I give legal advice to employers. That is my job. I can quote to you chapter and verse of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or the Family and Medical Leave Act.
But as my Christian faith has grown stronger, I often am asked to puzzle over chapters and verses of the Bible. I’m trying to understand how to incorporate my beliefs and those of some of clients into every manager’s legal obligations to not discriminate at work.
It is easy for me to tell employers to never proselytize in the workplace because you might subject yourself to a religious discrimination or harassment claim. But many Christians feel compelled to fulfill the Great Commission both inside and outside the workplace.
So this column is my humble attempt to formulate more specific advice for my friends and clients that want to be able to both honor God and obey the anti-discrimination laws.
If there is one piece of Christian advice I can give you, it is this: What do your employees see when they look at you, their boss? Do they see the fruits of the Holy Spirit –love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control?
If you profess to be a Christian, is that evident in your speech, your supervision, your ethics and your relationships?
Or do your employees see you worship one idol at work – profit – while attending church and claiming to worship Jesus Christ during your off hours?
In the book Lifestyle Evangelism, Joseph Aldrich writes that “We must be Good News before we share Good News.” If you find yourself violating Christian principles at work, you have no chance of persuading your employees or others that Christ should be imitated.
So how should you interact with your employees (and everyone else)? The Bible is the best management advice book of all:
Devote yourself to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ. . . . Be wise in the way you act to 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: 2-6.
I find it interesting that the Apostle Paul’s advice works on both a faith and a legal level. He first tells you to pray about your employees and your relationship with them. Pray about being watchful for the doors God will open. There is nothing illegal and everything powerful about your private prayers.
Paul also encourages us in this passage to be wise about interacting within our circles of influence. I believe that wisdom includes knowing the employment discrimination rules and not violating them.
Finally, Paul tells us to be ready to answer questions about our faith if they are posed. He does not tell us to preach a sermon or hand out tracts to someone who has asked no questions and shows no interest. Let the employee come to you, rather than imposing on them.
This will also keep you out of legal hot water, since you can legally discuss your beliefs with an employee who demonstrates an actual interest and indicates that he would not find it unwelcome for you to talk about God.
These questions will only come up, though, if you have taken the time to develop a relationship of trust with your employees.
Ask yourself if you have gotten to know your employees. Have you taken them to lunch, listened to their concerns, paid them a fair wage and treated them with respect?
While you should never hesitate to speak the truth in love to an employee who is not performing well and even fire an employee who is not honoring his commitment to your company, it helps to remember the grace you have been extended before you confront any of your employees. Fear tactics, yelling, sarcasm and anger will succeed neither as management techniques nor evangelism.
Your motto for discussions with your employees should be the instruction to the Ephesians: “Let no unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Ephesians 4:29.
Finally, remember that Christianity is inclusive, not exclusive. Jesus welcomed people of all faiths and races to his church. Don’t discriminate on any racial or other basis and never give the impression that non-Christians are unwelcome in your company or have to adopt your beliefs to advance in your business.
Be careful about the crosses you put on your walls or the Bible verse posters you hang in your reception area. Whether meaning to or not, you may run off non-Christian customers and applicants and isolate yourself among Christians, rendering you ineffective for the kingdom. You also could be inviting a religious discrimination lawsuit.
Be patient. Let the Holy Spirit lead. You don’t need to require your employees to participate in your religion in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
You don’t need to annoy a coworker who objects to being evangelized. Do you really think Jesus’ message is advanced by your clumsy heavy-handedness?
God promises that He will open the door when the time is right. You don’t need to try to force the door open.