What’s the Opposition to Religious Talk in the Workplace?

Sam Rainer

December 17, 2008

LifeWay Research has data from a new survey that answers the question:

Despite several high-profile court cases over the past few years that tried to limit religious speech and the display of religious items in the workplace, most Americans have no problem with either. According to a recent survey by LifeWay Research, less than a third of Americans have issues with those who display religious items at work. Also, less than 4 out of 10 mind religious talk in the workplace.

The survey asked respondents to agree or disagree with the following statement: “Coworkers should not display religious items at the workplace.” Respondents were also asked to agree or disagree with this statement: “Coworkers should not talk about religion at the workplace.”

Opinions differ by age, with young adults most open to religious talk and religious items in the workplace and senior adults most resistant. The survey shows that 25 percent of 18 to 34 year olds somewhat or strongly agree that coworkers should not display religious items. In contrast, 44 percent of those over the age of 65 agree. The same trend is true in regards religious talk. A total of 33 percent of 18 to 24 year olds and 31 percent of 25 to 34 year olds said they agree that it is wrong for people to talk about religion in the workplace. However, a majority of those over the age of 65 (54 percent) agree that talking about religion does not belong in the workplace.

I find it intriguing that the younger generation is more open to religious talk in the workplace. This research corroborates other research about the openness of young adults to spiritual issues. During my years in the corporate cubicle, I found a lot of people open to talking about spiritual issues. In fact, when I started seminary and worked bi-vocationally as a minister, several people at the office would come to me for “spiritual advice.” The difficulty for me was one of degree: how much should I say? And how much company time should I use to talk to a person? I typically talked openly but briefly, prayed with the person, and then offered to extend the conversation at lunch or after work hours. What’s your take? To what degree should believers talk about spiritual matters in the office?

2 comments on “What’s the Opposition to Religious Talk in the Workplace?”

  1. brianayers says:

    That is some very interesting research, and the implications of those findings are exciting. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Miguel says:

    I, too, spent years in corporate America and found a growing openness to spiritual dialogue within the office place. The distinction of generations is the form these discussions take form as. I recall an older lady who would prominently display her KJV Bible on her desk, read during “work time,” slack off on performance, and then proclaim the hellish destination for co-workers with apparent “sin” in their life at high decibel levels. That kind of chatter draws HR and Mgt angst while also dispelling any interest in further dialogue for many. However, when dialogue was more testimonial – sharing transformation stories, viewpoints and respecting differences, the soil was very fertile. It’s not the same as ole’ door-to-door evangelism settings, so it requires a different demeanor and approach.

    The door is open, the question is who’s walking through it, with what intent and what approach. How missionally agile and minded are we when it comes to the marketplace?

    Recently our leadership team was discussing about changing the language we use around youth ministry graduations…the classic “X students acknowledged a call to vocational ministry, Y are just going to school for regular jobs.” The dichotomy between “ministry” and “marketplace vocation” neuters the desperate need for missional-mindedness regardless of vocation. Great Commission realities played out regardless of setting is a critical component of engaging the generational hunger present around needed meta-narratives on spiritual matters.

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