India ranks No. 10 in Open Doors’ ranking of the 50 countries where Christians face the most persecution for their faith in 2020. There was a 400% increase in violence committed against Christians in India between the years 2014 and 2019. Surprisingly, much of these reported persecutions did not happen in the workplace, where private as well as Government Organizations are bound to operate by certain rules and regulations. Nevertheless, there is a widespread belief among Christians that Christian professionals face discrimination because of their faith; 62.86% of respondents in one survey claimed it is difficult to reach the pinnacles of corporate success while still adhering to Christian values.
Persecution in the Workplace
The idea that Christian Indian professionals face persecution in their workplace is both uncertain and debatable. Open Doors defines persecution as “any hostility experienced as a result of one’s identification with Christ. This can include hostile attitudes, words and actions towards Christians.” While it might be true that Christian professionals do not face death threats or public humiliation at their workplace, there are reports where Christian professionals were denied promotions (when due) and made to work harder and longer (than the stipulated working hours).
An internal survey conducted by the author and participated by about 100 people working in various private sector organizations across the country found 88.57% of Christian professionals were discriminated against in their career one time or the other. They were demoted or provided with mundane work; terminated on false charges; excluded from water cooler conversations; and made subject to subtle teasing or intimidating stares. The common refrain, though, is that (some) Christian professionals are marginalised tacitly and denied fast-track growth opportunities, just because they do not identify with their team in terms of cultural practices and value systems.
Reasons for Christian persecution
Another revealing aspect of the survey is that 68.57% of respondents felt Christian professionals are persecuted for practising a Biblical value system, while some 17.14% attributed the cause of persecution to practising a worldly value system. Now both these assertions are valid as Christians were warned of persecution for being a Jesus follower (Matt 10:22) and assured of punishment when they flout the rules of their job contract or perform poorly (Rom 13:3).
Interestingly, 11.43% of the survey respondents indicated there was no persecution, whatsoever, committed against Christian professionals. They felt this whole discussion about ‘Christian persecution in the workplace’ is just another ‘bogeyman’ idea designed to satisfy certain vested interests. On the contrary, there are also some who claim Christians never face persecution in their workplaces—due to their refusal to practice Christian values!
A Christian’s response to persecution
Whether the persecution in the workplace is subtle or overt, repetitive or occasional, haphazard or selective, minor or significant, Christians ought to look at persecution from an eternal (Biblical) perspective. Dismissing it as a fantasy, irrelevant or even fighting against it will only lead to disillusionment and an erosion of faith.
- Occasional and selective persecution Persecution at the workplace can be occasional and selective, whether aimed at an individual or common to all members of a group. Like Joseph, we could be marginalised or even falsely accused for upholding Godly values. But consider Joseph. He never let his past rejection (by his brothers) and false accusation (by his boss’s wife) take his eyes off from the vision, which God had given him, of being a leader one day. He continued to excel in every assignment—even when he was in prison on false charges. In short, Joseph never let his work performance suffer, even when he suffered professionally on account of being true to God’s calling.
- Repeated and significant persecution Sometimes, the persecution and its results can be repeated and exacting. Like Job, we could be targeted and persecuted for our Christian beliefs and value system. But consider Job. He deliberately refused to trade persecution for earthly comforts. This was possible only because of his intimate understanding (Job 19:25–27) that the earthly suffering is transient, bearable (1 Cor 10:13) and would soon give way to the very presence of God—where there is joy forevermore (Ps 16:11).
- Self-inflicted persecution Some of the persecution within the workplace is imagined. There are some Christians who are unable to progress in their career due to poor work performance or negative attitude. And when they repeat such poor performance and continue to display such negative behaviour, they are either penalised or terminated. One cannot term this action ‘persecution’ or ‘discrimination’. The Apostle Peter warns Christians (1 Peter 2:20) not to mistake such ‘persecution’; in fact, this act maligns Christian witness, as it takes Christ’s name in vain.
Christians should be known more for their excellence at work than their evangelistic activism within their workplace. Also, Christians should be known more for their love for their neighbours (colleagues) than their love for promotions, fancy designations and foreign assignments.
Identifying with Christ’s suffering
Having just celebrated Easter, it is hard not to reminisce the sufferings of our Lord Jesus Christ. The word ‘excruciating’, which tries to capture the highest degree of human pain, is derived from the Latin word, excrucio, which literally means “out of the cross.” How could Jesus willingly embrace the cross, the worst form of persecution in human history, if not for having an eternal perspective? How could he not revile, refrain from justifying himself, and resist summoning the powerful (angels) for help, if not for the understanding that His case would be adjudicated by a righteous Judge (1 Pet 2:23)?
The writer of the book of Hebrews (12:2) says Jesus endured the cross because of the joy (of fulfilling God’s will and uniting with the Father) which was set before him. It was this joy which inspired Apostle Paul to count all earthly things as dung, so that he could know Jesus, the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings (Phil 3:10). And, it was this same joy which has enabled countless followers of Jesus across human history to endure persecution of different kinds. Indeed, blessed are the persecuted.