense of what was and was not sin against God.
The second example is of a man who was not sure what was and wasn’t sin against God (2 Kings 5). Naaman was the commander of the army and armor bearer for Aram the pagan king. One requirement of the job was to go wherever the king goes, and so be in the temple where there was idol worship and perform some of the oblations as the king’s proxy. However, after he was healed of leprosy, Naaman had a conversion experience and realized that continuing to perform his duties would involve some practices that conflict with a Holy God. So he inquired of the prophet Elisha and explained that he will no longer worship pagan gods, but because of his obligation he would still be required to perform the temple duties as described.
The prophet bid him to go in peace; a tacit acknowledgement that Naaman would not be guilty of sinning in the discharge of his duty. It serves no purpose to speculate whether Naaman’s duty extended beyond what was mentioned into other ritual practices. What’s important is that he was not instructed to leave his job (if that was even possible), or to negotiate with the king.
We Christians find ourselves in similar situations as the above examples every day. Some Christians are leaders of countries or large companies, governors and mayors; some work in places that produce goods and services that promote ungodly lifestyles. More significantly, as Christians we all live in a secular society with ungodly ethos and mores codified into laws. Yet we are expected to maintain our godly integrity while remaining a functional, productive member of that society.
Paul was very practical in his advice to those Christians who were slaves: 1 Corinthians 7:20-21: Each person should remain in the situation they were in when God called them. Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you—although if you can gain your freedom, do so. (NIV)
Some Christians become believers while working in jobs that do not always uphold Christian principles. Some Christian take on jobs that do not always uphold Christian principles. The advice is not to let that become an obstacle. If God does not tell you to change jobs or provide you with a different job, then you need not worry that you are sinning in doing your work. (Again, I caution against extreme and ridiculous examples). Ironically, failure to do our secular job as unto the Lord is sin (Romans 13:1-2; 1Peter 2:13-22).
If one’s conscience is troubled (and that is a function of personal faith – Romans 14) and there is an opportunity to serve in another capacity or leave the job, then one should consider those options. In light of Romans 13:1-6, Acts 4:13-20 and 1Peter 2:13-22, unless we are directed by secular law not to preach the Gospel, doing our secular duties is not a choice between obeying man or God. That portion of scripture in Acts has been abused enough as an excuse for politically activist, and biblically ignorant Christians to break the law.
Let us honor God by applying the scripture appropriately to our actions in the workplace and our daily lives as an example light and salt.