Christians the 'Butt of Jokes' at the Workplace, Uncomfortable Admitting They Go to Church: Study



St. Mary's Church at Woburn in southern England, May 15, 2015.
St. Mary's Church at Woburn in southern England, May 15, 2015. | (Photo: Reuters/Toby Melville)
A workplace office in this undated file photo.
A workplace office in this undated file photo. | (Photo: Reuters)
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A new study on British cultural attitudes at the workplace has found that religion has become the "butt of jokes," where workers who would not make sexist or racist jokes feel free to mock faith instead.

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The recently released ComRes study in question warned that as many as a million workers may have faced harassment, discrimination or bullying because of their religious beliefs, with some saying they're uncomfortable about mentioning they pray or go to church.

James Orr, a McDonald post-doctoral fellow in theology, ethics and public life at Christ Church, University of Oxford, told The Christian Post in a phone interview on Tuesday that he suspects the religious mocking is targeted toward Christians.

Orr, who last year wrote a report titled "Beyond Belief: Defending religious liberty through the British Bill of Rights," which was published by think tank ResPublica and analyzed the erosion of religious liberties in Britain, said that such targeting is "clearly a problem."

"On the other hand, the question of humor is not as clear cut as all that. I think if one is confident in one's belief, if one is confident in the truth of one's faith, one should be able to accommodate and put up with a bit of mocking and humor," he told CP.

"The one thing Christians should not do is turn to the same kind of touchy, highly intolerant and furious approach that many on the secular left tend to indulge in," he advised.

As Katie Harrison, director of ComRes Faith Research Center, told The Telegraph, the researchers "heard of people feeling upset that religion was the butt of jokes in a workplace where people have become much more aware about making disparaging comments about gender or disability."

One survey respondent said that in their office, "everyone is very respectful of minorities and would never be disparaging about women or people with disabilities, but when it comes to religion it's fair game."

ComRes did not break-down the religious category into which faiths are most targeted, but Orr said that Christians are likely being made fun of much more so than other religious groups.

"It is acceptable to mock Christianity, it is not acceptable to mock Islam" or other religions, he said, adding that elements of anti-Semitism also exist in British society.

What is more, he suggested that conservative Christians are bearing the brunt of workplace jokes.

"I suspect the jokes would be about views of marriage that up until five minutes ago everyone took for granted," he suggested, and said that in many people's minds, Christianity has come to equal bigotry, hostility to minorities, and other negative traits.

Orr, who in his "Beyond Belief" report criticized how the Equality Act 2010, meant to strengthen anti-discrimination laws and the rights of minorities, has been "weaponized" against Christians, said that the ComRes study exposes the challenges that lie ahead of believers.

"What it shows is that the problem is not only a legal problem, it's not a problem that a law could fix, or a government could fix, or a judge could fix. This is a cultural problem. And the reason it is a cultural problem is that it is driven by cultural forces," he continued.

He suggested that "ill-thought through depictions of Christianity" in culture are being driven by the mainstream media, in popular television programs, in songs, in the newspapers, and other sources.

Orr noted of some recent cases, such as Christian nurses being fired by the National Health Service for offering to pray with patients, as an example of why people at the workplace feel less free to talk about their faith.

"There is a point where culture fuses with legal mechanisms, legal machinery to produce a highly intolerant impact on Christian believers wanting the best for their fellow citizens," he said.

"It is hardly surprising in light of cases like that, that people are reluctant to even say that they go to church."

The ComRes study found that sometimes there are notable differences between what HR managers claim, and the reality of life for the workers.

As many as 92 percent of H.R. managers said people can talk openly about their personal beliefs or religious traditions, yet only 26 percent of employees said people in their workplace talk about their beliefs often or every now and again.

Orr said it's hard to blame any one particular sector for the growing hostility toward religion, particularly Christianity, but said those who are more likely to have issues with the expression of faith "tend to be those educated middle classes who voted to stay in the European Union, the so-called citizens of anywhere, the globalists, the internationalists."

"They treat religion as a kind of awkward anthropological phenomenon that needs to be dealt with through international conventions, through rights-based codes," he said.

"There is a kind of dominant misunderstanding as to what the life of a religious believer involves. Why they believe what they do about marriage, sexuality, gender, war, politics, and so on."

The ComRes study noted in its conclusions that in the area of religion and belief, work by the Equality and Human Rights Commission has found that "employers and employees, service providers and service users are often unclear about their rights and obligations."

It recommended things such as small focus groups, and technology to facilitate online and Skype discussions to "enable rapid progress and contribute to relational and collaborative work styles."

Follow Stoyan Zaimov on Facebook: CPSZaimov

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