The intersection of work and faith is complicated. When your job requires you to do something that goes against your faith convictions, what do you do?
Let’s start off by being honest in admitting this: every single kind of work in the world is going to go against your faith-inspired values at some point. Just find any non-profit worker and ask how complicated it gets when you are balancing the actual care of other human beings with organizational policies and laws both just and unjust and a ticking clock that always works against the size of your problems. Ask a schoolteacher. Ask a doctor. Ask a financial portfolio manager. Heck, ask a minister. There is no place in the world that is going to line up with your exact faith convictions all the time. By no means does that mean you shouldn’t work at aligning them. But let’s admit first that none of us are hitting that target.
Back to the question: When your job requires you to do something that goes against your faith convictions, what do you do? Here are my thoughts.
Is it ALL of your job, or just part of your job? If it’s just part of your job, is there a way for you to speak with your boss and see if you can be removed from responsibility where your faith is convicting you, and take up some new responsibilities in another area, or more of your current responsibilities? It’s quite possibly your manager can work with you, and you guys could figure something out. If you like working there, you can tell your boss that. Hey, I like working here. I have enjoyed my job. I would like to continue working here, and I’d like to work with you to make that happen. If there is no way to rework your current role, then you will have to discern for yourself whether that part of your job is problematic enough to have to move to step two.
Step two would be when it’s all of your job, or your primary role (or if you can’t get out of the work, as above). At this point you may want to talk with some trusted spiritual advisors. (Am I right to feel convicted about this? Is there a way for me to work to make this more just by staying? How can I most faithfully navigate this situation?)
If you remain convicted that you cannot do your job, you should resign. I would encourage you to do so graciously and without theatrics. You can tell your boss that you have contemplated it and since you cannot be released from the task you find objectionable or be moved into another role, you feel you cannot continue to work here against your conviction. I would also encourage you to follow the policies of your workplace; if it’s a two week notice, do your job for two more weeks. Train your replacement well, if that’s part of the procedure. Leave well, and with benediction.
If your actions create a media circus, speak plainly and move on. Don’t capitalize on it, because the media is not interested in your faith convictions. They are interested in ratings. If you are a Christian, your allegiance is not to the camera but to the gospel. Take a page from Jesus’ notebook and remain silent before your accusers as much as possible. If you speak, speak personally and peacefully. “I have felt convicted through my faith that I cannot perform X duty of my job. After attempting to work with my company, I have decided it is best if I resign from my position.” It is simply not true that the only way to be convicted about your faith is to do so loudly. Your life is your witness, and you will gain respect even from those who may disagree with your convictions if you do so in this manner.
I say that honestly because if this is the way Kim Davis handled it, I would respect her actions, even though I disagree with her convictions. We do live in a country that promises us religious freedom. Kim Davis is free to feel convicted religiously about whatever she wants. She is free to live that way, too. But she is not free to act as if she can override the Supreme Court, which she cannot, or as if she is Judge and Jury anointed by Godself, which she is not. She does not have the right to keep a job she feels religiously convicted not to perform. She only has the right to leave that job for whatever personal reason she feels is necessary, including her religious convictions. If she won’t do her job, and she refuses to leave it, and she gets fired, that isn’t religious persecution. That’s job performance.
I think it’s high time we stop high-fiving people of faith who create mayhem, and patting them on the back for being “courageous.” Being a pawn in the culture wars is not courageous; it’s naive. If you want to take the high road, honor Jesus by being honorable in the way you leave your job.
If you are a pastor, and someone comes to you with this kind of dilemma, I urge you to return to the gospel, too. When Peter saw the centurion soldiers coming to take Jesus away at Gethsemane, he got caught up in his zeal and he came at the soldier with a sword and cut off his ear. But Jesus told Peter to put the sword away, and he healed the soldier instead. If one of your people comes to you for sound spiritual advice in a dilemma, don’t polish their swords for them and use them as pawns for publicity. Don’t manipulate them into being your church’s poster children on the nightly news, even though you will surely be tempted. Encourage them to be like Jesus. That is your job. It is not your job to defend Jesus to the world. It’s your responsibility to proclaim Jesus in the world. And nobody ever did that well through pomp and circumstance.