Round TWO in our Big Debate about evangelizing in the workplace

Round TWO in our Big Debate about evangelizing in the workplace June 15, 2015


Welcome to Round Two of the Head-to-Head debate thing I’m doing with Bill Peel.

Our topic: Is Sharing Your Faith in the Workplace Ever Appropriate?

I argued “No” to this question via my opening statement, 10 Reasons It’s Wrong to Evangelize in the WorkplaceBill argued “Yes” with his opening statement, Evangelism in the Workplace: Is Sharing Your Faith Ever Appropriate?

Today, as per the format of our debate, Bill offered his rebuttal to my opening statement with his Yes, You Can Talk About Christ Without Being A Jerk in the Workplace.

So this, now, is my rebuttal to Bill’s opening statement—which I’ll effectuate by posting below the entirety of his statement, with my thoughts and responses to it interjected in lovely bracketed blue, like I do.

Evangelism in the Workplace: Is Sharing Your Faith Ever Appropriate?
by Bill Peel
Count me among the growing number of people who believe faith matters at work, and that the more faith falls to our workday margins, the more dehumanizing work becomes. [Anyone who feels that their job is dehumanizing needs should look for another job. Anyone who feels that their job is dehumanizing to the degree that they’re constrained not to evangelize at work needs to look for a good therapist.]

But to speak of faith while at work—that’s a subject about which Christians often butt heads. [Yikes. That is such a … difficult image.]

Many Christians wrongly think evangelism is a verbal message. [On the other hand, it is hard to discuss one’s faith without using actual words.] They forget that to believe a message, you have to trust the messenger. The New Testament consistently reminds us that, as much as our words matter, evangelism always has a context that includes how we live and work. Paul, for one example, advised the Colossians to act first—then speak:

Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (Colossians 4:5-6 NIV) [This is one of my favorite Paul quotes! Except I have no idea how to season shit I say with salt. But still: quality saying.]

In conversations, many Christians, regrettably, fall short of “full of grace.” [No argument there. Then again, how many people do we ever run into who are “full of grace”? Dang few, I’d say. And that is why I, for one, am always more than satisfied to run into someone who is full of common sense, or humor, or manners, or great stories about their past, or … cheer, really. I like cheer best. Being cheerful is being full of grace, isn’t it—Christian or not. But I digress. Sorry.] According to a Barna Group 2013 survey, 51 percent of Christians are more like Pharisees (hypocritical, self-righteous, judgmental). Only 14 modeled the actions and attitudes of Jesus (selfless, empathy, love)—and that’s the rub. [To my mind, the real rub is also what a nonsensical “study” that was/is. Still, your good point is made, Bill.]

Modern-day Pharisees, as in Jesus’ day, create more heat than light [why, Bill, are you trying to induce the fantods, you wicked wordsmith, you?]—and that colleague, hostile toward Christianity [wait, what colleague? you’ve lost me], likely has been pounded by some over-zealous Christian. [Oh. Um, so let’s move along, shall we?]

So forced conversations should be forced out. Dietrich Bonhoeffer observed that “Jesus himself did not try to convert the two thieves on the cross; He waited until one of them turned to him.” [You go, Bonhoeffer!] Workplace or no, the Bible’s guideline to talk about faith is:

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect . . . (1 Peter 3:15, NIV) [bolded italics mine.]

Speaking of our faith comes with a qualifier. We answer those who ask. In any setting, especially at work, to faith-ambush a person who has no interest hardly qualifies as gentle, respectful, or appropriate. [Bill! You’re my new best friend!]

Faith fueled by grace [I always get confused by phrases that would make just as much sense were their main words reversed], however, affects the winsomeness of our character [does it? is having a winsome character—as opposed to a winsome personality—a good thing?], the quality of our work [does it? do I need to be full of faith and/or grace to do top-notch work?] and the sincerity of our concern for others. [Does it? Do you really think that religious faith is necessary in order to feel sincere concern for others? If you do, I think it’s worth considering how mistaken you are there.] Those who work around us can’t help but wonder what makes us tick. [I think I must have missed something there; that sentence seemed pretty random. But I’m sure I’m just tired or something.]

In those cases, it’s appropriate to talk [to one of your co-workers, at work, about your faith/belief/religious convictions, I assume you mean here] when:

► a coworker shows interest. [Sure. I’d invite them to continue the conversation with me outside of the workplace, but … sure.]

► the conversation arises naturally out of growing friendships built around work. [Ditto the above for me: I’m never comfortable talking, at work, about anything as deeply personal as my religious sensibilities.]

► it’s not a diversion but fits naturally in a conversation. [Right. No sudden evangelizing in the middle of an otherwise normal conversation.]

► it’s safe to disagree without inviting judgment. [?]

► it takes no time away from what we or our coworkers are paid to do. [Amen to that.]

Christ calls his followers to be his witnesses, but our lives always come before our lips.

[Okay! Well, that was fun! Or … you know. Close enough.]

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  • For the most part, Bill didn’t say anything that I thought a fundamentalist would say… I agree. I especially liked the point that you mentioned, my brother John, about inviting further discussion outside the workplace environment. That would seem most appropriate. As personal as religious convictions can get and as divisive as they often times can be, it is pretty much a safe bet not to evangelize at work. I have found that too often, evangelization is a significant factor in the cause of a hostile workplace.

  • John, I don’t know how you avoided the temptation to misquote Bill:

    “But to speak of faith while at work—that’s a subject about which Christians [are] often buttheads.”

  • One little space, John, one little space.
    Plausible deniability.

  • Lookingup73

    I thought his reply made sense. I also don’t think it really was talking about evangelizing in the workplace. If my beliefs come up in conversation, I am more than happy to talk about them. I never try to convert. So based on his reply, no Christian should try to get people to come to their Church. That is great! But essentially he is saying no Christian should evangelize…weird ‘debate’.

  • lymis

    I think the main point is that he’s describing living your faith at work, while most of the people who speak of evangelizing in the workplace mean something entirely different, or in some cases, actually feel that in order to live one’s faith, you have to go around condemning others and quoting the Bible at them.

    Bill’s take on this is lovely, but if this is intended to be two sides of a debate about what people who object to Christians evangelizing them are complaining about,, both John and Bill are on the same side.

  • What do you call a debate where both people are on the same side? The interwebs gods clearly screwed this one up.

    As my dad is fond of saying: “if you want an argument, you’re gonna have to change the subject.” [I never understood why “I agree” never sufficed.]

  • Really? I hadn’t noticed.


    The real thing is, when Patheos set this up, all I knew was that Bill, who works for an extremely anti-gay, right-wing conservative Christian college, had made his whole CAREER out of teaching Christians how to evangelize in the workplace. (See some background on him here.) But what he’s written in this “debate” isn’t … that. If I had to guess–and this is just a guess, for sure–I would say that with what he’s written here he’s being just a tad disingenuous; it’s hard for me to believe he’s built his career on ideas so … soft/wishy-washy. This is, after all, a guy who “has taught healthcare professionals worldwide to effectively speak about faith issues with their patients,” which strikes me as appalling.

  • You can’t imagine I didn’t play with that for about five minutes before finally settling on what I did.

  • Ben P

    The biggest issue I see here with John’s comments is promoting a faith defined by oneself. I don’t believe the Christian faith is like a salad bar where you pick and choose what you want. I would question the legitimacy of limiting Christianity so as to not infringe on someone else’s life. I agree that there is an appropriate time and place and that the greatest commandment must be held firmly above all others. But we can’t forget that the first of the greatest commandments is to love God. I wouldn’t want to love God less just to avoid being “intolerant” and offending others.

  • lymis

    “I wouldn’t want to love God less just to avoid being “intolerant” and offending others.”

    Isn’t it convenient, then, that the two are not mutually exclusive, especially since “the second is like the first: Love your neighbor as yourself.”

    Once you can figure out how to lose your scare quotes, and work on being actually tolerant rather than being “tolerant,” you’ll have made some real progress.

  • Ben P

    How would you recommend I be more tolerant?

  • Jerry Lynch

    Perhaps a polite and compassionate segue in telling a coffee-drinking co-worker that the intake of caffeine is evil and the body is the temple of God and his or her addiction is not unlike urinating on the altar of this temple might work. Something innocuous like that could really open doors.

  • On a more serious note, I have seen few things less appealing than people fighting about religion at work.

    It takes a real religious butthead to get involved in a debate in front of people who would rather neither of them speak. (I’ve done the debate at work. Once. I got the message when a colleague subtly suggested that he was done with the conversation. My religious colleague did not. It was painful on multiple levels.)

  • I’ve always wondered why caffeine, sugar, salt, and fat are good; alcohol and cigarettes are debatable; and pot, opiates, and various other drugs are bad.
    Yet other cultures rearrange that list, and they seem to get along fine.
    It seems the only common ground is the categories of good and bad themselves.

  • Pavitrasarala

    What Mr. Peel fails to take into consideration is that many workplaces forbid evangelizing by policy and there can be consequences leading up to termination for doing so, as it often becomes a foundation for a hostile working environment or harassment. Given I was the target for “evangelizing” by a zealot years ago who informed me that, based on his “studies,” I was doomed for eternal damnation because I belonged to a cult that secretly worships the devil (I’m Catholic), my personal opinion is that those policies exist for very good reason and people like Mr. Peel would be wise to stop pushing their kind of ilk, lest he mislead his followers straight to the unemployment line.

  • Jolene

    Of course you are picking and choosing. Even people who think they are following the “literal” word of God are picking and choosing which parts are most important to themselves and their own practice of their faith. A Biblical literalist of the 18th century and one of the 19th century aren’t going to see the exact same “literal” meaning. Shoot, contemporary “literalists” don’t all agree with each other on what exactly that “literal” word means, let alone how it is to be applied. The fact that there are so many different approaches that claim a “literal” basis should be enough for people to recognize that humans are making choices, no matter any claims to otherwise. I recognized this as a child (daughter of traveling fundamentalist preacher), as the various churches we attended who claimed this literalism had quite a variety to what their expectations were. Literalists don’t all agree. That is mighty telling.

  • lrfcowper

    The Greek phrase used in “the second is like it” would be better translated “the second is its equivalent.” Loving your neighbour as yourself *is* loving God, period. If you think there’s some way to love God without loving your neighbour, being cruel, prejudiced, demeaning, sanctimonious, uncaring, thoughtless, or rude, you’re entirely mistaken. If you say you love God, whom you cannot see, yet hate your neighbour, whom you can see, then you are a liar.

    Being tolerant (instead of “tolerant”) involves recognising that while God may be perfect and all-knowing, *you* are not. You do not know what’s going on in someone else’s life or how God is working in it. Pray, be generous, be kind, practice hospitality, cultivate peace.

  • Patricia Anne Brush

    I would just completely losing the idea of tolerance. We tolerate things we don’t like. Nobody wants to be tolerated as it says by definition that we are not liked. We all want to be recognized as individuals, people with different characteristics and life experiences. You don’t have to like those characteristics and experiences, all you have to do is accept that that is that person and there is no need for you to change them unless they ask for your help in changing. With people at work, you can demonstrate the love of God by being above reproach in your interactions. Be kind, polite and congenial without fail.

  • Ben P

    I completely agree about praying and that I don’t know everything. I don’t claim to. I don’t want to equate my neighbor to God though. These commandments obviously go hand in hand, but if Christ didn’t want to step on any toes then he wouldn’t have spoken against anything. He came with grace and truth. Sometimes I think we can get caught up in grace which limits or suppresses truth.

  • Easy. By attempting to place yourself in their shoes. When you take time to consider things from the other person’s views, you end up giving validity to the importance their views and lives are, as well as them as a person, and what makes them difference is not as big an issue as you thought it was.

  • Ben P

    Amen to that. I completely agree with your conclusions. I don’t agree with everything, but I don’t try to argue against everything. The basis for my initial comment was to show a different viewpoint, one that I believe is less mine and more of the Bible’s. Not necessarily interpretations of specific words or phrases, but the Bible’s conclusions. Thanks Patricia for centering the discussion on honoring God.

  • Ben P

    I see what you mean. There are definitely a lot of differences in interpretation, a lot of them still remaining in orthodoxy, which itself is a difficult term to define. I just try to stick to the conclusions the Bible makes. Like the big picture things.

  • Ben P

    I used to be in their shoes and I found what I truly believe is the best. I believe Christ is the best. Why wouldn’t I want that for others?

  • I tolerate my husband’s love for southern gospel music enough that I will try to tune it out when he plays that stuff on the radio. To me it sounds like four roosters trying to outyell one another in four part harmony. He is aware that I hate that format, so tends to limit that form of music and the screaming preachers that tend to play on those stations to when I’m not around, or in short 15 minute session when I am.
    I tolerate it, because I adore my husband, and respect his personal tastes. He will tolerate my adoration for classical music, and even sings in a choir with me, that does a lot of classical music because he respects my personal tastes.
    Tolerance needs respect for it to work.

  • You can want it, but it may not be what that other person needs or wants. So you should respect that possibility, or consider that God has things well in hand already, without your need to intervene.

  • Ben P

    I don’t think it is within my control to convert anyone. But I believe the gospel of Christ to be what the world needs. Christianity isn’t just what works for me, the Bible tells us that it is for everyone. I respect other religions and beliefs because I respect people, and their search for meaning. I just believe Christ is that meaning.

  • Ben P

    To use analogies, I see it as someone eating poorly versus someone eating healthy. I may eat a Big Mac and that’s ok, but the truth is that there is a better option. (This analogy might be dumb, but I hope you get my point).

    I appreciate your analogy and desire for people to just love one another. I don’t think I could handle that music either =)

  • BarbaraR

    the truth is that there is a better option

    Again: lack of respect for that person. It’s assuming they don’t know any better or that they are ignorant or that they are without direction. It’s insisting that your way is superior and that theirs, by default, is inferior.

    John compiled a lot of messages from non-Christians that they wish Christians could understand.

  • Lark62

    Loving your god really and truly does not mean that you get to question, judge or attempt to change me. Loving your god is between you and he/she/it.

    Leave me out of it.

    And I promise not to make you listen to my belief that crocheting granny squares is the key to happiness. (And I could spend hours talking about crochet.)

  • Ben P

    For a blog talking about love and accepting others differences, I am feel disrespected and not tolerated. I don’t mean to offend anyone. I am simply sharing views, but the issue seems to be that my view isn’t the same.

  • Ben P

    I used to not have Christ. All I know is that if someone didn’t challenge me to learn more about Christ then I would still be lost. If someone truly believes Christ is the way to a meaningful life and eternal salvation, how much do they have to hate others to not tell them about it?

  • BarbaraR

    Ummmm what? Somehow you are equating hating people with not evangelizing? That is a leap of logic I cannot make. That is too bizarre for me.

  • Ben P

    Sorry Barbara, on second read I see how out of left field this seems. I got this idea from a youtube video. It is a video from Penn Gillette of the magician duo. He’s not the prettiest person to look at for 5 minutes, but it’s pretty interesting.

  • BarbaraR

    Oh, I love Penn Jillette. Very smart guy. He does have an interesting take on religion (I don’t want to add on “for an atheist” because atheists come in as many packages as religious people). It isn’t my take, but I grasp why he said that.

  • Lark62

    I think there is one issue that I don’t know I how to address in general, and I make no assumptions that it applies to you personally. When I was a christian, I was taught and believed that the church’s teaching was right. Therefore, any questioning a personal attack.

    But i came to find out that my church did not have the one right answer, and disagreement was simply disagreement.

    I my comment, all I did was disagree. All I did was say my view of the world differs from yours. This is a conversation, not an attack.

    Your final sentence was strongly worded, with scare quotes around intolerant and a declaration that you will continue behaving as you choose even if other people are offended. It is completely fair to receive pushback when you essentially say you don’t care if your bahavior is offensive. What response did you expect?

    Keep sharing your views, but think about them first.

    When I’ve received strong pushback unexpectedly, I’ve been known to apologize and clarify. I’ve also sometimes concluded I meant what I said and accepted disagreement. But I can’t make provacative statements and expect the internet to sit back and say “yes ma’am”.

  • Ben P

    I expected push back. I have been enjoying the several conversations I have had on this blog in recent days. Some people push back to challenge which I enjoy. But sarcasm isn’t helpful. Which is why I appreciate your second comment.

  • Snooterpoot

    I didn’t see anything in her comment that says, ” want[s] to equate my neighbor to God” I think what she is saying is that the love is equal. You must love your neighbor every bit as much as you love god. Christ commanded it.

  • Snooterpoot

    Disagreeing with you is not disrespecting you or being intolerant. I have a really big problem with this; it seems to me that one of the latest tactics of fundamentalist/evangelical Christians is to play the victim game when someone rejects their theology.

    Rick Santorum and other conservative Christians are alleging that the terrorist attack on the church in Charleston, South Carolina, was an attack on religious freedom. They absolutely ignore what the congregants have said – that the assassin was spewing racial epithets as he killed. It’s disgusting, but, sadly, it doesn’t surprise me at all.

    They seem to think they can say anything to anyone and be immune from criticism or rejection of their message. A prime example of this is their constant finger pointing at people who are LGBT and saying we are abominations to god and should repent of the nefarious sin of being born LGBT.

    They dismiss the stories of our lives, saying we have chosen our sexual orientation. They insist that we should live devoid of the intimacy and companionship that human beings need in order to thrive.

    Then they use the bogus “hate the sin, love the sinner.” That is a canard that they use as a shield to justify hating us.

    And, make no mistake, they hate us. They won’t admit it, even to themselves, but the message they spew is hatred.

    I was indoctrinated in the Southern Baptist church as a child. I have seen their doctrine in action, and it’s loathsome.

    If you feel disrespected and not tolerated, think about how the people at whom the people who are targeted with “sinner” feel.

    If you really love people, then respect our autonomy. It’s not like we don’t know the message you are giving. It’s that we reject that message and wish to be left alone.

    I’ve had people knock on my door and start “witnessing to me,” and who haven’t stopped when I told them I disagree. I’ve had one group tell me that their goal is to make our government Biblical, and they persisted after I told them I am a civil servant and that I thoroughly disagreed with them.

    It’s not only off-putting, it’s rude and it really, really doesn’t reflect the commandment Jesus gave us to love. Just love.

  • Jerry Lynch

    No, there are objectifiable studies to answer those questions. Cultural preferences are not a scientific standard.

  • lrfcowper

    If you’re hurting my kids, you aren’t loving me. Showing love to my kids is loving me.

    I can’t help God. There’s nothing he needs from me — no way he is incomplete. I can help his other kids. That’s what I’m called to do.

    And, at the risk of sounding like a fundie, I didn’t equate loving God and loving people. Jesus did.

    And when I look at what Jesus spoke against, it’s not some vague “immorality” but hatred, oppression, injustice, and abuse of power.