When Is It Okay To Share Your Beliefs? August 9, 2007

When Is It Okay To Share Your Beliefs?

JKC is a Mormon who works as a law clerk. He can make several comparisons between those two parts of his life:

Like my time as a missionary, I work with Latinos, mostly Mexicans, in the U.S., who live off of field work. Like missionaries, I visit my clients in their homes. Like missionaries, I have to gain my clients’ trust. Heck, I even drive a 1999 Sentra like when I was a missionary.

One client he visited asked him how he knew Spanish. JKC responded that he learned it while he was a missionary in Arizona. The client said he had received visits from Mormons back when he was in Texas. This is where the dilemma starts:

At that point, I would have responded with a follow up question: how did you like it? Or, why did you stop meeting with them? Or, did you ever go to church? Or, would you like me to have the elders here visit you?

But JKC said nothing. “It didn’t feel right.”

I wondered why it was that I felt like it was wrong of me to preach the gospel at that moment. The best answer I came up with was that my relationship with my clients, is one of professional advice and counsel, and that the gospel is outside the bounds of that relationship.

I don’t mean that I would never speak about the church with a client. If a client asked me about the church, I would respond. If a client asked me about a non-legal matter, I would be likely to draw on relevant gospel-related experiences. But somehow, it feels wrong to “look for an opening” to share the gospel like I might do in another situation.

He eventually asks:

Is it unethical in some situations to preach the gospel?

Ok, so I’m assuming most of the readers here will say yes. But if you have something intelligent to say to JKC, leave your answers at his site (and don’t be mean).

I’m more concerned with the general question. Whether you’re atheist/Christian/whatever, where do you draw the line? How do you act in a professional environment? When is it ok to share your beliefs and when is it not ok?

(Thanks to Bjorn for the link)

[tags]atheist, atheism, Mormon, Latino, Mexican, Spanish, Arizona, church, Christian, gospel[/tags]

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • DM

    Well, I’m pretty sure his religion (as well as the one I was raised in) are similar in the fact that if we have an opportunity to preach and DON’T, then we are putting our own lives at risk. There are scriptures (I don’t have time to look up at the moment) which say if you do not seize an opportunity to preach to someone when it arises you are as guilty as the sinner you failed to preach to.

    It sounds to me like this Mormon is slowly starting to think outside the box.

    Good for him.


  • It’s easier to say when not to, when someone asks you to stop or appears unhappy about hearing it.

    I’m not really interested in what anyone believes, religious or not, I care what they do, how they act. St. Francis said that it was necessary to preach the gospel constantly. He said that you should even use words if you had to.
    If they don’t act the talk then the talk is just talk.

  • Aj

    It’s up to the person to express themselves when and how they wish. I imagine business would find it counterproductive, so they may enforce a policy that discourages non-work related conversations unless engaged by the customer. In terms of politeness, preaching to people who haven’t asked for it is probably going to annoy the recipient.

    I personally would go for a much more passive approach. I do not like people with clipboards running up to me in the street. I do not like Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons knocking my door. They do not ask me whether I want to participate or listen to them. Sometimes I feel like I should stop being polite.

  • Maria

    I think the Mormon guy did the right thing. It was not an appropriate time. Work is about work, not religion. It would have been different if the guy had said something like “I’m Mormon” or asked him about his Mormonism. If the person wants to talk about it, that’s different. But you shouldn’t bring it up for no reason. Good for him. 🙂 I agree with what the above poster said about “people with clipboards” and those that “knock on the door”. It is annoying.

  • PrimateIR

    But JKC said nothing. “It didn’t feel right.”

    For crying out loud! I guess not!

    If JKC had visited a surgeon, because he needed surgery and the surgeon had started asking him how he felt about Zues and his followers would that have been ok?

    What disturbs me here is that he is even second guessing himself after making an appropriate choice.

  • Richard Wade

    PrimateIR’s analogy is correct.

    If JKC follows a professional code of ethics as a “law clerk,” (not quite sure what that is) then most likely the code would prohibit any such preaching to someone he is seeing as a client in his law clerk capacity.

    As a psychotherapist if I did that to a client it would be betraying the trust that person had put in me to interact with them strictly as a therapist. To take advantage of the power or credibility of my role and preach something beyond the agreed and expected relationship would be severely unethical and could result in the loss of my license and a lawsuit, and I would deserve it.

    JKC talks about trust being essential in his work with his clients. If he’s helping them with legal difficulties, they may be vulnerable to his influence in a variety of areas. To preach in that situation would be to betray that trust. If he wants to preach let him put the white shirt and black tie on and start knocking on doors again. But not his clients’ doors.

  • At work, I don’t bring my atheism up unless somebody asks me about it. And I don’t pursue it unless that person wants to pursue it. But then, most of my co-workers read my blog (a little awkward when I blog about spanking, but what are you gonna do), which kind of finesses the question.

    Anyway, I think that’s right and JKC made the right choice. I could see how someone might think, “But this is life or death — I wouldn’t be ‘professional’ if someone were choking at my office, and this is no different, if I don’t testify they could burn forever in hell.” But the difference (apart from the obvious one of choking being a real hazard and hell being entirely imaginary) is that it’s the height of arrogance to assume that people have never heard of or considered your religion before they met you. Giving someone the Heimlich has an excellent chance of saving their life; giving them your religious testimony isn’t very likely to convert them, and it’s very likely to make them feel uncomfortable about working with you.

    Will cross-post at his site, minus the references to imaginary hell and spanking,

  • Mmm, when is it appropriate to share your beliefs? I would think that it would be better to avoid any situation where you are trying to do something else like work, do your shopping, enjoy a Sunday morning.

    Better to say where would it be appropriate to share your beliefs? I think a social setting and only if conversation naturally steers in that direction. Also a public forum like this.

    I’ve recently been flamed for asking a question about religion and the caste system on a public forum. I did it politely (at least to start with before I was attacked) but my being an Atheist obviously got someone riled up and they started to accuse me of being a Disciple of Dawkins’ Atheist Army out to destroy religion.

    Actually I didn’t know that even existed and I probably would join up but only if I get to eat fetuses for breakfast and defile the dead at least once a week. 😉

  • Vincent

    I’m a lawyer. Not sure what he means by “law clerk” and having clients.
    Anyway, the legal relationship is a trust relationship. When you preach to someone you show them that you don’t trust them. You show them that you already think they make bad choices. Thus it is not appropriate to prosteletise in a professional setting.
    Personally I believe religion should only be discussed if directly questioned about it, and then not if it’s in a political setting.

  • Polly

    My wife’s a xian and teaches pre-school but she will never let that influence the kids. If asked (and they do ask), she merely tells the child to ask his/her parents.

    Interestingly, another teacher who calls herself a Christian told one child that Jesus is dead, twice! I’m not sure what denomination that would be. The Futilitarians, perhaps? 🙂

  • LeAnn

    As a Christian and a history/social studies teacher, I believe that it is not appropriate for me to share my beliefs with my students unless they ask me. Even if they ask, I try to figure out why they are asking and what their own beliefs are before I begin to share my own. I also try to make sure it is a “private” conversation so that I do not offend other students that may have different beliefs than mine or the asking student’s. Additionally, as a history teacher, part of our curriculum that we teach our students is about things such as the Middle Ages and the Crusades that were taken on by the Roman Catholics against the Muslims that controlled the Holy Land at that time. I do my utmost to make sure that I impart the facts of the historical events to my students without offending Christians or Muslims. I do make a point to explain that while those at the time believed they were making the correct decisions, we should learn from the bad example they have provided to make sure that type of event does not happen again.
    With my coworkers and others I may come in contact wit, I try to share my beliefs through how I live and act. I try to build relationships and trust with people before trying to have conversations with them about their own beliefs or mine. I think the “law clerk” did the appropriate thing in deciding not to share his beliefs with the client because it was in a professional environment and not in a missionary capacity. Sorry for the length of the comment.

  • Jen

    I think that work is work, and religion (or lack of) has no place in work. There are plenty of times to talk religion, but with someone you just met? Who doesn’t care? Who isn’t asking you to explain yourself? On their time? I think not.

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