What Hath God Wrought?

At the risk of venturing into a philosophical quagmire about various religions or value of faith in general, there is a trend afoot that makes me question the role of religion in the workplace. I am struck by the ascendancy of new Christian movements into various secular portions of society such as law, government, and business. I’ll leave it to others to question the rest, but I have strong views about the place of religion in business.

Before anyone begins by impugning my own faith, I probably should lay that on the table. I grew up in what could be called a mildly protestant family, neither zealots nor godless, and spent years in school where there were multiple mandatory chapel services each week. But little of that has permeated my business life, and I think that’s for the best.

Recently, however, as the world seems to be fragmenting along religious lines, it seems people like me are fewer and farther between. Somehow, in this world of Shiite vs. Sunni, Jew vs. Muslim, Protestant vs. Catholic, and on and on, it’s rarely simple enough to disagree but you apparently have to go to war over it. More and more people seem to think it’s OK to draw lines based on religion as if thousands of years of history haven’t taught us any better.

They feel the workplace is a fertile ground for spreading their gospel.

And now it seems that there is a tendency for evangelical christians, especially, to feel that the workplace is an appropriate, and even fertile, ground for spreading their gospel. There is even an organization called Christ @ Work that is trying to promote this kind of thing.

Created by Crown Financial Ministries, the organization and website of the “Fellowship of Companies in Christ” is eye-opening (check out the questionnaire, or the employee emails section). And like most similar organizations, Christ @ Work is deeply conflicted. For example, it claims to be “a non-denominational organization”, presumably as long as it’s Christian.

Various companies call themselves “faith-based”. An example you see everyday and probably haven’t thought much about is Covenant Transportation. This is a publicly-traded Tennessee-based trucking company whose trucks are seen nationwide.

I first noticed Covenant when I saw “It’s a child, not a choice” plastered on the back of a trailer. I wondered if it was simply one trucker expressing an opinion… until I saw it on every trailer. No, Covenant seems to think that expressing a controversial opinion in such a broad way is a good thing.

Regardless of where you stand on the abortion issue, their use of the company fleet to take a stand on a controversial issue has to be a bad thing. Do they have a litmus test for all employees (“are you pro-life”)? That would be illegal under EEOC rules. Do they turn down deliveries destined for Planned Parenthood? I believe, as a licensed common carrier, that too would be illegal. Does their business suffer to some degree because of this controversial stand? Do they not want a pro-choice stockholder?

Curiously enough, the only place Covenant mentions that they are “faith-based” is on the About page (oh… and the back of every truck). The rest of the site only talks about what a great place it is to work, with “great pay, and great values”. In fact they stress the individual:

We encourage individuality. We encourage you to be yourself. We encourage you to see our company in your own unique way.

Presumably as long as your way of seeing includes the pro-life sticker on the back of your truck.

I find this whole trend utterly offensive. I don’t really care what you do on Sunday, or Saturday, or during Ramadan, as long as you get along well with the other children and get your work done. I fully and completely support your right to hold dear whatever beliefs you have, and if those beliefs require you to dress, eat, or worship in a specific manner, please do so. But the minute your beliefs reflect on the organization as a whole or, worse yet, challenge those of others, that’s where I draw the line.

It is the height of hubris for management to force its beliefs on the employees.

And I get truly incensed when a secular organization chooses to take an overtly religious position. It is the height of hubris to think that the management team somehow has the right to force its beliefs on the employees. Each and every person at Covenant is assumed by the general public to be pro-life. It’s not only a bad answer to WWJD, it’s certainly not supporting the individual, and it’s just wrong.

As an interesting side note, the title of this post: the famous saying “What hath God wrought“, was an example of religion creeping into business. It is a verse from the Bible (Numbers 23:23) but was most famously used by Samuel Morse as the first message sent by Morse Code. One can argue forever, perhaps, about whether this is a better line than Alexander Graham Bell’s “Watson, come here I want you”, but there is little doubt the latter is vastly less likely to spark a debate about the existence of a supreme being — unless Watson thought the voice was from the beyond…