Sharing Your Beliefs in the Workplace

workplace religion beliefs appropriate
Religion in the workplace: Asset or drawback?
workplace religion beliefs appropriate

Religion in the workplace: How much can you really share?

I’m a Seventh-Day Adventist Christian. I’m also a high school teacher in the state system, where religion is not openly discussed. (Except for in scripture class, once a week, which is optional.) As a teacher, I can’t initiate a conversation with students on religious beliefs, because this could be seen as me trying to ‘convert’ them. If a student chooses to ask me what I personally believe, I am entitled to answer honestly and explain the basics of my belief system.

I’m a product of private Christian education. Even my tertiary education was undertaken at a private Christian institution. So why did I decide to teach in the state system? People have asked me if it was to ‘further my Christian agenda’ or ‘indoctrinate’ the teens I teach. This could not be further from the truth. I just knew it’s where I wanted to be.

In my staffroom, my religion always comes up the second I mention I don’t drink and that I don’t eat certain meats. My colleagues have been great about it, very inquisitive, but respectful. And in turn, I respect their beliefs.

I have had many conversations with students who for one reason or another are seeking something ‘more’.  When I’ve been asked my opinion on certain issues, I’ve always been careful to explain that just because that’s what I believe doesn’t mean that they should automatically agree. I encourage them to explore things themselves, to educate themselves on religion, if that’s what they are searching for.  They may well know some of what I believe, but I’ve never been aggressive when discussing religion.  It’s not the time or place, and don’t believe it’s the right way to represent what you believe.

Kids are free thinkers. My seniors are blown away by the fact that I don’t drink, am a vegetarian, and that I observe the Sabbath.  I’ve been told that whilst they don’t necessarily understand elements of my faith, that they respect that I’ve never ‘bible bashed’ them. That I’ve never pushed a religious agenda on them. That I openly admit that all organized religion is deeply flawed. That I’m not always the best example of a Christian. I think people tend to assume that if you call yourself a Christian, then you also believe you are superior to those who are not. Again- for me, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Whenever I’m asked, I give a crash course in the core fundamental beliefs of Seventh-Day Adventism. It can be difficult to explain why Adventists go to church on Saturday, not Sunday. That we have guidelines that are similar to the Jewish faith in a way, but are also a solid bible based Christian denomination.

I’m lucky to have had kids ask about my beliefs, because it’s started whole discussions on different religions and the way we should be respectful of a person’s right to worship in a way they see fit.

When I started teaching in the state system, I was worried I might slip up somehow. If I was covering a science lesson casually and I was teaching the theory of evolution, would I accidentally blurt out “No! I believe in creation!”.

This concern was ridiculous in retrospect. It’s always been easy to keep my professionalism.

I’m not ashamed of who I am or what I believe in, but have been careful all these years not to preach at anyone. I find more often than not, that it’s teenagers who have the highest level of a healthy curiosity mixed with respect.

Have you ever felt that you have to ‘hide’ your beliefs in the workplace? If so, why?

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  • http://johnanthonyjames.com/ John James

    I’ve never been shy of expressing my atheism with my Australian work colleagues – I find most Australians are pretty tolerant of other people’s beliefs… BUT I work for a multi-national company – in fact, the team I work for is based in North Carolina, a conservative US state, so I’m very circumspect about my beliefs with my American colleagues.

    When I was a student teacher (before I realised it wasn’t for me) I did work with a Science Teacher in a State School who was also a pretty hard-core Christian… that threw me a bit, because he was teaching a curriculum that didn’t match his personal beliefs… I have to admit, I didn’t actually trust his motives… if you’ve spent 4 years learning about science, scientific theory, and science-history, and yet you can still look me in the eye and claim to believe in the literal truth of the Bible and creationism over evolution, then you worry me…

    But away from science, I don’t think there’s any issue with people of any faith working in the state school system. State Schools aren’t pro-atheism… they aren’t pro-any belief system… they are just places of learning…

    • http://kikiandtea.com Tamsin Howse

      I’ve met many hard core Christians who don’t believe in the literal 7 day creation – are you sure he did?

      • http://johnanthonyjames.com/ John James

        Yep – 100%…

        I’m not saying that you can’t be Christian and teach science, but this guy was… complicated… and I did find his motivation suspect…

    • http://kikiandtea.com Tamsin Howse

      Actually the more I think about this the more I don’t think it really matters. In high school science you’re teaching things like chemistry and physics, not evolution anyway.

      • http://johnanthonyjames.com/ John James

        No, evolution is part of the curriculum (or it was in my day – I taught evolution as a student teacher)

        But I find it difficult to accept that people can cherry-pick which parts of science they will accept, and which they will dismiss… if you accept the scientific truth for physics and chemistry, then you should also accept biological truths as well…

        • http://iamevilcupcakeblog.wordpress.com/ iamevilcupcake

          Evolution was taught as a part of Biology in years 11 and 12 way back when I was in high school.

    • http://iamevilcupcakeblog.wordpress.com/ iamevilcupcake

      It’s quite possible to believe in creation and also be pro-science. The idea of science doesn’t revolve completely around the theory of evolution.

      I believe in creation, and I so dearly love science and what it’s accomplished. There are so many aspects of it that leave me completely speechless.

      Having said that though, the idea of whether we evolved or were created isn’t intrinsic to my happiness. I’m pretty apathetic in that department.

      • http://johnanthonyjames.com/ John James

        I know it’s possible to believe in creation and also be pro-science… doesn’t make it right to believe that though…

        Like I said, I think it’s wrong to cherry-pick what scientific truths are real or not – you either accept the scientific view of the world or not – otherwise it’s like trying to claim you’re only “half-pregnant” 😉

        • http://iamevilcupcakeblog.wordpress.com/ iamevilcupcake

          You are assuming that all scientific truths confirm evolution. That’s just not the case.

          You are also assuming that the bible/Christian beliefs discount science. This is also not the case. There are passages of scripture that actually point to things that the world as a whole didn’t believe in, until it was scientifically proven.

          I think in this day and age it pays to be a bit flexible and not so staunch in your belief system. Like you said, you can believe one way, and also be pro-science, but it doesn’t make it right.

          • http://johnanthonyjames.com/ John James

            Just one clarification – evolution is a fact, but the methodology of what drives evolution is what we are still discovering… Darwin’s theory was Natural Selection, and it works as theory 99% of the time, but recently additional methods of evolution have been discovered that fall outside the Natural Selection model – that doesn’t mean that evolution isn’t real…

            It’s like gravity – we know it exists, but how it works is still not 100% clarified, though we get closer to knowing the full picture every year…

            Also, at no point have I said that bible/Christian beliefs discount science… my point has always been that I don’t understand how people can dismiss scientific truths based on their religious beliefs – I just don’t understand that kind of thinking – I’m not saying you’re not allowed to think that way – I’m just being honest – I don’t understand how people can dismiss scientific truths… to me, that makes no sense, but that’s just how I see the world…

          • http://iamevilcupcakeblog.wordpress.com/ iamevilcupcake

            This is where peoples belief systems become dangerous and why I simply don’t care anymore.

            You are saying unequivocally that evolution is truth and yet there is still so much to learn, how do you not know that it’s not the same with creation?

            When there are still so many questions on both sides, being so staunch in a belief system is narrow minded and dangerous. This is the exact reason why I’m no longer religious. I can no longer justify behaving like I know better than everyone else, because I simply don’t.

            While I get your point JJ, you need to be articulate your beliefs better so you don’t come across as one of the “bible bashers”.

          • http://johnanthonyjames.com/ John James

            Being pro science isn’t about bible bashing – I have a lot of respect for religious beliefs, and if I’m honest with myself, much of my personal morality is based on the teachings of Christ… But if someone says to me that they are discounting the overwhelming evidence for evolution or the age of the universe simply because they take the bible literally, I’m not going to pretend that makes sense to me…

            That’s not bible bashing… that’s not having a go at religion… that’s just me being honest with you… I don’t understand how people can ignore the scientific evidence that the universe is billions of years old, and that evolution is responsible for all the different types of life on this planet…

            If you choose to ignore that evidence and still believe that a god created the world in 7 days, that’s cool – but I can’t pretend to understand why you would believe that…

            Also, if you want to believe that God is the driving force behind the natural world, including evolution, well that’s fine with me too… because to me, that’s a question of theology, not science… I think evolution is a natural process, you may think it is part of God’s plan… but we both still believe in the scientific evidence… it’s only our theological viewpoints that are different…

          • Kris2040

            I’d argue the fact that proof of evolutionary processes can be found in places with varied and different belief systems is pretty significant. If they find similar proof of evolution in say, India and South America, that would suggest that beliefs are just that – something you believe but can’t prove.

          • Maree Talidu

            What about groups like the Creation Scientists? I’ve heard them speak at church and been a bit confused, I must admit.

  • http://kikiandtea.com Tamsin Howse

    I have discussed religion with colleagues but I only do it when they bring it up. In the past I worked with someone I went to primary school with and she was very ashamed of the religion we were raised and didn’t want me to tell anyone what primary school it was we went to. Since then I’ve always been quite careful about “outing” other people at work.

  • Melissa Savage

    I have a teacher friend who was raised catholic but is an avowed atheist. By happenstance she got some casual teaching work in the Catholic system and liked it so much she’s going back. They even had her teach an RE class, where she got to facilitate a discussion in a class that contained a severly anti-abortion student and a feminist student who took a more nuanced view. I think the students twigged that she wasn’t quite as one-sided as their usual teacher, but she was more excited that there was a genuine debate between the kids than that one side was right or wrong.

    I think in Australia it’s weird when you do attend church, so most people keep quiet about their beliefs, but as JJ says, people in the south tend to ask ‘which church do you go to?’ right after they ask your name, and in that environment it’s also probably best avoided.

  • Monique Fischle

    I work at a Christian not-for-profit. My beliefs are part of my day-to-day work. With friends though, I only ever speak about it when asked. They know they can come to me with any questions but I do not want to be seen as “bible bashing” anymore.

  • Maree Talidu

    I have found only a couple of really unpleasant exchanges due to my religion, in the workplace, and none were at my current school. While I was still a prac teacher, I did a prac at a local state school. The principal had ignored me from the start, but approached me at the swimming carnival- the conversation basically happened like this:

    Him: “I hear you’re one of those ‘Seven Dayers’.
    Me: “Yes, I am a Seventh Day Adventist.”
    Him: “you come from that ‘Seven Day’ college that’s only for your kind?”
    Me: “Avondale College IS an SDA Institution, however you don’t have to be any type of religion to go there. It’s open to all.”
    Him: “So I suppose you actually believe the dingo stole the baby?”
    Me: “Sorry?”
    Him: “The dingo stole my baby? And that lunatic in Waco?” (referring to David Koresh who for a brief period of time had aligned himself with the SDA church before breaking off into the Branch Davidian Sect, which ended in much bloodshed)
    Me: “I absolutely believe a dingo stole Azaria. Not because I’m an Adventist, but because of the overwhelming evidence.”
    Him: “Yeah I expected you all to stick together on that one.”
    Me: “Sorry, I wasn’t aware that we did.”

    He then turned on his heel and walked off. It was the most bizarre exchange, obviously had never had a prac teacher from Avondale College, and I have to assume it was ignorance on his part to make him so incredibly rude. I was too surprised/shocked at the time of the conversation to be more articulate, I couldn’t believe he’d actually approached me in such an aggressive manner. The only way he’d have known I was an SDA was by reading my paperwork, because it never came up in the staffroom or classroom. His tone was packed with cynicism. It was unpleasant.

    • http://johnanthonyjames.com/ John James

      That is just awful!

      • Maree Talidu

        Very awkward, I felt very uncomfortable, but as a prac teacher, I also wasn’t going to fire up and tell him what I thought, so I just was polite and avoided him for the rest of my time there. It was pretty offensive.

  • Bradley

    The workplace is the last place that I would openly declare anything. In a world where you can unitentionally cause offence at the drop of a hat, I would be unlikely to discuss anything with anyone who hasn’t already declared their own personal position and then I would be more likely to speak with that person away from the workplace to avoid being overheard and potentially risking third party offence and an harrassment charge.

    • Maree Talidu

      I don’t think I was referring to an open declaration of my beliefs, rather that when the topic of religion comes up, how do you handle it? Have you felt the need to censor yourself etc. I think stating your position, but fearing a charge of harrassment is pretty extreme.

      • Bradley

        Believe me, I have seen a number of harassment charges in the workplace as a result of someone overhearing a private conversation. Big Brother does exist !Yes, I always feel that I have to censor myself during conversation. Too many people chuck a wet over what is generally meant as an innocent throw away line. When I refer to open declarations I don’t mean that Frank or Dorothy has stood on their desk and shouted out their personal mission statement. I mean that in my case I would tend to converse more frequently with those individuals I know to be like-minded. The Legion of the Perpetually Offended tend to make normal everyday conversation fairly difficult. You have to keep on looking over your shoulder to see if you are under surveillance and that tends to make you hold onto your tongue.

        • Maree Talidu

          Ah. Gotcha. Makes sense.

          • Bradley

            Just think of that ad where the guy is enjoying a bowl of breakfast cereal and exclaims, “All Bran is delicious”, and suddenly up pops a 7 foot woman who believes that she has heard him say “Tall Jan is malicious”.