Two male co-workers are getting married. My boss took up a collection for a gift (which I didn’t contribute to), and now she keeps passing the congratulatory card with an eye in my direction. I’m not going to sign, but I don’t know what to say. “I object on religious grounds” is classified as harassment according to our recent team training.

Thanks for this question. You’re unearthing many challenging questions of conscience and culture.

How do we affirm the dignity of each person we meet and work with while maintaining godly distance from affirmations that violate Scripture? 

Christianity and a Pluralist Society

Lessons from the history of Christian missions and public ethics may help us here. Throughout church history, missionaries have discerned the difference between healthy contextualization and ungodly syncretism. 

We know some aspects of culture are benign—food, clothing, some artistic expressions, economic realities. But since we live in a fallen world, many aspects subvert the kingdom and hinder Christian growth.

For example, over a generation or two, polygamous cultures become more monogamous under Christian teaching. With the help of God’s Word and the power of the Holy Spirit, occultic practices, superstitions, and harmful moral standards start yielding to God’s ways (Eph. 4:22–5:2). But cultures can also move away from God’s design, as we’re seeing in changing sexual norms in America.

Every culture and nation must find common consent in public ethics, specifically on what is prohibited, permitted, and promoted for the common good. True toleration must include living peaceably with deep differences. Most Western nations have extended marital status to arrangements other than heterosexual monogamy. The wise Christian will affirm the legal right of consenting adults to order their lives without fear; yet that right doesn’t entail affirming the goodness of these arrangements. Believers can be good neighbors to all while diverging on some moral issues. This is the heart of a peaceful and pluralistic society.

Christian and the Pluralist Workplace

Back to the office. Though the marriage may be state-sanctioned, it remains a union outside the will of God. This doesn’t mean treating the couple poorly or refusing friendship, collegiality, and even much common-good activity. Christians also affirm that unmarried heterosexual couples are outside of God’s ideal when they have sex and live together. Believers can still bless the persons, pray for them, befriend them, and work with them joyfully. 

Believers can be good neighbors to all while diverging on some moral issues. This is the heart of a peaceful and pluralistic society.

When directly confronted with affirming the goodness of the union, though, the only posture is to affirm their legal right to marry and one’s own right to disagree. Disagreement is not intolerance. A disciple of Jesus is promised blessing when persecuted for obedience, not obnoxiousness (Matt. 5:3–12).

With the help of the Holy Spirit, believers can walk the tightrope of tolerance without abandoning truth. When it comes to human-resource policies, it is incumbent on companies to foster an environment of mutual respect, not compel violations of conscience. As long as Christians aren’t waging public campaigns against co-workers’ choices, they’re on reasonable legal ground. The real intolerance is with those who refuse the truth in favor of their feelings.

Practically speaking, you can decline the card by saying, perhaps privately to the organizer, “I can’t sign without violating my conscience.” Or you may choose to avoid conflict by saying, “I’d like to recognize the event in my own way.”

But even with a humble and loving spirit, prudent speech, and genuine love for the co-workers, there’s a risk of losing promotions and even employment. This is where faith must conquer fear, and holy love triumph over compromise. As these decisions are discerned, may they be bathed in blessing our co-workers with tearful intercession.

Editors’ note: 

TGC’s “Thorns & Thistles” column seeks to apply wisdom with practical advice about faith, work, and economics. If you have a question on how to think about and practice your work in a way that honors God, let us know at [email protected].