Too many Christian businesspeople remain in the Christian closet, afraid to publicly acknowledge their Christianity on the job. The results, for those individuals and our society at large, are devasting.
We all understand what it means to be ‘in the closet.” For the LGBT population, it means that you hide your real identity and pretend to be someone you are not, primarily for fear of condemnation. When a gay person came “out of the closet,” he/she went public with his/her sexual preferences and no longer kept them hidden.
The ‘closet’ then, represents a lifestyle of pretense, where one pretends to be someone he is not, to like things he doesn’t really like, to embrace values he/she doesn’t believe in. It’s a lifestyle of deceit, wrapped in guilt. Coming out of the closet – announcing publicly who he/she really is — is often a risky step, as the individual doing so risks the disdain of those around him. The closet is a place to hide.
The Christian Closet
Unfortunately, most Christian businesspeople are hiding in their own version of the closet, concealing who they are really are – a disciple of Jesus Christ – behind the facade of a secular businessperson.
Their closet is a more nuanced version. They have no problem going to church and being active in the programs of their local institutional church. Their closet doesn’t extend to their family or church life. It exists in their business life.
It is on the job that they keep their true identity hidden behind a fake facade. They are afraid to admit their Christianity – afraid of scorn by those around them, and disdain by the larger circle of coworkers, customers, and suppliers. They see the way certain visible groups – the Hollywood elite, leftist college professors, late-night talk show hosts, and legions of nameless social media advocates – characterize Christians. Uneducated, unthinking, intolerant, backward – the kind of people who were called ‘deplorables’ in the last presidential election. They certainly don’t see themselves in that light and don’t want to be labeled with those pejoratives.
So, they keep their Christianity to themselves on the job. When an opportunity comes to give credit to God, they don’t. When a colleague could be strengthened with a word from the Bible, they defer. When the water-cooler conversation approaches values, beliefs or ethics, they head to the restroom.
Like the LGBT folks who coined the term, they willfully and intentionally hide their true nature in the closet, operating out of fear and not wanting to jeopardize their own comfortable existence.
That’s too bad. Really, really bad. Because the majority of Christian businesspeople hide in the Christian closet, literally millions of people, across generations and geographies, have been denied a glimpse of God’s love and providence. While God intended Christians to be salt and light in the world, Christian closet dwellers withhold that salt and light out of fear of the consequences. Who knows how many people could have been exposed to God’s love and salvation through the life example of a colleague who was not afraid to be who he was?
God condemns it, of course. Jesus said, in Mathew 10: 32, 33:
32 “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. 33 But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.
Over the last 20 years or so, we have seen a decrease in the percentage of the population who claim to be Christians. Today, Christians are a minority of the US population. Certainly, Christian closet-dwellers have had some responsibility for that decrease.
While closet dwelling has had an impact on our culture and society at large, it also has a very personal negative impact on individual lives.
Christian closet-dwellers are often subject to the ‘hypocrite’ label. While they consider themselves pious and churchgoers, they are hesitant to allow their Christianity to bubble out of them on the job. People who see both sides of their lives often point out the conflict between ‘churchiness’ on Sunday, and secular behavior on Monday.
While church involvement keeps them busy, they can’t escape the nagging thought that they aren’t really living their Lord’s intentions for them. They may grasp certain oft-repeated platitudes to assuage their consciences: “Church and Business don’t mix”; “God’s house is holy (everything else, then, including business, must be ‘non-holy)”; “church work is special (business, therefore, must be ordinary)”. While this may plaster over the itch, it doesn’t make the guilt go away.
So, closet-dwelling has a negative impact on the lives of the dwellers and a horrendous impact on society at large.
What would happen if most Christian closet-dwellers came out?
We could change the trajectory of the country, change the national dialogue and expand the Kingdom.
There is a model. Look at what the LGBT community has done. In 15 years, they have changed the laws and changed the national attitude toward them. You’ll recall, for example, that Obama was against gay marriage in his first election cycle.
If a tiny percentage of the population can come out of the closet and change the national attitude, what could a group several times larger accomplish with a similar strategy? In less time, we could change the national attitude, change the trajectory of the country, provide hope and a better life for millions, and expand the Kingdom. Christian love and grace would become part of the national dialogue. A growing relationship with God an oft-discussed goal.
We could feel more empowered, and live lives of greater fulfillment and impact. We could change our lives and change the world.
If you’ve been a Christian closet-dweller, it’s time to come out!
This is a fascinating piece, Dave, and it splits me right down the middle.
One part of me is really uncomfortable with that you seemed to equate being a member of the still dominating religious group – with a seat in the White House – with what has been the experience of the LGBTQIA+ community. Particularly in light of what this community has suffered from the Christian community.
The other part lauds the vision you have in the second part of the piece; if people truly believed in the Gospel, we would see an end to the exploitation of other people and to the genuflection at the alter of power.
And for that vision I am willing to sit with a lot of discomfort.
So to give closeted Christians some relief, why don’t we accept that it can be difficult to talk about religion in the workplace and don’t. Fortunately it is not necessary; all Christians need to do is to demonstrate their values and love their fellow beings enough to treat them like they themselves want to be treated.
After a fairly short time – where the impact of that has rocked society to the core – I am sure nobody will heap scorn if they come out of the closet in words as well.