Who didn’t dream of being a superhero as they were growing up? You got to stand up for truth, justice, and the American way. You fought evil villains, saved the world, and had a super cool power to do it all. Plus, where else can you rock the cape? Most of us outgrow this desire before we become adults.
For some, however, they still see a world where evil villains like “Hollywood” or “secular humanism” threaten to destroy this American way – in particular, the Judeo-Christian American way of life.
Negotiating Your Faith in the Workplace
We’ve been discussing an interesting study that looks at how evangelical Christians in elite executive roles negotiated their faith in the workplace. The study, from Rice University, interviewed 360 elite executives (CEOs and senior executives) across six areas of influence who could be identified as evangelical Christians.
They broke the responses into four categories based upon how public displays of faith were received (Reception) and how these elite evangelical Christian executives used their faith (Expression) to make decisions.
What is a Heroic Christian?
This is the most confrontational of the four categories. It’s where one feels the need to be Explicit about their public displays of faith in an environment that is Hostile towards them.
Other informants who indicated that they worked in environments that were hostile toward faith suggested that they draw upon their faith explicitly in the workplace, undeterred by any adverse impact such action may have on their careers. Normally, in their accounts, these informants do not invoke the rhetorical trope of a hero, but in their own narratives, they are pitted against all-powerful institutions such as “Hollywood” or “secular humanism.”
There is little to no gray area with these Christians. Where a Pragmatic Christian may feel the need to compromise, a Heroic Christian would consider this a betrayal of their faith. Unlike Brazen Christians who are Explicit in their expression of faith knowing there will be minimal impact on their careers, Heroic Christians choose to do so knowing that their career will likely be impacted.
Examples of Heroic Christians
The study points out that “explicit expression of religiously motivated convictions generated significant tension in the workplace, at least in part because of the interplay between the expression and reception of faith convictions in various forms of workplace decision-making.
James Watt, Secretary of the Interior
James Watt served under the Reagan administration, and saw his service as an opportunity to leave a “footprint in the pages of history.” He came under fire when testifying before the House Interior Committee for this comment.
“I do not know how many future generations we can count on before the Lord returns; whatever it is, we have to manage with a skill to leave the resources needed for future generations.”
Comments like this, and public criticism about his fundamentalist remarks, eventually led him to resign. He had no regrets though about his statements.
“I decided hey, you can’t outrun [secularists] to the left, and you don’t dare internalize it. You gotta fight back. So I fought back, and that was why there’s so much controversy. [I would describe it] as the clash of an evangelical, core Christian with the pantheistic forces of the environmental movement.”
Ed Moy, Director of the U.S. Mint
Ed Moy recounts the first time he was confronted with “living out” his faith. It was in the private sector, and was at his first job as a salesman.
My employer gave me a company car, and being right out of college, that’s a pretty nice perk. . . . The only thing we had to pay for was gas, but then we had to keep an expense report and indicate how many business miles we drove and how many personal miles we drove. . . . The first week I turned [my expense report] in, my boss came out, very, very upset. . . . He shuts the door to his office, and says, “Let me explain something around here. We in sales management never believe that the company is paying us enough, and so what we do is we measure the minimum amount of miles from home to work and back again, and that’s personal miles. Everything else . . . gets dumped in the business column, and that way you get an extra fifty [to] seventy-five bucks a month. If I were to hand this in, accounting is going to ask some questions and then there’s a massive audit on everyone, and we can’t have that kind of trouble. So I’m telling you that if you’re interested in a career here, you’re going to change this expense report.”
It’s not a huge issue, right? Yes, it’s wrong. Is it worth loosing your job over though? Well, remember there is no gray area for Heroic Christians.
[After feeling some anxiety over the weekend while he considered the recommendation of his boss, he concluded that] a common characteristic of the people who follow Christ is that they tell the truth. So that following Monday, I gave him my expense report. As predicted, when he came back from his office, he saw it, he screamed, swore, asked me to come into his office. He said, “Well young man, I take it by this expense report that you want to end your employment at this company today.”
Jon Passavant, Male Model
In 2002, Cosmopolitan named Jon one of the top 5 males models in the world. He was invited to be the feature model in a photo shoot for a prestigious men’s fashion house. When he arrived at the shoot, he found out that the supermodel wouldn’t be wearing a shirt – only suspenders.
“All the critical areas were covered. … There was nothing grotesque about it … but you could not have made it more gray than this picture was. … The fact that she wasn’t wearing a shirt [gave the photo] this element of suggestiveness that took it too far. … This is the big break … but I was just torn … I come up into the set with my tuxedo on … They weren’t listening to me; everyone’s speaking Italian and like no one is getting the point that I have a problem with this.”
This is probably an area where Dean Batali, a Pragmatic Christian, would have made a compromise. Jon would not.
“A guy had flown over from Paris the night before just to supervise the shooting of this one picture and here I am, this no-name guy that’s just like spoiling this. The girl is sitting there all awkward. She’s wondering if I think she’s some gross person and everything is just falling apart. I didn’t know this, but the producer had gone off and called my agent in Milan … and said, ‘Jon’s ruining the shoot.’ … I’m just blushing and embarrassed and could not have been more awkward … I never worked for them again.”
Are You a Heroic Christian at Work?
It’s important to note that Christians in the other three categories would likely take a stand against major compromises of their faith. Heroic Christians just see the smaller compromises just as black-and-white as the major ones.
Evangelicalism has long embraced, and many of its leaders cultivated, a framework according to which evangelicals are a marginalized subculture, bombarded by proponents of competing worldviews and standing ground against the secularizing impulse of modernity (Smith 1998). This “embattled” framework, apparent in hymn titles such as Onward Christian Soldiers and Battle Hymn of the Republic, underwrites the logic of heroism, supplying the narrative context in which career related “martyrdom” is encouraged and applauded. As these accounts suggest, a number of elite evangelicals embrace this perspective, viewing their workplaces as hostile environments and feeling compelled to take a stand against norms or behaviors that contradict their faith.
Have you had similar experiences to these where you were compelled to take a stand over a gray area issue? Have you ever compromised on these issues, but were tortured with guilt over the compromise? Is this type of Christian what the Bible teaches us to be in the workplace? What do you think?