Christians face 'soft discrimination' in Silicon Valley: CEO Peter Rex

Peter Rex | The Christian Post

“There is discrimination against Christians in Silicon Valley.”

Peter Rex doesn’t want to give the wrong impression that followers of Jesus aren’t welcome in the capital of high technology and innovation in Northern California.

For Rex, the founder and CEO of an Austin-based tech and real estate firm by the same name, it’s much more subtle than that.

In an interview with The Christian Post, Rex said while overt discrimination in Silicon Valley is rare, there is a level of “soft discrimination," where one thing is said in private and another in public.

“That doesn’t mean there are no Christians in Silicon Valley,” he said. “There are Christians, definitely, and they are respected. There are a lot of people that respect them.

“But generally, there is an atmosphere of soft discrimination against them, which is a real thing, and it’s unique to Christianity, I’d say, but also to people of faith,” he explained, adding that he believes Orthodox Jews also face similar treatment.

He said it’s also more likely to occur behind closed doors, where most people feel it’s safer to share their views.

“It’s not to their face, they’ll do it behind the scenes when the person leaves the room,” he said. “They've done it to me, too, when it’s not someone who’s a Christian … they’ll say, ‘No to that guy’ or negative stuff. I know that they do the same thing to me. 

“That’s the type of discrimination we’re talking about.”

Rex knows a thing or two about matters of faith: the road to success in the real estate and tech space didn’t run directly through Silicon Valley, but rather took a detour with a brief stint in the Catholic priesthood.

As a young man growing up in upstate New York, he recalled helping carry groceries for local families. 

“I got this in my head of serving people fairly young for this reason, and I’m sure it’s partly my upbringing,” said Rex, who grew up Irish Catholic in what he described as a “typical middle class, working class-type upbringing in America.”

So coming out of high school, Rex said he was fueled by the thought of “I gotta serve people; I gotta go all in somehow.”

While that led Rex to entertain the thought of going into seminary, the idea was ultimately short-lived.

“Long story short, that did not work out,” he said. “As much as I am idealistic in that regard, I’m also extremely unruly, so I don’t take orders well from anybody. ... That’s just the way I’m wired.”

But while Rex’s foray into the priesthood didn’t pan out, things took a very different — and more prosperous — turn after graduating from Georgetown University in 2005.

He began working in construction at 18 years old while attending community college and purchased his first property shortly after graduating from Georgetown.

Sleeping in vacant units and handling all the maintenance to preserve capital, Rex continued to run the business while completing Harvard Law and earning his CPA to boot.

Then came the Great Recession — what Rex called simply an “unpleasant surprise.”

“For a while, I couldn’t talk to people about the experience because it was almost like a bit of PTSD, where I’d almost feel like I was back in the moment,” he recalled.

Taking on a lot of debt during his first year at Harvard Law in ‘05 — just as the economy was getting “boiled too hot by debt” — Rex said, like so many other investors, he was facing an “untenable” situation that “could not continue.”

“I came out more or less broke, but that felt great because I went from basically borderline teetering on bankruptcy to broke, and that left me with … ‘OK, what did I do wrong?” he said.

Ultimately, Rex scaled the company to $2 billion in assets and more than 500 employees, and it was recognized as one of Fortune’s Top 20 Places to Work.

Looking back, the challenges of that season taught Rex several key lessons that he said he still uses in the investing side of business.

“First of all, it humbled me. That’s key, you gotta have humility,” he said. “You gotta match your level of courage, maximal courage, with humility, and additionally, you gotta be persevering in whatever you do.”

Navigating the gauntlet of business decisions, however, also requires making decisions that, in retrospect, turn out to be mistakes. Rex compared that learning curve to the biblical story of David and Bathsheba, which involved a number of mistakes that ultimately brought about the life of Solomon. 

“A lot of Christian thinking informs how you approach life. Where evil abounds, good abounds all the more, right?” said Rex. “God takes our stupid moves and does something good out of it.”

It’s that very faith, Rex added, that informs how he does business.

“I draw from … my faith, from my prayer life, to empower how I envision how we’re going to do great in the world through our businesses, and I think it’s going to add a lot more shareholder value in the long run, it’s going to make a lot more money in the long run,” he said.

“I have no problem with that either. That’s also very good. Now, I don’t worship money, that would be bad. Money is a terrible master, but it’s a great slave. It’s something subordinated to us.”

Admittedly, Rex said, his faith isn’t something he wears on his sleeve, particularly when it comes to business. 

He recalled one experience in San Francisco when he was trying to build a team and encountered some surprise about his beliefs.

“What would happen, people would come in my company, and then many months down the road, they would just be shocked that I’m Christian,” he said.

When they would react, Rex said he would think, “Wow, I’m surprised how much of a bigot you are” — so much so he became more intentional and transparent about being a Christian, even going so far as to use “@servingjesusinbusiness” as his social media handle at one point.

“Why do I do that? Because it’s a deterrent, they know where I stand, so if you are a bigot against Christians, we're not gonna get along,” he explained. “If you’re a bigot against anybody, we’re not getting along.”

He also pushed back against the stereotype of Christians as “uneducated or stupid,” pointing to the history of academia throughout the U.S. and Europe, including Oxford University being founded by Franciscan monks, Thomas Aquinas teaching at the University of Paris, and the first medical universities being founded in Genoa.

Today’s anti-Christian bigotry, Rex added, is the result of too many being simply uninformed.

“They don’t understand how much Christianity has done,” he said. “Most of the breakthrough innovation has come from what they call the West. What is the West? Christendom.

“They just don’t understand that when they think a Christian is uneducated or stupid, they’re actually the ones that are a bit uneducated, and they don't understand that Christianity is the most open ideology. Period,” he said. 

After traveling to over 100 countries, Rex said he always makes it a point to visit religious centers in various places to learn about that nation’s religious practices, whether they’re Hindu, Muslim or otherwise.

Yet none of them, said Rex, compare to the unique calling of Christ.

“We are told to love our enemies, never mind love your neighbor as yourself, but love your enemy,” he said. “That’s the most extreme form of love … so love those who hate you? I mean, what? That’s crazy talk. That’s not found anywhere else.

“This type of thinking is not found anywhere in the world. It comes from Jesus Christ. That’s it …. and it has changed the game.”

Ian M. Giatti is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at:

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