I was speaking to a lecture hall full of clinicians about the idea of integrating their work into their faith, of seeing their practices as Christ-centered. After unpacking what this could look like in very practical terms, I hung around to field Q&A. The first question shocked me, “Can I mention the name of Jesus in my practice without going to jail? What about prayer—is it ever possible for me to offer prayer to a patient without losing my job?”
My first reaction was to laugh, “Are we were living in America or some oppressive regime, and when was the last time you heard of any secret police hauling away your colleagues for such violations?” My heart sank as I realized this was not a question of theatrical hyperbole—he was serious. The era we live in has such a haze from legal, media, and half baked stories that many Christian business leaders are frankly paralyzed, unsure what to believe, what we can do, what we’re called to do.
I have come to find this area of fear and misinformation holds many Christians back from faithfulness in the marketplace. I called Doug Napier with the Alliance Defending Freedom, who was part of the legal team for Hobby Lobby/Costenaga Woods in the SCOTUS trial of 2014, to shed some light and clarity on this topic shrouded in murky shadows.
Q: Doug, how did you end up playing the role you are today?
A: I grew up in a small town in Iowa. My father and grandfather were attorneys. I attended the University of Iowa with studies in finance. Years in campus ministry sparked a desire to be involved in ministry “full-time,” but I wasn’t sure what to do. So I got a Masters in Biblical Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary. One of my DTS professors challenged my assumption that if I were to be in full-time ministry that I necessarily had to be a pastor or missionary. He asked about my passions, and I told him of my love for the law. He asked, “Can’t you serve God as an attorney? Doesn’t God need Christian attorneys?” This is probably the first time I ever considered that our work—whatever it is—is worship and ministry.
So, I went to law school and joined the family law firm. After being in private practice for 16 years, I was introduced to Alliance Defending. I became a volunteer attorney and then a couple years later joined ADF full-time.
Q: What are the scenarios you’re seeing Christian business leaders snared by?
A: The ugliest scenarios we are seeing right now are when businesses are being asked by same sex couples to participate in activities that celebrate or promote homosexual behavior or relationships, such as the Christian photographer who was asked to use her creative talents to capture on film a same sex ceremony, the Christian florist who was asked to provide and deliver arrangements to a same-sex wedding, or the printer who was asked to print t-shirts for a gay pride parade. Of course, we also saw the heavy hand of the federal government trying to force companies, churches, and schools to pay for abortion causing drugs as part of their health plans or face massive fines that would send any organization into financial ruin.
Q: How many business leaders has ADF helped?
A: It is hard to know exactly, as we have helped businesses directly and indirectly through referrals to our network of 2,600 Allied Network volunteer attorneys. It is becoming much more challenging for business owners to know how to remain faithful to their Christian values in the operation of their businesses. Increased demands to compromise have come from the federal government policies, state laws, and local ordinances. We are representing many businesses who have been sued simply for refusing to use their business to participate in activities that would violate their deeply held beliefs. We also advise Christian business owners how they can promote and protect religion in the workplace, celebrate Christian holidays, and have a bold witness for Christ without running afoul of employment laws. To be sure, times are challenging right now, and businesses need to be prepared, so we are doing all we can to help them get ready.
Q: What are ways leaders can be proactive to protect their religious liberties?
A: The best course of action may seem counter-intuitive to many risk-averse business leaders, but safety is actually found in being bold and demonstrably consistent in your faith! The great lie many leaders adopt is that if they are “careful” about their faith at work and just keep it for private conversations, they are avoiding risk, when in many scenarios that approach is a recipe for disaster. There are 5 main tenets I’d encourage every Christian business leader to address proactively to protect their religious liberties.
1. Every business needs to determine corporate values in advance, and which of those are non-negotiable.
2. Adopt a Statement of Faith and Purpose or Values Statement that reflects the core Christian principles upon which your business will be operated.
3. Operate your business consistentlywith these values. A key test for discrimination, as well as authentic freedom of religion liberties in a courtroom, will hinge on the consistent expression of your faith throughout the business.
4. Train your employees to handle hostile requests, refuse unacceptable business, and how to treat all customers with respect. It’s not just what you believe and how you’d articulate it, but how your team (particularly your leadership team) represents it on a daily basis that shapes your real legal liabilities!
5. Understand the law in regards to acknowledging, accommodating, and expressing religion in the workplace. Stop self-censoring religious expression that is perfectly legal. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act is for all of us, and it’s just as wrong to deny someone else their rights as it is to needlessly give up your rights and calling out of fear or ignorance.
When Jesus sent out his disciples to the countryside, He instructed them to be “gentle as doves and shrewd as serpents.” We are His disciples, and His counsel still stands!
Q: Doug, I know some leaders are oblivious to this growing issue, while others are alarmingly paralyzed by the media-frenzy and social media sensationalism. What would your encouragement be to a Christian business leader today?
A: Businesses have a critically important opportunity to shape the culture and promote positive values in the workplace, the marketplace, and beyond. While our federal government and others may argue that if you are in business, you have to abandon or hide your faith, as Christians, we know that our lives are not divided that way. Business owners and executives need to boldly operate their businesses in ways that reflect their Christian values, create space for religion in the workplace, and winsomely express their faith and the hope of the gospel.
And if they are challenged, they should call ADF so we can defend their right to freely live out their faith. Like Esther, we hope Christians in business recognize that our calling is not to survive the current era, but “for a time such as this” to be salt and light in the marketplace!
Since 1994, the Alliance Defending Freedom has provided $43M in legal support of >2,500 cases including landmark legal victories such as the Supreme Court cases Town of Greece v. Galoway (upholding right of prayer in government meetings) and the 2014 victory for Hobby Lobby/Conestoga Wood vs Burwell (struck down Obamacare mandate or employers to fund abortion-related products). In addition to direct litigation, ADF provides direct assistance to students, teachers, business owners, pastors, policymakers, and others who need legal advice on how to live out their faith or to advance faith affirming laws and policies. www.ADFLegal.org
Doug Napier is Senior Counsel, Executive Vice President and Chief Alliance Officer for the Alliance Defending Freedom, based out of Scottsdale, Arizona. Doug has a BBA in Finance from the University of Iowa, Masters in Biblical Studies from DTS and then his Juris Doctor from University of Iowa.
By: Mike Sharrow
Mike Sharrow is a co-owner for the C12 Group of Central Texas residing in San Antonio, Texas. He is active as a board member and advisor for Grace Point Church, Hand in Hand Foundation, Unicity San Antonio and 4Kids of South Texas. Mike and his wife Jacqui have two daughters: Elayna and Sophia. For more information, visit: www.C12CentralTX.com.