A new ComRes report has suggested that up to a million people working in Britain have faced some sort of workplace discrimination, harassment or bullying because of their religious beliefs.
There also seems to be a significant gulf between the sort of environment employers think they are providing and the actual experiences of their employees. This report suggests there is still a lot of work to be done in the workplace. However, I have some reservations about how such improvements might be made and the cost they might have for free-speech at work.
Being bullied or harassed at work is always wrong. People don’t go to work to encounter hostility but to do their jobs well and to pay their bills. However, many people like myself believe that work can also be a place to engage in dialogue about the big questions - where appropriate, and as long as my work is not compromised.
If people are being buillied for sharing their Christian faith, that needs to stop. But we must also ask serious questions about how we stop this from happening. We must avoid the temptation to heavily police what people can and can’t say. We must avoid creating a sterile environment where employees are treading on eggshells and living in fear about whether they might offend a religious colleague. This is already a legitimate fear for those working in many professions where the wrong pronoun or joke with a colleague could end in you losing your job.
In attempting to solve the problem of bullying we could end up creating a further one where any metaphysical or religious discussion at work becomes even less socially acceptable than it already is. Under increasing secular social pressure many Christians already feel uncomfortable talking about their faith at work. More often than not we wait until a colleague brings it up as this is perceived as the socially acceptable green light to engage.
I’d rather colleagues feel at liberty to take the mickey out of me because I’m a Christian than feel like they can never bring it up because I might get offended and contact HR. There may at times be a thin line between your faith being the punchline of a colleague's joke and being bullied, but if Christians embrace a snowflake mentality we might soon see any kind of discussion on the ‘big questions’ disappear into a politically correct vacuum.
I’d rather colleagues feel at liberty to take the mickey out of me because I’m a Christian than feel like they can never bring it up
I say this as a university lecturer living in the belly of the politically correct beast and I admit it, I do live in fear about the wrong colleague or student finding out what I think about abortion, for example.
I have a young family and have already experienced the threat of being outed by someone who didn’t like what I wrote on Facebook. A secular humanist reading that might think I just have a persecution complex but rightly or wrongly that is how I’ve been made to feel in our apparently inclusive and diverse culture. However, rather than letting that fear silence me, I simply follow Jesus’ command to be "as wise as serpents, and as innocent as doves" (Matthew 10:16) and make sure that I’m informed and well-read enough to defend my views in the marketplace of ideas.
I’ve had colleagues in a previous workplace ridicule me because of some of the things I believed but as somewhat of a polemicist myself I gave as good as I got. I know not everyone feels comfortable or confident enough to do that and so I suspect what I experienced would be interpreted by some Christians as bullying. But I can only speak for myself.
If Christians embrace a snowflake mentality we might soon see any kind of discussion on the big questions disappear into a politically correct vacuum
Still, I do wonder whether the Gospel would have spread as rapidly and widely as it did if Christians were as easily offended as many are today. The offence culture might represent what secular culture has become but we worship a crucified and ridiculed saviour, not our feelings.
I’m not suggesting that Christians put up with bullying in the workplace but I am saying that it is also wrong to expect your work colleagues to agree with you, never take the mickey out of you and never intellectually challenge your religious beliefs. After all, don’t we follow a crucified and ridiculed saviour who told us not to be surprised when people reacted badly to our message?
This blog has been written by a Christian lecturer at a secular university who wishes to remain anonymous