Bible Open

Threat of workplace evangelists

By BONNIE ERBE, Scripps Howard News Service July 10, 2001

Guess who's knocking on the office door? It's God. If Americans decide to let him in, we may set ourselves up to become as beset by inter-religious strife as the Arabs and the Jews. According to an article in the July 9th edition of Fortune Magazine, the latest craze has corporate executives fighting for free expression of religiosity in the workplace. Lord help us if this "craze" succeeds.

As recounted by Fortune, "Three dozen middle-aged rebels in business suits are gathered for lunch in a conference room on the top floor of the LaSalle Bank building in Chicago ... They are floating radical ideas: Work less. Slow down. Stop multitasking. Listen to your heart ... (They represent) a counterculture bubbling up all over corporate America who want to bridge the traditional divide between spirituality and work. Historically, such folk operated below the radar, on their own or in small workplace groups where they prayed or studied the Bible. But now they are getting organized and going public to agitate for change."

"Rebels?" "Radical ideas?" It seems truly bizarre to paint these gentlemen as romantic figures in a heroic battle. There is nothing new or radical about their ideas. In fact, their ideas are atavistic and outdated. Even Fortune cites an article it published in 1953 recounting the launch of a similar movement (which never took flight.) Maybe Fortune's editors are short on new ideas, and must turn to 40-year-old ideas, dust them off and tout them as different and interesting.

Today's workplace evangelists propose nothing less than a reinstitution of the repressive tactics our Founding Fathers fled England to avoid authoritatively imposed religiosity. Spirituality is a very personal thing. People should come to it, it should not be foisted on them.

Besides, can you imagine how incensed most of corporate America would become if people "worked less, slowed down and stopped multitasking" in the name of the Lord?

The article goes on to recount a spate of conferences, speeches and books devoted to tearing down the wall between church and boardroom. While these new missionaries fill conference halls, sell books and otherwise line their pockets, they are blindly and blithely ignoring the havoc they seek to wreak.

Can you imagine the competition among various sects of Christianity, Catholicism, Islam, Hinduism and so on that will want to turn the workplace into one big evangelical marketplace? Members of non-evangelical religions, such as Judaism and Buddhism, (not to mention atheists and agnostics) will be offended as co-workers proselytize them at work. Productivity will drop. Lawsuits will blossom.

Do evangelical Christian Americans really want to be interrupted by office mates who stop working and bow to Mecca several times a day? Do Jews want Buddhists burning incense in the workplace? Do Catholics want Baptists to try to convert them? Do Muslims want Wiccans praying to pagan gods at the office? On and on it might go in its florid capacity to create interoffice strife where such strife never before existed.

"Why would we want to look for God in our work?" Fortune quotes one man as asking. "The simple answer is most of us spend so much time working, it would be a shame if we couldn't find God there. A more complex answer is that there is a creative energy in work that is somehow tied to God's creative energy. If we can understand that connection, perhaps we can use it to transform the workplace into something remarkable."

Something unmanageable is more like it. These executives are forgetting one truism. Even the devil can go to church (to wit, certain activities of Jim Bakker, Marjoe Gortner, Jimmy Swaggert and even of the Rev. Jesse's Jackson in his recent sex scandal). Contrary to the executive's assertion that we don't have enough time outside of work to worship, we have plenty of time sixteen hours a day, five days a week and 24 hours a day two days a week.

There's also no end of issues that already divide us plenty on the job: turf, working conditions, employee conduct and so on. Let's not add one more very explosive element into the mix. If an evangelist comes knocking on your office door, tell him, "Thanks, but I'll see you in church."

Bonnie Erbe, host of the PBS program "To the Contrary," writes this column for Scripps Howard News Service. E-mail bonnieerbe@CompuServe.com

Reader comments:

Erbe column seems to confuse true Christian faith, fanaticism

To the editor Jul 20, 2001:

I take issue with a recent column by Bonnie Erbe. The semi-colon in the headline avoids the more accurate title of: "Spirituality is very personal, but let's keep it out of the workplace."

After reading Marc Gunther's article in Fortune magazine, I begin to wonder what fueled her invective reaction to an informative compilation of facts and examples. Could it be that she is more familiar with religious fanaticism than true Christianity? Has she never heard that "God is not the author of confusion"?

A renowned psychologist once said, ``Everything (said) after the `but' is insanity.'' To presume to keep spirituality out of America's workplaces is sheer absurdity. Everyone practices some type of spiritual attitude, conviction or loyalty. The true, living God is always in the workplace. Proverbs 15:3 states, "The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good." Erbe is innumerable years too late to halt this process.

I think Erbe may be guilty of "what-if" and "yes-but" thinking. She may be somewhat afraid of what she does not understand. I say to her, "Bonnie, don't worry. Marc Gunther's statements about God in the workplace have not yet caused a counter-revolution. Besides, God can take care of Himself, and if He can stand a little soul-searching among us so-called "baby boomers," why can't you?

Billy M., M.Ed. Piney Flats, Tenn.

There are good reasons to keep preaching out of the workplace

To the editor Aug 2, 2001:

In regard to Mr. Manuel's letter attacking Bonnie Erbe (Herald Courier July 20) proves why religious preaching doesn't belong in the workplace. If an avowed atheist were his supervisor and made a statement to him such as "an informative compilation of facts and examples'' in regard to atheism, he would explode.

Erbe's column clearly concerned executives and workplace rules, not two co-workers discussing Jesus at lunch. She is correct that this could lead to abuse and possible legal action. We already have enough stress in the workplace without this, and she is correct that workers have the other 16 hours a day plus weekends for religion.

Mr. Manuel also attempted to minimize the number of "fanatics'' among evangelicals. Christian Coalition leader Pat Robertson calls non-Christians "termites'' and refers to Methodists, Presbyterians and Episcopalians as "spirit of the anti-Christ.'' Jerry Falwell, speaking in Kingsport, calls the Anti-Christ a "male Jew" (non-biblical again) while his Southern Baptists launch a national campaign targeting Jews, Hindus and Muslims.

Then racist/religious bigot Bob Jones III comes to Kingsport and proclaims "the Bible is intolerant ... (Christians) should be as well.'' These bigots represent organizations with millions of "fanatics," and if Bob Jones says they are "intolerant," he should know. These cults not only target non-Christians but Christians as well.

Mr. Manuel is correct: "God can take care of Himself." God doesn't need amateur prophets spewing non-biblical garbage, hate and personal politics in His behalf. Bonnie is correct that religion is a personal matter and needs to stay that way.

Lewis Loflin Bristol, Va.