Religion Etiquette: The Case of the Christian Coworker

Plus: Jewish naming ceremonies, Hindu funerals, and Protestant weddings in Catholic churches

BY: the editors of Beliefnet

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How do I deal with a co-worker's constant "witnessing"? I work closely with an evangelical Christian who knows I do not share her beliefs. She keeps quoting the Bible to me and making comments like, "I got a great discount on my new kitchen tile. The Lord always takes care of his own!" Once, we were discussing how to approach a new project when she paused, said, "Oh, thank you, Lord!" in a very excited voice, then turned to me and said "Why don't we use the Lord's idea!" (It was actually a very prosaic, uninspired suggestion.)

What does etiquette require of me in these situations? I am tired of politely repeating, "Debbie, you know I don't share your beliefs." Once she even said, "I don't care. I'm going to tell you anyway!" Also, if I have lunch with her, do I have to wait till she's finished saying grace before I can start eating? (She closes her eyes, bows her head and prays silently for several minutes before announcing "Amen!")

She is very nice and I don't want to hurt her feelings, but she seems to think that she can convert me by relentlessly demonstrating that she believes.

Laura Sheahen responds:

Honestly, why


you accept the Lord's kitchen tile suggestions? Why do you refuse to let the Spirit's project management wisdom into your heart?

But seriously. It sounds like you've done everything you can to be polite and forebearing. Perhaps it's time to be...not so polite. You could sit down with Debbie and explain to her that while you understand her commitment to Christianity, her words and actions often make you uncomfortable. You could ask that as a sign of respect to you, she refrain from in-your-face witnessing clearly aimed at persuading you to convert.

Since Debbie's made it clear that she puts her call to evangelize above interpersonal considerations, your request may fall on deaf ears, but it's worth a try. If her insistent witnessing continues, you could plan to spend less time with her socially--though interacting with her on work projects may be, ahem, your cross to bear.

In Debbie's defense, many evangelicals feel God's presence strongly in their lives and want to proclaim that. To some, it's as natural to say "the Lord took care of me" as it would be for others to say "I lucked out." So don't assume that every reference Debbie makes to the Lord is a covert attempt to proselytize.

You have several options at lunch. You could, of course, just throw Emily Post out the window and dig in. On the politer end of the spectrum, it might be easiest to wait out the grace, as you've been doing. A solution inspired by the decorous ladies of the South might be to excuse yourself to wash your hands or "get another napkin" while Debbie prays. And if that little devil on your shoulder gets the best of you, you could implement a 60-second rule whereby you sneak a few fries once her praying has lasted more than a minute.

The father of a Jewish friend of mine is being buried today. This evening several of us are going to his home for a supportive visit. What is appropriate to bring as a gift/food item? They are Reform Jews. --David

Alice Chasan responds:

It is always appropriate to bring non-perishable, well-packaged foods, such as dried fruit and nuts, candies, and cookies or crackers. Traditionally, people bring or send gift baskets, which are often prepared by local food shops for such occasions. They can be kept on hand, sealed, until the grieving family is ready to use or serve them. If you are able to speak to someone who is helping the family during the bereavement period, you can also get more specific information about foods that might be needed by the family for more immediate use--for example, a cake from a bakery, breads, bagels, or fresh fruit. But too much perishable food just winds up being thrown away, so consult with friends and family if you can.

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