Are You a Heroic Christian at Work?

by Brad Harmon on September 10, 2010 in Employees

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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.

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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?

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Bradley J. Moore September 13, 2010 at 5:22 am

Speaking of superheroes, when I was 7 years old I put on a cape and tried to fly off the couch and ended up breaking my arm. Ahh, the memories…

Anyway, you continue an excellent review here on the four types of Christian expressions of faith at work. I have never personally been in a situation where I had to take a controversial stand for justice or righteousness. Or against the “secular humanists.” THere are so many regulations and audits and government oversights these days, that one has to really go out of their way to do wrong. Not that it happens, of course it still happens all the time. But not in a way that I have seen or been close to in my work. I have been careful to select jobs and companies where I align closely to the values and integrity of the people I work with. Maybe that’s why I haven’t seen so much trouble.

Again, great job on this!


Brad Harmon September 13, 2010 at 2:32 pm

Ouch! Sorry to dig that memory up for you. This is the category that fits me the best. The church I grew up in prepared me to look for and expect these type of battles in the workplace. Earlier in my career, I was guilty of picking fights over moral issues interpreting my bosses actions as more hostile than they actually were.

My reputation for not budging when it came to gray areas was set early on in my career because I worked with several of the same people at different companies. When I did venture into the gray areas, the guilt from the compromise was more than I could bare. It even lead to me crossing over to the other side of the gray area from time to time – not something of which I am proud.

I have quit jobs over an owner trying to force me to do something I knew was morally and ethically wrong. I have also been the man above with the expense report. Much of my career has been battling these types of situations. Looking back, some were simply a matter of my pride getting in the way. Some were because I misread the intentions of my boss. Most, however, were simply black-and-white cases of right and wrong.

I’ll be talking some more about this in a later post, but I think earning that reputation early on kept these conflicts to a minimum. They just sort of stand out in my mind and overshadow my memories of the typical workdays which made up the bulk of my career. These conflicts made up only a minuscule portion of my life as an employee, but each had a lasting impact.


Susan DiMickele September 13, 2010 at 10:09 am


Great site here. This post gives me much to think about — especially on a Monday. I found you through @shrinkingcamel on Twitter (I’m a Twitter newbie).

I’ll be back! (For now, it’s back to work.)

Susan DiMickele recently posted..Do You Pray For Your Readers


Brad Harmon September 13, 2010 at 2:36 pm

Thanks Susan. Welcome to the site and to Twitter. Bradley has a great site at Shrinking the Camel, doesn’t he? I look forward to seeing you around the site, and on Twitter.


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