Workplace dilemmas: my colleague doesn’t respect my religious beliefs

Each month our resident agony uncle reflects on your challenges. This time: how to cope when a colleague mocks your faith

Dear Tim

Today was my first day back at work after the Easter break, and that’s why I feel compelled to write. As a committed Christian, the last week or so has been a very important time for me. It’s the same every year: I take a few extra days off before Easter so I can join in with the various services and activities that my church lays on.

Like many people, I take my faith very seriously. I go to church every week and spend a number of evenings each month involved in church events such as prayer groups, study sessions, planning meetings, and a regular shift helping at our church’s food bank.

    So how am I to cope? Do I have it out with him, or continue trying to turn the other cheek?  

While my colleagues in the car repair shop where I work know about my involvement in the church, and sometimes see me representing the church in the community, I don’t talk too much about my faith in their company. Even though our pastors encourage us to speak openly and encourage others to share our beliefs, I’ve always felt reluctant to be too much of a tub-thumper. I just don’t think it would play very well with the people I work alongside.

Even so, I’ve learned to expect the occasional bit of leg-pulling over my church involvement. Most of my colleagues spend their weekends playing football or rugby, or watching sport in the pub. I think I’m the only one who’s so involved with a Christian church, so I’m bound to be the butt of a few jokes.

A bit of light banter I can easily cope with. But since a new person started in our business a few months ago, I’ve noticed a marked increase in the negative comments about my religious beliefs. I sensed his hostility towards religion pretty much immediately we met. He’s a vocal non-believer, and was very dismissive when it came out that I’m really involved with my church.

Now, his hostility seems to be directed at me. It’s like I represent everything he hates about Christianity. And even though I make a point of not bringing religion or church up with him, it feels like he grasps every opportunity to shoehorn it into conversations and then slag it, and me, off.

I don’t want to be defensive, or seem precious. But equally, I don’t want to let his negativity pass without comment, especially as it seems to be rubbing off on everyone else. The ribbing I receive about church has certainly worsened in recent months. It think he’s being really unfair, and sometimes I feel like I’m being bullied because of my beliefs.

So how am I to cope? Do I have it out with him, or continue trying to turn the other cheek? I just don’t know what to do for the best.

Answer:

      It sounds as if there’s something quite painful in your colleague’s past that’s jaundiced his view of Christianity.  

Whatever your beliefs, and however you express them in your life, it’s horrible when you feel they’re not being respected. It sounds like you can easily cope with a bit of mickey taking from your established colleagues. My experience of working in the motor trade is that banter of this sort is very common, and I suspect you’re able to give as good as you get.

The difference with your new colleague seems to be that his negativity has a sinister, and potentially more abusive, dimension. If that moves into bullying or discrimination on the basis of your faith, it should be reported to your superiors. The Equality Act 2010 makes religious discrimination illegal and you need to give your employer every opportunity to stop the harassment in order that they adhere to the legislation.

It sounds as if there’s something quite painful in your colleague’s past that’s jaundiced his view of Christianity. You may be bearing the brunt of his disdain, but it’s unlikely that you’re the cause.

I suppose you could say that this is part and parcel of being a Christian. The story at the heart of the Christian worldview is about one person taking on the world’s anguish. But I wouldn’t want to be so glib as to say this is simply your cross to bear.

So it seems to me as if you have two options: one, you could escalate a complaint through your company’s hierarchy, which may well result in disciplinary action against your colleague. Or, two, you could try to have a quiet word with him, one to one, in which you address the causes of his hostility.

If you take the latter option, you need to be prepared that it won’t be easy. It will take time to build trust with him, and get him to a position where he’s willing to open up. But so long as you’re clear that you’re not trying to convert him and that you just want to understand why he’s responding to you in this way, I’m confident you’ll make progress.

It will be a pearl of great price for you to take this approach. You need to think long and hard about whether or not you’re prepared for it. But if you are, then you should expect things to get worse before they get better. You may find it helpful to confide in a trusted friend, either at work or at your church. They can support you as you try to support your colleague. And together, with a bit of luck and mutual understanding, you may just take your relationship to a whole new level. Good luck!

Published: 25 April 2019

© 2019 Just Recruitment Group Ltd

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