Are You a Pragmatic Christian at Work?

by Brad Harmon on September 9, 2010 in Employees

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So far in this series we have looked at how elite Christian executives negotiate their faith at work where the environment is Amenable (i.e., public displays of faith are welcomed, if not, encouraged), but how do they handle their faith when their workplace tacitly tolerates or is downright Hostile towards their faith?

It’s likely that the majority of Christians in the workplace will find themselves in a Hostile environment where thought is given to job security before deciding to take an overtly Christian expression of faith.    Without the freedom enjoyed by Brazen or Circumspect Christians, how do Pragmatic Christians negotiate their faith?

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 Pragmatic Christian?

Whereas the Circumspect Christian is more likely to be so out because of their personality type or their belief in a more works-oriented understated expression of faith, the Pragmatic Christian tends to choose a subtle approach in response to the environment in which they find themselves.

Implicit in this approach is a pragmatic sensibility with respect to distinguishing between the ideal circumstance (presumed to be overt witnessing in evangelical circles) and what can actually be accomplished in a religiously diverse workplace.  These informants prefer a strategy of incremental witness, as opposed to all-or-nothing campaigns for evangelical conversion among their colleagues.

The study reported that 93% of the elite executives surveyed say that their colleagues are aware of their evangelical faith, yet most of them have selectively chosen when and with whom to engage their faith.  This has created angst for some fearing that others would perceive their approach as them being embarrassed about being an evangelical Christian.

Examples of Pragmatic Christians

The study states that, “as an individual-centered faith tradition, American evangelicalism encourages spiritual improvisation (such as personally interpreting scripture or praying without liturgical language) and an individualistic ethic.”  This can lead to very different ways in how one chooses to approach their faith in a Hostile environment.

Ron Joelson, CIO of Prudential

Ron Joelson prefers to have others know about his faith, but he doesn’t want to “wear it on his sleeve.”  He is concerned about offending others with his faith.

“You don’t want to offend people who are not Christians . . . [As someone] in a position of power and authority, I don’t want people to feel uncomfortable with their belief in atheism or whatever. . . . It’s not a particularly good witness, in my view, to be so open about your faith in the workplace that you make people uncomfortable.”

Dean Batali, Co-Executive Producer of That ’70s Show

Some Pragmatic Christians, like Dean Batali, believe that “compromise isn’t necessarily a bad thing.”  This doesn’t mean that he still doesn’t struggle when doing so.

I say it doesn’t bother me; it tortures me.  The shows I’ve worked for [including Buffy, The Vampire Slayer] have been damaging to our culture. . . . I try to influence the part that I can influence, which are the scripts that I write and the jokes that I pitch. . . . I don’t pitch sexual stories or drug related stories. . . . That does not mean that I occasionally don’t pitch the sex jokes or mean jokes, but I try not to . . . I can point to very specific times where I’ve actually been able as a Christian to get a specifically Christian point of view, or a line or scene on the air, [but] it’s not really an agenda I have.

Steven S. Reinemund, CEO of PepsiCo

Other executives say that they have a hard time finding how to always apply their faith to the decisions they have to make on a daily basis.  Steve Reinemund explains that his faith didn’t necessarily provide clear answers to all of the ethical questions he encountered.

“Black and white issues are easy; it’s the ones that are hard that you [struggle with] as a business leader.”

Are You a Pragmatic Christian at Work?

Do you work for an employer that frowns upon public displays of faith?  Do you find yourself thinking about offending others or hurting your career before you express your faith at work?  Perhaps, you simply find that your faith isn’t always clear on ethical questions like firing or promoting an employee.

How do you negotiate your faith in this environment?  Do you agree with Batali that compromise isn’t necessarily a negative thing?  Are you worried that others may feel you’re simply embarrassed about your faith?  Do you think this Pragmatic approach lines up with the teachings of Christ?

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