Volume 48 - Issue 3

A Biblical Framework for Deciding Workplace Moments of Conscience

By Jonathan D. Christman


A well-known Christian intellectual and cultural commentator, John Stonestreet, has often publicly spoken of the need for Christians to develop a theology of “getting fired.” This call is not one for mass exodus of Christians from the workplace. Rather, this call recognizes that more and more Christians are facing moments of conscience in their workplace, when the obligations of a job—one’s current calling or vocation—come into conflict with one’s beliefs or convictions. Grounding both calling and convictions in Scripture, this article proposes an overarching framework and practical guide for analyzing, assessing, navigating, and deciding those workplace moments of conscience. Doing so entails both individual and corporate dimensions that are grounded in wisdom, humility, the means of grace, and life-giving community in the body of Christ.

For several years, as stories of Christians facing certain cultural pressures and demands in their workplaces have multiplied (especially with regard to issues of marriage, gender and sexuality), and many of those stories have both captured significant public attention and entailed ongoing litigation in courts, a well-known Christian intellectual and cultural commentator, John Stonestreet, President of the Colson Center, has often asked, and even implored, Christians to develop a theology of “getting fired” or “being fired” that answers questions such as, “When am I called upon to take a stand and get fired?”1 We know or have heard of these stories: the baker who surrendered a substantial portion of his business after refusing to make specially-designed custom cakes celebrating both a same-sex couple’s commitment ceremony and a purported gender transition; the fire chief who lost his job for publishing a book for his church expressing biblical views on marriage and sexuality; the Uber driver who was removed from this car service for refusing to take a woman to an abortion clinic; the county clerk who was jailed after refusing to sign marriage licenses for same-sex couples; the college philosophy professor who faced employee discipline for refusing to use a coed’s preferred pronouns; and on and on these stories go.2

To be clear, Stonestreet, in exhorting Christians to develop a theology of getting fired, is not saying that Christians should seek or desire to lose their employment; rather, he is recognizing that, more and more in this cultural moment, what one believes as a follower of Christ may come into conflict with what one is required or compelled to do (or say or affirm) as an employee. In fact, this kind of conflict was rendered “inevitable,” as one Supreme Court Justice put it, by the 2015 opinion finding a constitutional right to same-sex “marriage” in Obergefell v. Hodges.3 While this conflict is not new territory for the people of God in Scripture,4 the church in history,5 or Christians globally now,6 it is new territory for many American Christians.

This article is a humble response to Stonestreet’s call for building and constructing a theology of getting fired. It is only a beginning, but it proposes a framework and guide for analyzing, assessing, and deciding these “workplace moments of conscience”7 that are already here and likely to increase in the present cultural moment. Thus, the theology of getting fired is a theology of cultural engagement, wherein doctrine meets life and practice. To develop this theology, the first part of this article summarizes the theology of calling (or vocation) and the second part of this article summarizes the theology of convictions, for these theologies crash into each other in these workplace moments of conscience. But relying upon the Protestant Reformed tradition, both calling and convictions should be grounded in Scripture for any Christian to faithfully encounter and engage these workplace moments of conscience. The third part of this article provides a framework for analyzing and assessing workplace moments of conscience as contextualized instances wherein one’s calling and one’s convictions are simultaneously weighed and tested by employment demands and requirements. In these moments, a Christian will either keep or surrender their calling and either keep or surrender their convictions, but not every choice is permissible nor, in the instances envisioned herein, is any choice absolutely or necessarily mandated. In short, in these workplace moments of conscience there is often (though not always) room for disagreement and dispute among believers. This is why the fourth part of this article provides an equipping guide and various tools for preparing to handle and actually navigating these workplace moments of conscience. As will be seen, the way forward in thinking through these moments involves both individual and corporate (family and church) dimensions grounded in, inter alia, wisdom, humility, the means of grace (prayer and reading Scripture), and life-giving community in the body of Christ.

1. A Theology of Calling

Followers of Christ are called to do all things as unto the Lord and for his glory (Col 3:23; 1 Cor 10:31) in the “allotted periods” and the “boundaries” of their “dwelling place” (Acts 17:26)—that is, the particular cultural moment in which they live and reside by God’s sovereign design and providence. As a fulfillment of the cultural mandate and great commission, Christians are called by God into all spheres of life (Gen 1:26–31; Matt 28:18–20), and God does both the calling and the equipping (1 Cor 7:17–24; Eph 2:8–10; 2 Tim 3:14–17; Heb 13:20–21)—often calling his children to serve people and institutions wherein their God-supplied gifts and passions intersect, and then equipping his children through talents, training, experiences, and opportunities to serve at that joyful point of missional intersection. An understanding of calling is, according to theologian and apologist William Edgar, among “the most pressing issues of our day,”8 and it significantly affects workplace moments of conscience because, as further described below, Christians are called to their particular employment contexts.

Well-known Christian apologist and social critic, Os Guinness, has written extensively on the idea of Christian calling, defining it as “the truth that God calls us to himself so decisively that everything we are, everything we do, and everything we have is invested with a special devotion, dynamism, and direction lived out as a response to his summons and service.”9 Guinness separates this notion of calling into “primary” and “secondary” callings, as follows: “Our primary calling as followers of Christ is by him, to him, and for him,” and it must be kept preeminent, while “Our secondary calling, considering who God is as sovereign, is that everyone, everywhere, and in everything should think, speak, live, and act entirely for him.”10 This secondary calling includes one’s work, labor, or job, and for all Christians, whatever they do for employment, it is to be entirely for God. As the great reformer John Calvin put it, the Lord “bids each one of us in all life’s actions to look to his calling” and “the Lord’s calling is in everything the beginning and foundation of well-doing.”11 This calling is part of an individual’s “sentry post” assigned to him by the Lord.12

For a period of church history, the idea of calling (or vocation) was limited exclusively to those who were called into ministry positions within the church, serving as priests, monks, and nuns.13 This created a divide between spiritual, heavenly, or divine callings for work (those in the church), and everything else. This dichotomy was shattered by the Reformation which, in its return to Scripture alone as authority for the life of a Christian, elevated the importance of everyone’s work because all—including every type of work—was to be done unto the glory of God. This dramatic shift began the development of a broad theology of calling.

For instance, early in the Reformation, the great reformer Martin Luther wrote:

The works of monks and priests, however holy and arduous they may be, do not differ one whit in the sight of God from the works of the rustic laborer in the field or the woman going about her household tasks, but that all works are measured before God by faith alone…. Indeed, the menial housework of a manservant or maidservant is often more acceptable to God than all the fastings and other works of a monk or priest, because the monk or priest lacks faith.14

It was not the particular office occupied by a person that made the work something to which one was called; rather, it was the work itself to which the person was called by God in faith. Nearly one hundred years later, the great Puritan theologian, William Perkins, similarly wrote this on calling: “The action of a shepherd in keeping sheep, performed as I have said in his kind, is as good a work before God as is the action of a judge in giving sentence, or of a Magistrate in ruling, or a Minister in preaching.”15 Thus, whether preaching a sermon, plowing a field, or pushing a broom, everyone has a vocational calling and all is to be done for the glory of God.

In addition to seeing all of one’s work as being done unto the glory of God, regardless of one’s station in life, a theology of calling specifically includes notions of preparedness or giftedness for that calling. In other words, a person was made with the gifts to perform the work to which he or she is called. As Perkins wrote in his great treatise on vocations: “Every calling must be fitted to the man and every man fitted to his calling.”16 Guinness, relying upon another Puritan, identified three criteria for picking a job: (1) it should “be a warrantable calling, wherein we may not only aim at our own, but at the public good”; (2) one should have the appropriate gifting for the job; and (3) one should be guided toward it by the Lord.17 With this in view, Guinness concludes: “God normally calls us along the line of our giftedness, but the purpose of giftedness is stewardship and service, not selfishness.”18 As Calvin put it, people “were created for the express purpose of being employed in labor of various kinds, and that no sacrifice is more pleasing to God, than when every person applies diligently to his own calling, and endeavors to live in such as a manner as to contribute to the general advantage.”19 Thus, one’s calling extends beyond one’s self, to be a servant and steward used by God for the sake of others.

This broader purpose is critical to an understanding of the theology of calling, particularly as it relates to one’s individual employment setting and context. While a theology of calling necessarily requires one who is called, the emphasis is not on the one called but on the Caller (the Lord) and his purposes in that calling. Thus, not every calling is one that is necessarily chosen by the one called. For instance, Daniel did not choose to become part of the Babylonian king’s court (Dan 1:1–7), nor did Esther choose to become queen of a Persian king (Esth 2:5–9, 15–17). Moreover, because the calling is ultimately the Caller’s, the one called must be willing to lay down that calling for the Caller. According to Guinness, this is how Puritan minister John Cotton put it in his great sermon on Christian calling:

The last work which faith puts forth about a man’s calling is this: faith with boldness resigns up his calling into the hands of God or man; whenever God calls a man to lay down his calling when his work is finished, herein the sons of God far exceed the sons of men. Another man when his calling comes to be removed from him, he is much ashamed and much afraid; but if a Christian man is to forego his calling, he lays it down with comfort and boldness in the sight of God.20

Thus, for the Christian, one’s calling must be informed and shaped by Scripture, at its outset and until that calling ends by God’s sovereign design and decree, whether through death or otherwise.21

2. A Theology of Convictions

Followers of Christ also confess and hold certain beliefs to be true, not only as to matters of salvation but life itself.22 Scripture, though not merely a set of propositions to be held, consists of propositional truths.23 Moreover, the ancient Christian creeds (e.g., Apostles’ Creed, Nicene Creed, Chalcedonian Creed) consist of statements of belief and conviction that continue to be professed by Christians today. Reformation-era confessions likewise consist of statements of belief and conviction that continue to be held and professed among congregations and denominations as doctrinal standards.24 Individual believers (as well as churches and denominations) also affirm these confessions and other public statements on matters affecting the Christian life, including such topics as marriage, gender, and sexuality,25 as well as considerations of religious liberty and freedom of conscience, the role of government and the civil magistrate, and civil disobedience (to name a few), as Christians seek to bring the “whole counsel of God” to bear on faith and life (Acts 20:27).26 Moreover, Christians’ convictions mandate certain actions (e.g., be fruitful and multiply, leave and cleave, pray, worship, give, love, forgive, teach, make disciples, meditate on God’s word, repent, baptize, commune, honor parents, serve, obey, meet together, follow) and prohibit others (e.g., sin, idolatry, sexual immorality, lust, lying, murder, drunkenness, coveting, disobedience, blasphemy, judging, stealing, fits of anger and rage, sorcery, jealousy, calling evil ‘good’ and good ‘evil’). The Christian religion is therefore a religion of confession (Rom 10:9–10; 2 Cor 9:13; Heb 4:14, 10:23).

Foundationally and fundamentally, the creeds, confessions, and other doctrinal statements are grounded upon the word of God, and the authority and truth of the convictions set forth therein ultimately rest upon the authority of Scripture itself.27 The truth revealed by God in his word binds the conscience28 of the believer to hear and adhere to such truth in belief and practice—as Luther put it at the Diet of Worms, “my conscience is captive to the Word of God.”29 With similar emphasis, Perkins explained that one’s conscience can be bound either properly or improperly, and the only proper binder of conscience is the word of God:

Proper is that thing, which has absolute and sovereign power in itself to bind the conscience. And that is the word of God, written in the books of the Old and New Testament.… He which is the Lord of conscience, by his word and laws binds conscience: but God is the only Lord of conscience because he once created it, and he alone governs it, and none but he knows it. Therefore, his word and laws only bind conscience properly.30

Through the Spirit of the Lord, the word of God by its absolute and sovereign power binds the conscience.31 Thus, a Christian’s beliefs and convictions are not held lightly or tacitly, and when the word of God comes into conflict with the dictates of man in his employment or otherwise, the Christian has no choice but to obey God’s word and Spirit: “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). Obedience to man must never “lead us away from obedience to [God]” for the Lord is “the King of Kings, who, when he has opened his sacred mouth, must alone be heard, before all and above all men; next to him we are subject to those men who are in authority over us, but only in him.”32 Thus, obedience to one’s employer is subject to obedience unto the Lord.

In light of the foregoing, a critical aspect in the theology of convictions is distinguishing between those matters which are mandatory for all believers, and those matters rightfully left to each Christian’s conscience.33 In Christian history, those matters left to each individual’s conscience as neither inherently right nor inherently wrong have been classified as adiaphora or “indifferent things” or theologically “disputable matters.”34 The specific disputable matters that engender conflict between one’s calling and one’s convictions have and will vary by cultural moment and employment setting. To be sure, no exhaustive or comprehensive undertaking of those disputable matters in this cultural moment can be entertained here. But, whether a particular workplace moment of conscience raises an issue that is indisputable or disputable as a theological matter, the Christian conscience is bound by the word of God. Thus, for the Christian, both one’s calling and one’s convictions must be informed and shaped by Scripture as one encounters, engages, and decides a workplace moment of conscience.

3. A Framework: The Table of Conscience

As indicated above, neither cases of conscience, nor proposals for how to resolve them, are new for the Christian church.35 In this cultural moment, the workplace moments of conscience can appear in various ways, such as: compelling Christian employees to advocate views of marriage and sexuality with which they disagree or wear symbols representing the same; forcing believers to attend, participate, or fund events and programs that support choices contrary to Scripture; coercing Christians to use certain preferred pronouns or changed names of co-workers; mandating Christians to satisfy certain training or educational requirements that call evil good and good evil in order to obtain necessary licensing or certification in a professional field; or punishing believers for either holding or speaking their convictions or being part of a church or organization that clings to “old beliefs.”36 The foregoing instances are merely illustrative of such conscience-pressing moments in the workplace for Christians.

The table and descriptions below analyze and assess the four different categorical choices placed before a Christian when evaluating a workplace moment of conscience. In those moments, a Christian can either keep or surrender their calling, and they can also either keep or surrender their convictions. As shown on the accompanying table (Exhibit 1), the horizontal axis represents one’s calling and the vertical axis represents one’s convictions. As argued herein, neither of the two lower quadrants are acceptable choices for the Christian in the workplace moment of conscience because in each instance the believer has surrendered their biblical convictions. However, depending upon context and situation, the two upper quadrants are acceptable choices for the Christian in the workplace moment of conscience because in each instance the believer has kept their biblical convictions and either remained in their current job, or resigned that one in pursuit of another, for the glory of God.

3.1. Surrender Calling and Surrender Convictions

In this choice (represented by the lower left quadrant in Exhibit 1), the Christian has surrendered both their calling and their convictions. This category consists of persons who followed God’s calling into specifically Christian vocations, such as Christian artists and musicians, teachers and professors at Christian schools, adoption and foster care workers at Christian agencies, biblical counselors and pastors, as well as anyone else employed by a Christian organization or institution, but, when faced with the pressure of adhering to Christian beliefs within the antagonism and hostility of the contemporary cultural environment, they abandon not only those beliefs but the Christian jobs in which they proclaimed such beliefs. In doing so, they have quit on their faith and God, publicly renouncing their professed conversion and confession.

Individuals who fall into this category may describe themselves in the current cultural moment as “deconstructing” their previously-professed Christian faith and many are now classified as “exvangelicals.” They have essentially apostatized, outright rejecting not only their vocation unto the glory of God but also their beliefs as well. This is not an acceptable option for Christians facing workplace moments of conscience, but these stories represent both a deep sadness and a cautionary tale reminding Christians of the quote often attributed to sixteenth century English Reformer John Bradford: “There but for the grace of God, go I.”

3.2. Keep Calling and Surrender Convictions

This is a tantalizing and tempting option for many believers in their workplaces, because it allows the Christian to seemingly avoid, or at the very least delay, the workplace moment of conscience. However, this option, like the preceding one, is not an acceptable choice for Christians. In this choice (represented by the lower right quadrant in Exhibit 1), the Christian has appeared to keep their calling but surrendered their convictions in the process. In doing so, they have simply kept their job and preserved their own sense of calling that is no longer tethered to either their convictions or vocationally working for the glory of God. They have remained in their employment post or profession in the near term, but they have sacrificed their beliefs for the sake of maintaining that position and/or retaining opportunities for future advancement in that field. In short, they have chosen their perception of calling over the Caller. They have promoted their own presence in that workplace or their desired career path and trajectory as being superior to the convictions they previously held. Perhaps they still maintain those convictions during weekend worship services and other religious activities, but those convictions are now hermetically sealed from their perceived vocational calling. In truth, however, they have not really kept their calling but surrendered it. In most instances they have undergone some attempt at rationalization in order to excuse or justify their change or departure from their prior-confessed beliefs.

Those Christians considering this route should heed these words often attributed to a great Reformer: “If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at the moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved, and to be steady on all the battlefield besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.”37 Christians must bring the whole counsel of God to bear on their lives, including their vocational calling. They must not shrink from the unchanging truth of God’s word—including precisely where God’s word is being challenged within their sphere of vocational influence, the sentry post to which they were assigned. Some Christians assume they will stand for what they believe in without preparing to make that stand or by making small sacrifices along the way with the idea that they will stand when matters become serious and significant; however, by the time matters reach that level of magnitude (with its corresponding cost), they are not prepared to sacrifice anything, let alone everything. So, they surrender their convictions in order to keep their job. They have succumbed to the yeast of convictional compromise that has worked its way through their doctrinal dough (1 Cor 5:6; Gal 5:9).

3.3. Surrender Calling and Keep Convictions

In this choice (represented by the upper left quadrant in Exhibit 1), the Christian has forgone their current job but kept their convictions when facing a workplace moment of conscience. They have voluntarily left or resigned their current position in order to keep their beliefs intact and not violate their conscience bound by the word of God. In leaving their position, the grounds for such resignation may or may not have been disclosed to others, including their employer—that is, in resigning, the Christian may want to explain why their convictions prevent them from continuing in the job and participating in the job’s requirements.

In a sense, by resigning from their job, they have surrendered their calling, but, in fact, the person has left one calling to pursue a different one unto the glory of God, as in when a Christian transitions from the call of singleness to the call of marriage. In the employment context, this choice to resign comes at a great cost for the one resigning (as well as their family) – often financially, with corresponding limitations on future job prospects in that same field, or having to forgo any jobs in that field at all, perhaps after significant time and investment of expenses were incurred pursuing that field. The choice to resign may also come with corresponding social alienation. Yet, the resignation of a job from one field may be used in God’s providence to spur a person into an entirely new field and endeavor that would not have happened but for the prior workplace moment of conscience that led to their resignation. In certain, indeed many, employment contexts and situations, this is an acceptable and faithful option but not mandatory choice for Christians.

Examples of those who chose this option include owners of a bakery forced to close in Oregon after being fined for refusing to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple (the owners have since reopened another bakery in Montana), a soccer player who refused to play for the United States women’s soccer team when it was announced that the team would wear rainbow-themed jerseys to honor LGBT Pride Month, and a New York town clerk who refused to participate in the issuance of same-sex “marriage” licenses.38

3.4. Keep Calling and Keep Convictions

In this choice (represented by the upper right quadrant in Exhibit 1), the Christian has kept both their current job and their convictions. They are intentionally choosing not to leave their current position but to stay and also stand for those convictions in that position—not knowing the final outcome of that stand. So, in whatever avenues are available to them in their workplace they continue to contend for their ability (and by it the ability of others like them or under them in employment responsibility) to hold and exercise their beliefs within their current position. In running afoul of an employment mandate, they face potential adverse employment action, including discipline, suspension, or even termination, and possibly related litigation. As with the resignation option, this choice likewise often entails financial difficulty or limited, future prospects in that same field if the job requirement is pervasive across a certain industry.39 Similar social alienation and sharply-decreased reputational standing may also attach to this decision.

Faithfulness does not demand this option every time this choice is presented in an employment context or situation, because there are often many possible resolutions (such as deferral, exemption, exception, objection, religious accommodation, or otherwise) that can be explored and pursued in a workplace that do not necessitate direct confrontation and also maintain consistency in one’s convictions. Moreover, as discussed above, the resignation option is also an acceptable and faithful choice for Christians in many employment contexts and situations. Importantly, a Christian’s choice of one option among these alternatives neither demands nor requires another Christian to make the same choice in a similar situation. Christian liberty must be understood broadly enough to avoid prescriptive determinations of fact-intensive, individualized employment contexts.

Examples of those who chose this option include a former executive of CrossFit who was terminated after posting a tweet in support of a gym that cancelled an LGBT event in support of Pride Month, and a Kentucky county clerk who was jailed for six days after refusing to sign marriage licenses for same-sex couples.40

This section of the article has summarized the four categorical choices placed before a Christian when evaluating a workplace moment of conscience, concluding that only two of them are acceptable options for Christians. This is where a theology of getting fired moves from doctrine to application and practice. A Christian facing a workplace moment of conscience needs to be equipped, biblically and pastorally, to decide how to proceed in those particular moments. How is a Christian to respond to these employment situations? As Stonestreet asks, when is a Christian called upon to take a stand and get fired? When is a Christian called upon to resign? The following section proposes several tools for helping Christians decide any workplace moment of conscience.

4. A Guide: Tools for Deciding Workplace Moments of Conscience

Called to be queen and holding convictions to preserve the lives of God’s chosen people, Esther was asked by her cousin Mordecai this question: “And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esth 4:14). This is the dilemma of every Christian facing a workplace moment of conscience as they consider and evaluate what they should decide in a particular moment which God has sovereignly ordained and providentially orchestrated in their lives. While one may desire the answer in the strong wind, earthquake, or fire, one should listen instead for the “sound of a low whisper” (1 Kgs 19:11–13) as the indwelling Spirit of the Lord guides and directs a believer, and instills a peace that surpasses all understanding (Phil 4:6–7). Because not every choice is either permissible or mandatory in the workplace moments of conscience envisioned herein, a critical aspect of the theology of getting fired is supplying the tools to help Christians navigate, evaluate, and ultimately decide how to proceed when facing such moments. In considering such tools, there are both individual and corporate dimensions at work. To face those workplace moments of conscience with gospel clarity and courage, a person should pursue wisdom, humility, and the means of grace (both prayer and Scripture reading). A person should also be part of a loving community of believers who provide counsel, discipleship, and support in the midst of those workplace moments of conscience.

4.1. The Individual Dimension

The first tool important for making any decision in the workplace moment of conscience is: wisdom. Wisdom, according to Scripture, is not so much intellectual acumen or being smart or knowledgeable.41 Instead, rooted in the fear of the Lord, it is a practical and goal-oriented competency that displays “the art of living well.”42 Wisdom applies God’s law in different contexts and particular situations of life. It knows when to apply which proverb. It is not a form, rulebook, or script to follow. It is how to make decisions based on the application of divinely-given principles and guidelines (as revealed in God’s word and God’s world) as one sifts the cultural moment and understands the times like the men of Issachar (1 Chr 12:32). It is doing the right thing in a particular circumstance, knowing that not everything in life is black-and-white and that people have different sensitivities, experiences, and theological nuances. It is “broadly speaking, the knowledge of God’s world and the knack of fitting oneself into it.”43 Thus, wisdom orders one’s life according to God’s creational pattern in every area of culture, including one’s employment. In short, it is how to live well in God’s world, on his terms, for his glory. Wisdom is acquired and cultivated by prayer and practice over the course of a lifetime—that is, asking God for it, learning the Scriptures and one’s surroundings, and then making decisions based on them and learning from those decisions. By way of example, King Solomon was a culturally-engaged person who prayed for wisdom and received it—in fact, his wisdom gamed him fame beyond his borders (1 Kgs 3:3–28; 2 Chr 9:1–9; Luke 11:31). The beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord (Prov 1:7, 9:10) and Jesus Christ is the ultimate fulfillment of wisdom (see Matt 12:42; 1 Cor 1:24, 1:30; Col 2:3). As such, any true wisdom is ultimately a gift of God’s grace, to be pursued and treasured, in no matter what job or profession in which one is called by God.

Biblical wisdom is necessary, critical, and essential for thinking about how believers engage with culture in workplace moments of conscience. It is not an optional extra in the Christian life, or a capstone achievement for the truly spiritual life; instead, it is indispensable throughout the life of the believer, including as he or she works, and it is intended to be passed down from one generation to the next (Pss 78:4–8, 105:1–11). For without it, Christians are like a kayak without paddles in moving water. With it, believers can steer, turn, paddle, and resist, as needed, to avoid rocky shoals and move through rapids or still water. Wisdom helps a believer apply gospel principles to different situations and contexts. In workplace moments of conscience, the search for wisdom may yield the heretofore unknown “third way” or “middle way”—that allows one to avoid the workplace moment of conscience altogether, without rationalizing and without sacrificing either one’s calling or one’s convictions and still keeping one’s current job. Therefore, Christians should search the Scriptures and their surroundings, both special and general revelation, for wisdom, and cry out to God for such wisdom in prayer (Col 1:9; Jas 1:5; see also 1 Kgs 3:9–12).

The prayer for wisdom leads to the second tool important for making any decision in the workplace moment of conscience: prayer. These moments of conscience and cultural engagement in the workplace must be bathed in prayer, as one prays earnestly for, inter alia, wisdom, courage, and peace when facing the conflict (1 Thess 5:17). Daniel and Esther prayed in the midst of their consequential moments (Dan 6:10). The apostles also regularly and consistently prayed, and encouraged Christians to do likewise.44 Jesus himself prayed, including during his darkest hour of need in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night before his crucifixion.45 Prayer is an absolutely essential tool for deciding workplace moments of conscience for the fervent and earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and achieves much (Jas 5:16).

The third tool, also related to wisdom, important for making any decision in the workplace moment of conscience is: reading Scripture. For a Christian to know and remain firm on one’s convictions, these moments must be bathed in God’s word. Believers should be meditating on Scripture daily, and cherishing it, for it is a lamp unto one’s feet and a light unto one’s path (Josh 1:8; Pss 19:7–11, 119:105). In the midst of these moments, Scripture is useful for teaching, reproof, correction, training in righteousness, and equipping for every good work (2 Tim 3:16–17). As indicated above, Scripture is full of stories of the people of God facing moments of conscience and these stories have an illustrative, exemplary, and redemptive character to them which can encourage and edify believers in twenty-first century workplace moments of conscience.

The fourth tool important for making any decision in the workplace moment of conscience is: humility. Among all other attributes, humility serves to embody Christ’s character as he walked on this earth. He did not come to be served but to serve (Mark 10:45). He was gentle and lowly (Matt 11:29–30). Though deserving of everything, he put others before himself and he gave up what he had (Phil 2:5–8). He counted the cost of faithfulness, and he bid his disciples to do the same (Luke 9:23, 14:25–33, 22:42, 23:26–46).

Humility also demonstrates a commitment to truth that is packaged with gentleness and clothed in love and respect (1 Pet 3:15–16) as one’s speech is seasoned with salt (Col 4:6). Humility also seeks to live at peace with everyone so far as possible (Prov 15:18, 16:28, 28:25, 29:22; Rom 12:18; Heb 12:14); in other words, Christians should seek peace rather than stirring-up confrontation, recognizing that conflict and confrontation in corporate environments hostile to Christian convictions are sometimes unavoidable or even inevitable in a post-Genesis 3 world. Yet, in doing so, Christians are gentle and innocent as doves but wise as serpents (Matt 10:16).

Humility further recognizes that others may make different choices when faced with similar situations in employment arenas. In other words, in good conscience some are able to eat food sacrificed to idols, while others cannot (1 Cor 8:1–13). For some, resignation is the appropriate choice when facing a particular moment of conscience; for others, staying and standing is the appropriate choice. Critically, Paul implores believers to consider others without requiring them to make the same choices, all lived before the Lord and unto the Lord in accordance with Scripture (Rom 14:1–12; 1 Cor 10:19–30). Humility does not demand the same outcome or decision for every individual facing a similar workplace moment of conscience. Instead, humility demands doing all things, whether eating or drinking, whether resigning or staying and standing, or anything else for that matter, to the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31).

4.2. The Corporate Dimension

While many American Christians are culturally-conditioned to focus principally, if not exclusively, on the individual dimension of their faith – including during workplace moments of conscience – there are several important aspects of the corporate dimension of the Christian faith that provide further tools in the midst of such moments.

First, related again to wisdom, a Christian facing a workplace moment of conscience should seek the counsel of others (Prov 11:14, 15:22, 24:6; see also Prov 12:15, 19:20, 20:18). Not only is there safety and success to be found in such counsel, but this process can also have the effect of iron sharpening iron, counting the cost, and spurring each other on to good deeds in the Lord (Prov 27:27; Luke 14:28–30; Heb 10:24–25).

Second, Christians in such moments should see those moments as opportunities to display God’s power for other believers. One’s workplace struggle can be an exemplary illustration, teaching moment, and discipleship opportunity for not only one’s self (and family) but the entire congregation. The Apostle Paul saw a divine purpose in his trials and thorns in the flesh, both for himself and for service to others (2 Cor 1:4, 12:7–10). Moreover, if one member of the body suffers, they all suffer together (1 Cor 11:26). These moments impact the church as a whole.

Third, the church needs to be prepared and mobilized to assist financially and otherwise individuals (and their families) whose stand for gospel truth in their workplace results in job loss, business collapse, financial difficulty, or economic ruin.46 As recorded in Acts, the early church shared their possessions and regularly provided for those Christian brothers and sisters who were in need so that there “was not a needy person among them” (Acts 2:44–45, 4:32, 4:34–37). Diaconate and mercy ministries should be organized to care for certain situations, and small groups and entire churches need to come alongside individuals and families in their church to provide extraordinary care and financial support as particular sacrifices are especially felt by a select few in their congregation. This is like the red blood cells traveling and mobilizing to coagulate the blood at a particular wound site. Beyond financial support, the church needs to surround and cover the individual and family with prayer in the midst of workplace moments of conscience.

Fourth, a Christian facing a workplace moment of conscience needs to remember the considerable value of the conscience of “weaker” Christian brothers and sisters (see Rom 14:1–23; 1 Cor 8:1–13). While the conscience of a person himself or herself may be able to bear a particular moral challenge in the workplace, their decision to do so or their association with that particular moral challenge may cause another believer who is “weak” and within their fellowship to sin. In love our actions and choices, even if permissible, are not to lead another brother or sister to stumble in sin. In these instances, for the sake of peace and mutual edification of the church, the Apostle Paul encourages Christians to set aside their rights and freedoms, and humbly defer to the “weak” believer in order to seek the other’s advantage rather than their own. This is not to say that the one who is “weak” exercises veto power over the freedom of their Christian brother or sister facing a workplace moment of conscience, especially when the choice involves another’s economic livelihood. However, cutting against the grain of the individualistic culture, this biblical, corporate consideration, at the very least, provokes Christians to contemplate the impact and influence of their free choices on others in the church.

This section of the article has proposed several tools grounded in Scripture to equip Christians in their hour of need, in their workplace moments of conscience when a conflict exists between their calling and their convictions. Intentionally, it has not sought to answer any specific workplace moments of conscience for it seeks not to be the binder of conscience—that is left to the Spirit of the Lord through the word of God alone. But, as set forth above, in those workplace moments of conscience, there are both individual and corporate dimensions to the application and practice of a theology of getting fired. To be sure, there are other worthy considerations beyond those set forth herein, but this article has sought to hone in on the most important tools to prepare and equip Christians to decide these often intractable and paralyzing workplace moments of conscience.

5. Conclusion

The aim of this article, while modest, is nevertheless urgent for every working believer in America, especially those called to work within non-Christian employment settings—which represents most American Christians at this time. This article has sought to begin the establishment of a framework for such Christians analyzing, assessing, and deciding those workplace moments of conscience that believers are rapidly facing at increasing rates, and to lay certain theological groundwork for Christians to encounter, engage, and resolve those moments faithfully for the glory of God. To do so, a Christian’s calling and convictions must both be informed and shaped by Scripture, and every Christian should pursue wisdom, prayer, Scripture reading, and humility in the midst of those moments. But no Christian should face these workplace moments of conscience alone for, as members of the corporate body of the church, they should seek the counsel of others, see their potential suffering as a help for others, and be assured that the church will support and uphold them (and their family) when standing up for the Lord in one’s workplace causes financial strain, job loss, or worse.

While the presenting scene and circumstances of conflict are in one’s workplace, Christians should remember that the battle in this cultural moment is not against flesh and blood as they encounter these moments of conscience (Eph 6:12). In fact, Christians should not be surprised if they are hated, reviled, insulted, or face suffering and persecution on account of their convictions in their calling, for the same thing happened to the Lord Jesus Christ (Matt 5:11–12; 1 Pet 4:14–16; see also John 15:18–20). Indeed, following Christ may cost a Christian everything or that most important thing which the believer holds dear (Matt 8:18–22, 10:37–39, 16:24–27, 19:16–22; Mark 8:34–38, 10:17–27; Luke 9:23–26, 9:57–62, 14:25–33, 18:18–30; John 12:25; Phil 3:7–8). But believers can take heart in these moments for the Lord has overcome the world (John 16:33) and believers need not be afraid for, by grace through faith, they are more than conquerors in Christ (Isa 41:10; Rom 8:35–39). Fixing their eyes on Jesus (Heb 12:1–2), believers can profess along with the Apostle Paul that they “count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil 3:8–9). They can rest in the comfort of the Lord’s promise that for “everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God” (Luke 12:8). Indeed, the one who called us has kept us, is keeping us, and will keep us (John 6:44, 17:12; 1 Cor 1:9; Jude 24) as we face fiery trials of many kinds in our workplaces and various employment settings to which we have been called as Christians (Jas 1:2; 1 Pet 4:7).

Exhibit 1: Table of Conscience

[1] See, e.g., Nick Eicher, “A Theology of Getting Fired?,” World Magazine, 19 August 19 2016, (quoting Stonestreet). See also “We Need a Theology of When to Get Fired,” Illinois Family Action, 15 May 2018,; John Stonestreet, “The Point: Another Case for the Theology of Getting Fired,” Breakpoint, 26 August 2019,; John Stonestreet, “Woke Capitalism Targets Religious Freedom,” Breakpoint, 4 September 2019,; John Stonestreet and Kasey Leander, “Canadian Teacher Faces Discipline for Questioning Gender Ideology,” Breakpoint, 14 February 2022,

[2] See, e.g., “Colorado and Masterpiece Cakeshop Baker Jack Phillips End Legal Battle,” CBS News, 5 March 2019,; Jenny Jarvie, “Atlanta Fire Chief Fired after Calling Gays ‘Vile’ Claims Religious Bias,” Los Angeles Times, 24 January 2015,; Kerry Justich, “20-Year-Old College Student Says Uber Driver Left Her on Side of the Road when He Found Out She Was Getting an Abortion,” Yahoo News, 19 April 2019,; “Kentucky Clerk Kim Davis Denied Marriage Licenses for Her Friends,” ABC News, 22 September 2015,; Matt Lavietes, “Professor Who Wouldn’t Use Trans Student’s Pronouns Wins $400K Settlement,” NBC News, 19 April 2022,

[3] See Obergefell v. Hodges, 576 U.S. 644 (2015) (Thomas, J., dissenting, “warning of the ‘inevitable’ conflict as individuals “are confronted with demands to participate in and endorse civil marriages between same-sex couples”).

[4] See, e.g., Exod 1:15–22 (Shiphrah and Puah, midwives who “feared God” and “did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live”); 1 Kgs 18:1–19 (Obadiah, household servant of King Ahab who “feared the Lord greatly” and hid and cared for 100 prophets to protect them from Queen Jezebel); Esth 3:7–5:2 (Esther, the Hebrew queen, spoke up to the king not knowing whether she would perish in order to save the Hebrew people from a death sentence); Dan 1:8–21 (Daniel and his companions, officials in the king’s court, resolving not to eat the kind’s diet to avoid defiling themselves); Dan 3:1–30 (Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, officials of the king, refusing to bow and worship King Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image); Dan 6:1–28 (Daniel, high governmental official of the king, refusing to obey law that prohibited him from praying for thirty days to anyone except the king).

[5] See Mark Water, The New Encyclopedia of Christian Martyrs (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2001) (compiling stories of Christian martyrdom throughout history); see also, e.g., John Foxe, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs (sixteenth century work recounting the stories of Christian martyrs in history); G. W. Bowerstock, Martyrdom and Rome (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995) (discussing the earliest Christian martyrs within the Roman empire).

[6] In many countries, the threats and difficulty faced by Christians for holding to their convictions far exceed job loss or strain. See “Stories,” Open Doors, (detailing stories of Christian persecution around the world, including physical abuse, torture, destruction of churches, and even death); “Stories,” The Voice of the Martyrs, (detailing modern-day stories of Christian martyrs).

[7] This is a term of art used and relied upon throughout this article and refers particularly to any employment situation, requirement, duty, or mandate faced by a Christian in the workplace or business setting wherein the obligations of their job or business—that is, their current calling—come into conflict with their Christian beliefs or convictions.

[8] William Edgar, Created and Creating: A Biblical Theology of Culture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2017), 151, 154, 161, 212–15, 217.

[9] Os Guinness, The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1998), 29.

[10] Guinness, The Call, 31.

[11] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, LCC (Philadelphia: Westminster John Knox, 1960), 3.10.6.

[12] Calvin, Institutes 3.10.6.

[13] William Edgar, The Christian Mind (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2018), 84–85; Guinness, The Call, 31–35.

[14] Martin Luther, The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, 1520: The Annotated Luther Study Edition, Vol. 3, eds. Erik H. Herrmann and Paul W. Robinson (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2016); see also Martin Luther, On Christian Liberty, 1520, trans. W. A. Lambert (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2002), 29–30.

[15] William Perkins, A Treatise of the Vocations or Callings of Men (London: John Legat, 1605), 39.

[16] Perkins, Treatise of the Vocations, 41.

[17] Guinness, The Call, 46–47 (quoting John Cotton’s 1633 sermon entitled “Christian Calling”). In saying this, we should not overlook or discount the very structures, systems, and institutions that must exist within a society, culture, and economy so that persons may “pick” among jobs as they consider their calling. For many Christians in history, and in other places in the world today, no significant or meaningful choice among jobs existed (or exists). Such Christians merely aim for and accept any gainful employment unto the glory of God. These believers are no less called than Christians living with more vocational opportunities.

[18] Guinness, The Call, 45.

[19] John Calvin, Commentary on the Harmony of the Evangelists, trans. William Pringle (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1949), 2:143.

[20] See Guinness, The Call, 230 (quoting John Cotton’s 1633 sermon entitled “Christian Calling”).

[21] There is a broader notion of a theology of work or labor as a creational ordinance (Gen 1:28, 2:1–3, 2:15–17) that encompasses how a Christian is to work, including but not limited to, with excellence (Prov 22:29), honesty and integrity (Prov 10:9, 11:3, 12:17, 24:26; 2 Cor 8:21), diligence (Prov 12:11, 12:24; Acts 20:35; Rom 12:11; 2 Tim 2:6), respect for and submission to authorities (Rom 13:1–7; Titus 3:1; 1 Pet 2:13–18), and a good conscience (1 Tim 1:19), and bearing the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22–23). A deeper discussion of the theology of work is presumed here, and thus beyond the scope of this article.

[22] See J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism, reprint ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), 16–18, 23–25, 39–45.

[23] See Vern S. Poythress, “Truth and Fullness of Meaning: Fullness Versus Reductionist Semantics in Biblical Interpretation,” WTJ 67 (2005): 213.

[24] See, e.g., Westminster Confession of Faith, Larger and Shorter Catechisms (1647); Second London Baptist Confession (1689); Three Forms of Unity (collective name for the Belgic Confession of Faith, Canons of Dort, and Heidelberg Catechism).

[25] See, e.g., The Danvers Statement, Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, 1987,; The Nashville Statement, Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, 2017,

[26] These areas—freedom of conscience, the role of government, and civil resistance or disobedience—are additional topics beyond the scope of this article, each of which is ripe for further consideration in developing a broader theology of getting fired, particularly as that theology relates to governmental workplace moments of conscience, private employers’ enforcement of laws and other governmental mandates, or litigation in American courts.

[27] See, e.g., Augsburg Confession (1530); Genevan Confession (1536); First Helvetic Confession (1536); French Confession (1559); Scots Confession (1560); Belgic Confession (1561); 39 Articles of Religion in the Church of England (1563); Second Helvetic Confession (1566); Irish Articles of Religion (1615); Westminster Confession of Faith (1647). In fact, such grounding became a hallmark of Reformation-era confessions.

[28] The “conscience” has been a subject of great debate and consideration throughout Christian history. This article, with its more limited scope, does not attempt to wade into those lengthy and important waters. Scripture speaks to the role of the conscience in humanity, communicated in man as one created in the image of God, which is defiled and seared by rebellion against God but is redeemed for those in Christ (see Acts 23:1, 24:16; Rom 2:14–15, 9:1, 13:5; 1 Cor 8:1–13, 10:23–31; 2 Cor 1:12, 4:2, 5:11; 1 Tim 1:5, 1:18–19, 3:9, 4:1–2; 2 Tim 1:3, Titus 1:15; Heb 9:8–10, 9:14, 10:2, 10:22, 13:18; 1 Pet 2:19, 3:16, 3:21; 1 John 3:20). Here, I simply adopt the definition and understanding of conscience set forth by the Puritan William Ames in the opening line of his treatise on the conscience, who himself follows Thomas Aquinas, stating that conscience is “man’s judgment of himself, according to the judgment of God of him” (citing Isa 5:3; 1 Cor 11:31). See, e.g., William Ames, Conscience with the Power and Cases Thereof (London: 1639). Adoption of this understanding of conscience hopefully will not cause too much quibble at this junction. To be sure, a deeper dive and broader exploration on the nature of conscience would be a worthy endeavor in developing a more robust theology of getting fired.

[29] See Carter Lindberg, The European Reformations, 3rd ed. (Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2021), 314 (citing Martin Luther, LW 32:112–13).

[30] William Perkins, A Discourse of Conscience (1596), in William Perkins, 1558–1602, English Puritanist, ed. Thomas F. Merrill (Nieuwkoop: de Graaf, 1966), 10.

[31] Perkins, A Discourse of Conscience, 10.

[32] Calvin, Institutes 4.20.3.

[33] This matter, too, is also beyond the scope of this article for it does not seek to address whether certain convictions qualify themselves as matters on which all Christians must agree or as matters on which Christians are permitted to disagree. To be sure, a broader discussion of these matters would also be an appropriate endeavor in further development of the theology of getting fired. Rather than seek to answer all of those questions, this article instead accepts as given the Christian’s “workplace moment of conscience” as a rub between one’s current calling and one’s convictions, and proposes a framework for working through those moments with certain tools.

[34] D. A. Carson, “On Disputable Matters,” Themelios 40 (2015): 383.

[35] The Puritans were especially interested in considering pressing cases of conscience, the application of God’s word and truth to the circumstances and situations of life to determine the rightness or wrongness of certain actions. See, e.g., Ames, Conscience with the Power and Cases Thereof; Perkins, A Discourse of Conscience; Perkins, The Whole Treatise of Cases of Conscience; see also J. I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1990), 107–22.

[36] Justice Samuel Alito, in another dissenting opinion from the 2015 same-sex “marriage” case, wrote in prescient language: “Today’s decision [the majority opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges] … will be used to vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy.… I assume that those who cling to old beliefs will be able to whisper their thoughts in the recesses of their homes, but if they repeat those views in public, they will risk being labeled as bigots and treated as such by governments, employers, and schools.” See Obergefell v. Hodges, 576 U.S. 644 (2015) (Alito, J., dissenting). Justice Alito further noted that the implications of the reasoning in the majority’s decision “will be exploited by those who are determined to stamp out every vestige of dissent.”

[37] See, e.g., Francis Schaeffer, The God Who Is There (1968), in Francis Schaeffer, The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer, reprint ed. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1985), 1:11 (attributing quotation to Martin Luther).

[38] See, e.g., Christopher Wiggins, “Oregon Baker’s LGBTQ+ Discrimination Fine Reduced by Over $100k,” Yahoo News, 14 July 2022,; “Jaelene Hinkle: Defender Refused to Play for US because of LGBT Shirt,” BBC, 1 June 2018,; Dan Wiessner, “New York Town Clerk Quits over Gay Marriage Licenses,” Reuters, 12 July 2011,

[39] To be sure, not every believer who decides to keep their calling and convictions in a workplace moment of conscience will, in fact, be terminated. Indeed, some are ultimately promoted after making their stand (e.g., Esther and Daniel). However, that positive outcome is by no means foreseen, let alone known, at the time.

[40] See, e.g., Chris Perez, “CrossFit Exec Fired after Calling LGBT Community ‘Sinners,’” New York Post, 7 June 2018,; D. A. Carson, “The Woman from Kentucky,” Themelios 41.2 (2016): 209–13.

[41] J. I. Packer, Knowing God, reprint ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2018), 90.

[42] Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, ed. John Bolt, trans. John Vriend (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003–2008), 2:203.

[43] See Cornelius Plantinga Jr., “The Sinner and the Fool,” First Things 46 (October 1994): 24.

[44] See, e.g., Acts 1:14, 1:24, 4:24–31, 6:6, 12:12, 13:1–3, 14:23, 16:25, 21:5, 28:8; see also Acts 6:4, 8:15, 10:9; 20:36; Eph 1:16, 3:14, 6:18; Phil 1:3–11, 4:6; Col 1:3–14; 1 Thess 1:2–3, 5:17, 5:25; 2 Thess 1:11–12, 3:1; 1 Tim 2:1–2; Phlm 4–7; Heb 13:18; Jas 5:16; 1 Pet 4:7.

[45] See Matt 6:5–15, 11:25–27, 14:23, 19:13, 26:36–45; Mark 1:35, 6:46, 14:32–41, 15:34; Luke 3:21, 5:16, 6:12, 9:18, 9:28, 10:21–22, 11:1–4, 22:32, 22:39–46, 23:34, 23:46, 24:30; John 11:41–42, 12:27–28, 17:1–26; Heb 5:7.

[46] The early church dealt with a comparable issue when first century Christians chose not to offer sacrifices to Roman gods or participate in idolatrous trade guilds or political and religious celebrations. See Larry W. Hurtado, Destroyer of the Gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2016), 23–26, 31–32, 34–36, 48–62, 150–54; Peter Oakes, Philippians: From People to Letter, SNTSMS 110 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 89–99.

Jonathan D. Christman

Jonathan D. Christman is an assistant pastor at Windsor Baptist Church in Pennsylvania and a former partner of a national law firm.

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