The Supreme Court in June handed down its verdict in Hobby Lobby v. Burwell, and, just as we feared, that ruling’s reverberations continue to be felt as the Religious Right adopts the cause of corporate religion. Now, Moody Theological Seminary in Chicago has introduced an initiative that appears directly inspired by the ruling – and motivated by a desire to encourage more business owners to introduce religion into secular workplaces.As I noted earlier this week in a Religion News Service column, the “Faith, Work, and Economics” initiative corresponds to the seminary’s emphasis in “vocational stewardship,” available as an option for its graduate students. According to a website description, the program will teach “…believers to integrate their faith in the workplace.”So what exactly does that mean? Faculty statements provide a clue. Dr. Sajan Mathews, who directs the program, said, “The reality is that those in the workplace are often the most unreached people group in our lives.”I’ll take a moment to translate this into English for those unfamiliar with evangelical parlance. By “unreached,” Mathews means anyone who doesn’t identify as a born-again Christian. It’s a common term, usually associated with proselytizing efforts.Mathews doesn’t stop there. “The integration of faith and work bridges the divide often seen in the church between worship and ministry on Sunday and work in the various vocations from Monday through Saturday,” he added.
Another translation: Work is an act of religious expression, not substantially different from worship services.This is, of course, a very old idea. The belief that an individual can be called by God to a particular line of work bypasses denominational divides. And that belief, by itself, poses no constitutional issue. Of principal concern to Americans United are statements made by a recent lecturer as part of the course.Richard E. Warren, chair of Weldaloy Products Company in Warren, Mich., proudly described his efforts to convert his workforce to Christianity. If the company sold Bibles that might make sense, but Weldaloy is a forging operation. It makes custom products out of copper and aluminum. The firm sponsors a Bible study for its employees – which it uses to win souls.
“When I started the Bible studies I did a tally, and we had three people in the company who were professing believing Christians,” Warren said. “Today, out of roughly 100 employees we have only 20 or 25 (people) who are not yet Christians.”Warren, who is also a Moody trustee, insists that his company hires Christians and non-Christians alike. But Weldaloy’s website undermines that claim. In a red box on the company’s homepage, a visitor can read the “Weldaloy Vision:” “To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us. To demonstrate the love of Christ Jesus to all we come in contact with.”In a job listing available on Weldaloy’s website, candidates are informed that they must demonstrate the “ability to support the company’s vision and values in performance of daily activities.”That raises some rather obvious questions about workplace discrimination.Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it’s illegal for employers discriminate against candidates on the basis of religion, and to create a hostile work environment for employees – and that includes pressuring them into adopting a certain religion. It’s deeply concerning that Warren “tallied” the number of employees he deemed to be “professing believing Christians” and then adopted specific practices to increase that number.
He described offering Bible studies and hiring a full-time company chaplain as tactics. Imagine the pressure the “unsaved” must feel in this company. If Employee A who is “born again” and Employee B who is not are competing for the same promotion, who do you think will get it?
Anyone could be subjected to heavy handed proselytism as the price of getting a paycheck, and that simply isn't acceptable.
Richard Warren – and anyone who listened to his lecture – needs to understand that if you open a for-profit business, you are not exempt from the law, no matter how devout you might be. If you’ve created an environment where employees are encouraged to adopt your religion, you’ve probably run afoul of the law. And it’s time to question whether your priorities are your employees’ wellbeing, or the advancement of your personal ideology.The Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling does not serve as carte blanche for fundamentalist employers to completely skirt existing laws. Perhaps Moody Theological Seminary should include a unit on discrimination, too.