Questions From Readers
Some of Jehovah’s Witnesses have been offered employment involving religious buildings or property. What is the Scriptural view of such work?
This issue may face Christians who sincerely want to apply 1 Timothy 5:8, which emphasizes the importance of providing materially for one’s household. While Christians certainly should apply that counsel, it does not justify their accepting any and all kinds of secular work, no matter what its nature. Christians appreciate the need to be sensitive to other indications of God’s will. For example, a man’s desire to support his family would not justify his violating what the Bible says about immorality or murder. (Compare Genesis 39:4-9; Isaiah 2:4; John 17:14, 16.) It is also vital that Christians act in harmony with the command to get out of Babylon the Great, the world empire of false religion.—Revelation 18:4, 5.
Around the globe, God’s servants face many employment situations. It would be pointless and beyond our authority to attempt to list all the possibilities and to make categorical rules. (2 Corinthians 1:24) Let us, though, mention some factors that Christians should consider in making personal employment decisions. These factors were set out briefly in The Watchtower of July 15, 1982, in an article about benefiting from our God-given conscience. A box raised two key questions and then listed other helpful factors.
The first key question is this: Is the secular work itself condemned in the Bible? Commenting on this, The Watchtower noted that the Bible condemns stealing, misuse of blood, and idolatry. A Christian should avoid secular work that directly promotes activities that God disapproves of, such as those just mentioned.
The second question is: Would doing this work make one an accomplice in a condemned practice? Clearly, a person employed in a gambling den, an abortion clinic, or a house of prostitution would be an accomplice in an unscriptural practice. Even if his daily work there was merely sweeping floors or answering the telephone, he would be contributing to a practice that God’s Word condemns.
Many Christians faced with employment decisions have found that analyzing just those questions helps them reach a personal decision.
For instance, from those two questions, one can see why a true worshiper would not be a direct employee of a false religious organization, working for and in a church. Revelation 18:4 sets out the command: “Get out of her, my people, if you do not want to share with her in her sins.” A person would be sharing in the works and sins of Babylon the Great if he was a regular employee of a religion that was teaching false worship. Whether the employee was a gardener, a janitor, a repairman, or an accountant, his work would serve to promote worship that conflicts with true religion. Moreover, people who would see this employee working to beautify the church, keep it in repair, or carry out its religious pursuits would reasonably link him with that religion.
What, though, about someone who is not a regular employee of a church or religious organization? Perhaps he is called upon just to do emergency repair work on a broken water pipe in the church basement. Would that not be different from his offering a bid on a contract, such as for shingling or insulating the church roof?
Again, a vast variety of situations could be imagined. So let us review five additional factors that The Watchtower set out:
1. Is the work simply a human service that of itself is not Scripturally objectionable? Take the example of a postman. His delivering mail would hardly mean that he was promoting a condemned practice if one building in the area he served was a church or an abortion clinic. God provides the sunlight that shines through the windows of all buildings, including a church or such a clinic. (Acts 14:16, 17) A Christian who is a postman might conclude that he is performing a human service to all, day after day. It could be similar with a Christian who responds to an emergency—a plumber called to stop flooding in a church or an ambulance attendant called upon to treat someone who collapsed during church services. He might consider this simply an incidental rendering of human aid.
2. To what extent does the person have authority over what is done? A Christian store owner would hardly agree to order and sell idols, spiritistic amulets, cigarettes, or sausages made from blood. As owner he is in control. People might urge him to sell cigarettes or idols and make a profit, but he would act consistent with his Scriptural beliefs. On the other hand, a Christian employee at a large food store may be assigned to run the cash register, polish floors, or do bookkeeping. He does not control what products are ordered and sold, even if a few of these are objectionable, such as cigarettes or items for religious holidays.* (Compare Luke 7:8; 17:7, 8.) This is related to the next point.
3. To what degree is the person involved? Let us return to the example of a store. Probably an employee assigned to run the cash register or to fill the shelves only occasionally handles cigarettes or religious items; that is a small part of his overall work. What a contrast, though, with an employee in the same store who works at the tobacco counter! All his work, day in and day out, focuses on something contrary to Christian beliefs. (2 Corinthians 7:1) This illustrates why the degree of involvement or contact must be evaluated in deciding employment questions.
4. What is the source of the pay or the location where the work is done? Consider two situations. To improve its public image, an abortion clinic decides to pay a man to clean neighborhood streets. His pay comes from the abortion clinic, but he does not work there, and no one sees him in the clinic all day. Rather, they observe him doing a public work that of itself is not in conflict with the Scriptures, no matter who pays him. Now a contrast. In a nation where prostitution is legalized, the public health service pays a nurse to work at brothels, running health checks intended to reduce the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Though she is paid by the public health service, her work is entirely at houses of prostitution, making the immorality safer, more acceptable. These examples illustrate why the source of one’s pay and the location of the work are aspects to consider.
5. What is the effect of doing the work; will it hurt one’s own conscience or stumble others? Conscience should be considered, both our own and that of others. Even if a certain work (including its location and source of pay) seems acceptable to most Christians, an individual may sense that it would trouble his personal conscience. The apostle Paul, who set a fine example, stated: “We trust we have an honest conscience, as we wish to conduct ourselves honestly in all things.” (Hebrews 13:18) We ought to avoid doing work that would leave us disturbed; yet, we also should not be critical of others whose consciences differ. Conversely, a Christian might see no conflict with the Bible in his doing a certain work, but he realizes that it would be very disturbing to many in the congregation and in the community. Paul reflected the right attitude in his words: “In no way are we giving any cause for stumbling, that our ministry might not be found fault with; but in every way we recommend ourselves as God’s ministers.”—2 Corinthians 6:3, 4.
Now let us go back to the main question of working on a church building, such as installing new windows, cleaning the carpets, or servicing the furnace. How might the above factors be involved?
Recall the aspect of authority. Is the Christian the owner or manager who can decide whether to take on such work on a church? Would a Christian having that authority want to share with Babylon the Great by bidding on a job or contracting to help some religion promote false worship? Would that not be comparable to deciding to sell cigarettes or idols in one’s own store?—2 Corinthians 6:14-16.
If the Christian is an employee without the deciding voice over what jobs are accepted, other factors ought to be considered, such as the location and the extent of involvement. Is the employee asked simply to deliver or put in place new chairs on an occasion or to render human service, such as a fireman’s putting out a fire in a church before it spreads? Many would see this as different from an employee of a business spending a long time painting the church or regularly doing gardening to make it attractive. Such regular or extended contact would increase the likelihood that many would link the Christian with a religion that he claims he does not endorse, potentially stumbling them.—Matthew 13:41; 18:6, 7.
We have brought up a number of important considerations as to employment. These were presented in the context of a specific question involving false religion. Yet, they can equally be considered in connection with other types of employment. In each case, a prayerful analysis should be made, taking into consideration the specific—and probably unique—aspects of the situation at hand. The factors presented above have already helped many sincere Christians to make conscientious decisions that reflect their desire to walk straight and upright before Jehovah.—Proverbs 3:5, 6; Isaiah 2:3; Hebrews 12:12-14.
Some Christians working in hospitals have had to consider this factor of authority. A physician might have authority to order medications for or medical procedures on a patient. Even if a patient did not mind, how could a Christian doctor in authority order a blood transfusion or perform an abortion, knowing what the Bible says on such matters? In contrast, a nurse employed at the hospital might not have such authority. As she performs routine services, a doctor might direct her to perform a blood test for some purpose or to care for a patient who came for an abortion. In line with the example recorded at 2 Kings 5:17-19, she might conclude that since she is not the one with authority who orders a transfusion or performs an abortion, she could carry out human services for a patient. Of course, she still would have to consider her conscience, so as ‘to behave before God with a clear conscience.’—Acts 23:1.