Daily Dispatches

New survey: Evangelicals threaten workplace harmony


The American workplace is becoming more religiously diverse, and white evangelicals are the most likely to share their faith with coworkers, according to a recent study by the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding. And that, the center believes, is a problem.

The study, which examined the workplace religious discrimination experiences of 2,024 working American adults, found that half of evangelicals speak about their religious beliefs with coworkers occasionally—at least once or twice a month—compared to 22 percent of workers overall.

Evangelicals are also more comfortable talking about religious topics than their peers: While nearly 9 in 10 evangelicals welcome the opportunity to talk about religion, 43 percent of atheist and agnostic or secular workers said they felt uncomfortable about it.

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The report concludes that the difference could perpetuate conflict: “This suggests the potential for workplace clashes between atheists and evangelical Protestants, given that half of all evangelical Protestants report that they share their religious beliefs with coworkers occasionally.”

To fix this egregious problem, the report suggests religious diversity training. According to Tanenbaum’s survey, workers at companies with proactive accommodations or programs that promote religious diversity have greater job satisfaction, are less likely to seek a new job, and are more likely to look forward to coming to work. Businesses are promised that such programs will help them attract and retain “top global talent.”

It seems like everyone wins: The employee and the employer, the religious and the non-religious. Yet, could diversity instructors consider Christians “intolerant” for practicing a major tenet of their faith: telling others about the gospel?

A closer look at the study also suggests possible differences in what people consider “religious.” The survey found 49 percent of evangelicals reported their coworkers shared their religious views with them as well, making for an equal amount of religious exchange. Yet members of the other five religious categories said they share their religious views with coworkers not nearly that much: White mainline Protestants rank lowest with 12 percent, atheists come in at 15 percent, and African-American Protestants are the highest at 26 percent. The inconsistencies beg the question: What exactly is a “religious” conversation?

Here’s a water-cooler illustration:

An atheist and his evangelical coworker discuss their teens’ science projects during a break. The atheist mentions a volcano project that shows how the layers of earth were formed over millions of years. The latter talks about a project showing the moon is young, proof of creation. To the atheist, only the evangelical shared his religious beliefs. But to the evangelical, they both did.

It is also possible the percentage of religious discussions is higher for evangelicals because they talk to other evangelicals about their faith, and the low percentages of other faiths represent a small number of aggressive coworkers who start conversations with many evangelicals. But if religious diversity training means banning traditional witnessing, as well as sorting out which conversations are religious and which are not, evangelicals might be hard-pressed to comply.

Sarah Padbury
Sarah Padbury

Sarah is a writer, editor, and adoption advocate. She is a graduate of the WORLD Journalism Institute's mid-career course. Sarah and her husband live with their six teenagers in Castle Rock, Colo.


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