How Do You Deal with Workplace Proselytizing? December 30, 2008

How Do You Deal with Workplace Proselytizing?

Reader Amanda manages a coffee shop in Alabama. Recently, a Christian proselytizer came to her workplace…

She writes this in an email:

… When I came in to work today, there was a gentleman at my counter who had already been served by another employee. He left shortly after my employee did, but came back about thirty minutes later. As he entered the store, I greeted him, as I do with all customers, and he said, “Oh, I forgot to leave you a tip!” dropping some quarters into the tip jar on the counter.

Then, he handed me a tract that said “Between You and GOD” on the front. I was so dumbfounded and, frankly, irritated that someone would do something like that to me having never spoken to me and not knowing anything about me — and that they would have the audacity to do something like this to an individual at her workplace. He lied to me and said he wasn’t trying to evangelize me, to which I replied, “Right…” and he quickly retracted the statement, saying, “No, I am trying to evangelize you. This [pointing to the pamphlet] changed my life, and I think it will help you.” And then he left while I glared at him, dumbfounded.

I really wanted to curtly inform him that I thought he was being incredibly rude (and I also had a few other choice words for him), but I wanted to ask you, how would you deal with someone proselytizing at your workplace?

Have you ever experienced this?

This is some of what I wrote back to Amanda. Feel free to share your own thoughts:

I wouldn’t take it too seriously, whether it was in AL or anywhere else. The guy wanted to preach. As long as he wasn’t causing a disturbance in the store (preaching to customers), then I’d kinda brush him off. Tell him you’re an atheist (if you want to have *that* conversation)… or tell him you’re already a Christian (just to get rid of him)… or tell him this is not the appropriate time/place for that type of conversation.

If he persists, then you have trouble, If he’s doing this to all the employees — and making them lose focus on their jobs — then you also have trouble.

I’ve never really dealt with this scenario as I work at a public high school. But if someone wanted to talk about religion, I would probably find a time to have that discussion — because I like having that debate. Or I’d say I’m just not interested.

It’s a different issue all together if a colleague is the one trying to preach to you, but that’s not Amanda’s scenario.

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  • “… or tell him you’re already a Christian (just to get rid of him)”

    Perhaps a better response would be to tell him that you already know that stuff. It isn’t lying. Most atheists already know that stuff. However, then you don’t have to pretend you’re a Christian when you’re not.

  • Unless I feel like amusing myself with an argument (or what passes for one given that one would be talking to a fundie) I have found that a firm and polite “thanks, but no thanks,” works quite well. If you can say it with a smile, so much the better.

    I agree with the writer that proselytizing is rude (and presumptuous, arrogant, etc.) but becoming annoyed only encourages the proselytizer to think that he or she is somehow getting through to you. Hence the polite brush-off serves to both preserve civility and effectively communicate one’s complete disinterest in all things evangelical.

  • I just say “not interested” and walk away. If it was at a store where I worked, I might say “not interested, thank you, did you need help with something in the store?”

    I guess it’s up to Amanda as the manager to implement a “no soliciting” policy, or maybe it’s up to the business owner or higher-ups if it’s a corporate chain. If Amanda was not the manager, she should report the person to her boss. I don’t think she should try to engage the person in any kind of discussion at work, unless she is the owner of the business. She’s being paid to manage a cafe, not to discuss or debate religion with customers. If she’s the owner, she can do whatever she wants.

  • lynn

    My favorite response to someone trying to change my life with Jesus is “I’m happy with my life, thank you.”

  • I’d tell Amanda that being diplomatic is important. You need to find a way to say “please don’t evangelize me” without being rude — she’s in the customer service business, after all, and a lot of her customers are going to be Christians. So whatever the response is, be sure to make a point of being overtly respectful of his beliefs.

    When I’ve been proselytized by my clients, I’ve said that I’m a Buddhist. Most Christian evangelists have a “play” for response like “I’m an atheist.” But for some reason “Buddhist” is totally out of left field; they don’t know how to respond to that and that ends the discussion. Best of all, some schools of Buddhism are non-theistic so one can be a Buddhist and an atheist at the same time. (Yes, I know that other schools of Buddhism worship the Buddha as a deity.)

  • I work in an relatively progressive office. One day, some dude hopped off the elevator and handed the receptionist a stack of various Chick tracts, turned around and got back on the elevator.

    Apparently no one else there had ever heard of Chick tracts (I would guess they’re not as common in Utah, since most people “spreading the word” are Mormon?). I was the first to walk by after this happened and, frankly, was a little excited because I loves me a good Chick tract. They’re superb entertainment as an anthropological document about the fundamentalist mindset.

    The receptionist was HORRIFIED at the contents of the first book, taking it bit personally. But there I am going through the stack like a kid on Christmas morning:

    “Ha! Here’s the one about homosexuality! Ooh! And here’s one on dinosaurs! HAHAHAHA”

    After I explained how Chick tracts were so off-the-wall-batshit-crazy with the xeno/homo/atheo/islamo/sciencio/satano-phobia, everyone started getting into it. I think a few choice pages even made it to the break room bulletin board.

    I actually think in this case, ridicule was the right reaction. The receptionist’s day was getting ruined because she was so offended by the contents of the comic. Making it seem like a light-hearted romp through Crazy Fundamentalist Town actually defused that reaction a bit.

  • I find the best way is to buy one or two of the Landover Baptist Sadistic Bible Verse calendars and post them up.

    They act as a wonderful alternative to all those “lovey dovey” selective verses the xtians post in their cubicles.

    You can get them here:

    My all-time favorite is the “Sadistic Bible Verse Wall Calendar”

    Pretty damn good news IMOP!

  • I guess I’d tell him “thanks but no thanks” politely. The only way I can see this becoming troublesome is if he refuses to leave after that, in which case I’d probably be more firm and explain that I’m not interested.

    This sort of behaviour seems very inappropriate, given that working in a store or cafe, one generally doesn’t have time for a lengthy debate about religion. There are always customers to be served. If he comes back, explaining that to him might help.

  • Sam

    I get this ALL the time at work because I work in a copy shop. Those leaflets and bookmarks and postcards and wotnot have to come from somewhere and I’m afraid we are guilty of supplying them. Sorry.

    If you’re copying something, it is often assumed that you’re interested, be it religion or politics or whatever local campaign the particular nutter customer is engaged in. Mostly, I’m not. I generally won’t engage in being rude (although extreme provocation has caused lapses), that goes against my personal ethics and would be damaging to the business, but it does change the way I deal with the customer. I find that a disinterested “Mmmhmm” and continuing with my work while assiduously avoiding eye contact disuades ongoing conversation, and a polite “No, thank you” suffices when they offer to leave a copy of whatever it is they’re having done. Or “We don’t allow that” if they offer to leave several.

    In short, if someone is rude enough to start pushing their beliefs on to me in the workplace, where I cannot just walk away, they get basic, efficient and polite service whereas normally they could expect cheery conversation and a willingness to go beyond the call of duty.

  • Dan

    The guy left immediately after handing out the tract, but if he hadn’t… As the manager of the cafe, Amanda can “ask” people to leave. If he refuses, civil authorities (the cops) may be called upon to enforce her “request”.

  • sc0tt

    I love that the guy figured he could buy some access with a couple coins in the tip jar.

    My response is to say “I’m not superstitious”. If I were a quick thinker I might have smiled and offered him to take back his tip.

  • In this context, I would simply say “no thanks” and hand back his magic Jesus pamphlet. I wouldn’t expect to gain anything from being confrontational here.

  • I do think this is seriously rude. Proselytizing is bad enough when it’s done on a street corner… but this is a situation where the person being preached at can’t just walk away, and can’t speak their mind or flip the bird. They’re a captive audience, and they’re professionally required to be polite to their customers.

    I’m not sure what I’d do. I’d like to think I’d do something clever, but mostly I just wouldn’t want to encourage or engage with them in any way. I’d probably just say, “I’m not interested,” until they went away — followed by “Please go away now” if that didn’t work, and threats to call security or the police if that didn’t work.

  • Erp

    I had the reverse once, I was proselytized by a checkout person in a university bookstore. I should have been quicker and asked to speak to her manager immediately, but, it just struck me as so odd that I did nothing.

  • If you’re lucky they’ll ask you “Have you found Jesus?” To which you can reply “I didn’t even know he was missing.”

  • Really, just leave it alone. I think Amanda overreacted. She was at work – just smile, say thank you, and let it be. Trust me, you don’t want to get into a religious debate at work.

  • Zar

    Maybe a deadpan, “Oh. Another one of these.” And crumple it up.

  • Lyz

    At least he gave you a few quarters first. Too often in the coffeeshops I’ve worked at, someone will put a tract such as this IN the tip jar as if we can use god to eat and put gas in our cars. Yet another action that goes in the list (book?) of “deplorable coffee shop acts.”

  • i’ve had a customer who was delighted upon the revelation that we shared the same name and took advantage of the divine connection to hand me an invitation to join a biblical thanksgiving shindigg on campus. i recognized the crazy glint in her eye and responded with a “no thanks, i’m not interested” and the complementary ‘i think you’re cuckoo, now bye-bye’ grin. in my experience, proselytizers have responded well to polite rejection. however, i think i should start a repository of clever comebacks — the buddhist one and “i’m not superstitious” are pretty good.

  • Tin

    I’d put a big smile and say, “Why, thank you very much, and have a great day.” As soon as he leaves, I’d dump it in the trash.

  • Spork

    You are such a doormat, Hemant. If we, as atheists, say we don’t want to be subjected to prayer in the public square, we’re labeled as militant and aggressive. If this guy shoves his religion in someone’s face, he’s being harmless in your eyes?

    So, one of your suggestions is to lie? Really? You have so many questions about ethical dilemmas and moral quandaries, that you actually suggested telling a falsehood as a strategy?

    Grow a backbone, man!

  • llewelly

    (I would guess they’re not as common in Utah, since most people “spreading the word” are Mormon?).

    I saw a lot of chick tracts lying around in Salt Lake City during the 1980s. Haven’t seen any in the wild anywhere on the Wasatch Front since.

  • MH

    I have a weakness for nutty proselytizing. The crazier the tract the more I like them. So in that situation I would read the track and hope it measured up to the best I’ve read.

    As Patrick said, Chick Tracts are the gold standard in nuts. Back in the early 90’s I got handed “Fugitive Pope” which actually exceeded a Chick tract for mental instability. I wish I kept that one.

  • There’s no point in getting all wound up over workplace proselytizing if it stops at that. They hand you a tract, you thank them politely, they leave, you throw it in the garbage (or laugh at it with your co-workers). You do not want to get into an argument about religion with a customer, particularly in a public place: that’s the very definition of a no-win situation. (If they try to discuss it, you can say, “I’m sorry, but I’m not allowed to talk about politics or religion while I’m on the clock.”)

    I once had a customer hand me a tract that was, with remarkable specificity, written for customers to give to retail workers. I think it went something like, “Thanks for giving me good customer service: now let me give you something in return–the GIFT OF ETERNAL LIFE!” Only more subtly, I guess.

  • I’m with Tin, except, I would have crumpled it up and thrown it in the garbage in full view of the customer – all with a cheerful, friendly smile on my face. Then I would have sincerely wished the gentleman a great day, and said, “next, please.”

  • Hah! How weird is this? That’s my sister that owns that coffee shop….

  • Bob

    I actually work for a company which has a stated corporate objective of “Honor God in All You Do.” Safe to say, as an Atheist I won’t be working my way up the ladder.

  • Steve

    I had a coworker preach to me once. I told him straight up, “F you.” He never preached to me again.

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