Will your faith cost you your next job?

The June 2014 issue of Christianity Today has an article with the rather surprising title, “Your Faith May Cost You Your Next Job.”  Sociologist Bradley R. E. Wright, noticing an uptick in religious discrimination complaints to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission but also the fact that 4 out of 10 complaints were dropped, wondered:

One big reason is that discrimination can be surprisingly difficult to prove. If a member of a social group is treated badly, is it because of their social group? Was he laid off because his boss was tired of giving him Sundays off? Was she reassigned because customers were wary of being served by a Muslim in a headscarf? Were they discriminated against, or do bad things just happen?

Wright and colleague Michael Wallace conducted a study where they sent out 9600 resumes to over 2400 jobs, which identified the applicants as members of various college religious groups–from evangelicals to Muslims to atheists–and none at all. The result:

We found that not only is religious discrimination alive and well, it is so strong that simply adding one word to a résumé—a reference to a particular religion—reduced employer callbacks by almost 40 percent…..

The control group résumés were the clear winner. Résumés that made no religious reference, that listed a generic student group, received about 20 phone calls and e-mails from employers for every 100 résumés sent. This was 20 percent more callbacks than the average of the other seven groups.

The Muslim résumés were the big loser. Résumés that listed involvement in a Muslim student group received only 12.6 phone calls and e-mails from employers for every 100 sent. This was about 40 percent fewer callbacks than the control group résumés. Simply adding Muslim to a résumé decreased employer interest substantially.

The remaining six groups fell in between the control group and Muslims. Among them, the pagan résumés did relatively well, the atheist résumés did relatively poorly, and Jews, evangelicals, Catholics, and Wallonians [a fictitious religious group created by the researchers] were in the middle. (Our New England findings were published in the journal Research in Social Stratification and Mobility in 2013; our Southern research was published recently in Social Currents.)

Surprising?  It certainly surprised this reader.  Wright concludes,

In our study, we collected no information about the employers themselves, so we don’t know if Christian employers are more or less likely to discriminate by religion. Still, it’s probably safe to assume that churchgoing Christian employers are among those who discriminate, and that there’s a discipleship opportunity here to teach why Christians want religious freedom for Muslims, atheists, and even the nonexistent Wallonians.

It’s not just because we want to protect religious freedom for ourselves alone. It’s because religious freedom is at the heart of Christianity. We believe that at creation, God gave humans the freedom to choose what and how they would worship. Jesus is reconciling all things to himself, but not through force or coercion. We weren’t saved to make special deals for fellow believers but to bless the entire world. Christianity shines bright when it is looking out for the interests of the socially marginalized, and our research suggests that American Muslims are the most marginalized in hiring.

Leaving “Evangelical Christian Assoc­iation” off our résumés would be one clear example of hiding our light under a bushel. But so would be looking the other way when our Muslim neighbors are treated unfairly.

Something to chew on, whether you are a hirer or a hiree.  Has this been your experience?

Image: “Job Search” from TaxCredits.net.

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