My dissertation and early scholarly research focused on investigating the issue of work-religion conflict (WRC). WRC is a specific type of inter-role conflict whereby the role pressures associated with one’s work and religion domains are perceived, in some respects, as being incompatible with one another. A man of faith who often comes to my mind that experienced WRC (and was the inspiration for my doctoral dissertation) is Desmond Doss.
Desmond served his country as a combat medic during World War II, seeing some of the fiercest fighting in the war during the Battle of Okinawa. He won the Medal of Honor for his unique courage, bravery, and service to wounded soldiers on the battlefields (saving over 100 lives in the process)—having never fired a single shot at the enemy during his time in harm’s way. He refused to arm himself during battles, citing his religious beliefs for his refusal to carry a weapon. Instead, he relied on the power and grace of the Lord to ensure his safety as he attended to his wounded brethren, rescuing and caring for the same individuals who often verbally assaulted him for his religious stance.1
The temptation to shed one’s religious role identity and conform to secular role expectations would have surely overwhelmed most individuals, but not Desmond. Instead of creating role boundaries to deal with the initial period of perceived conflict between his work and religious roles, he integrated the two through a combination of job crafting and work accommodation tactics.
As faculty charged with preparing Christians for the workplace, it is important for us to consider alternatives for coping with WRC. Cognitive dissonance theory2 suggests individuals may (1) change existing beliefs, (2) develop additional beliefs, or (3) reduce the importance of beliefs in order to achieve congruence during these periods of intrapersonal conflict. Employees experiencing WRC may come to the conclusion that the behaviors generating WRC are no longer incongruent with their Christian faith (i.e., change their beliefs to support their behaviors). They may seek out justifications for their incongruent behaviors by concluding they have limited agency or are simply conforming to normative expectations (i.e., develop additional beliefs to support the behaviors). Alternatively, they may simply diminish the importance of their faith obligations by creating role boundaries. These maladaptive approaches to resolving WRC should be of concern to us all. They may be contributing factors to why we hear that current or former members of our congregations have been involved in unethical business activities. It is the responsibility of all of us committed to the importance of work-faith integration to prepare ourselves and others for WRC and to offer aid and support in individuals’ efforts to successfully navigate these spiritual minefields.
There are serval suggested strategies to mitigate WRC. First, we should consider the potential for WRC during the job search process. My dissertation research found many individuals experiencing WRC may engage in the active, informal crafting of their work roles to avoid or mitigate controversial tasks. To avoid this possibility, potential workers should consider avoiding work roles where future WRC is perceived to be a significant possibility. Similarly, those doing the hiring should provide candidates with realistic job previews and accurate job descriptions.
Second, we should consider how formal work accommodations can rectify instances of WRC before workers self-terminate from work roles that conflict with sincerely held religious role beliefs. Professors need to help students understand their legal rights for accommodations and know how to request those accommodations. Future employers also need to be made aware of these accommodations. They should also be taught how to think creatively about how to meet them.
Finally, it is also necessary for us (and our students) to understand that the cross we carry as Christ’s servants may require us to sacrifice work that is incompatible with our faith. This may be a difficult message for some to accept. Yet, this topic has a considerable history of contemplation and discussion. Martin Luther in his treatise on trading and usury warned Christians that they could not serve some of the corrupt trading companies with a good conscious and urged them to disassociate from such endeavors.3 Likewise, John Wesley in his Sermon 50, urged his parishioners to abstain from financially lucrative employment that would harm one’s consciousness.4 We would do well to continue these discussions and consider such recourse when necessary.
These active behavioral responses to WRC are necessary for faith resiliency and integrity, since creating role boundaries perpetuates a cycle of disjointed life for the believer. It is up to us as educators to prepare and equip the next generation of Christian employees and employers to experience and navigate this inter-role conflict while remembering we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses that have come before us and experienced their own trials from which we can learn (Hebrews 11). One of the behavioral responses my dissertation research explored is job crafting. Job crafting involves adjustments in the tasks, relationships, and perceptions of our work. Workers experiencing WRC may consider having workplace conversations related to adjustments in their responsibilities that are contributing to WRC. Alternatively, some workers experiencing WRC may find it helpful to seek out peer mentoring from their Christian colleagues in the workplace.
The modern secular marketplace presents many opportunities and challenges for Christians seeking to grow in their faith. Those seeking to integrate their faith in the marketplace will likely experience WRC. The temptation today is to erect role boundaries to deal with the uncomfortableness related to the role conflict. However, we can look to Desmond Doss and other Christian leaders to understand how individuals can dutifully respond during these transitory periods of spiritual growth pain. As we commence in our daily work, we would do well to consider this question: Am I experiencing WRC? If the answer to this question is not in the affirmative, perhaps our jobs are perfectly integrated with our faith. Or perhaps our faith has drifted into perfect alignment with secular thought.
- “Desmond Doss: The Real Story,” Desmond Doss, accessed Oct. 27, 2022, https://desmonddoss.com/bio/bio-real.php.
- Leon Festinger, A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1957).
- Martin Luther, “On Trade and Usury,” Southern Illinois University, accessed November 19, 2022, https://opensiuc.lib.siu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=5018&context=ocj.
- John Wesley, Sermon 50, “The Use of Money,” The Sermons of John Wesley, Wesley Center Online, accessed November 19, 2022, http://wesley.nnu.edu/john-wesley/the-sermons-of-john-wesley-1872-edition/sermon-50-the-use-of-money/.