Confronting Fear With Truth

The Christmas holiday period opens up opportunities to share our faith with friends and acquaintances. Here is an excerpt from my book, “Believing Out Loud” which provides some helpful insights for overcoming our natural fear and reluctance:

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There is a giant in our midst. It stands over us. It bullies and intimidates us. It is the reason why many of us are so timid about sharing our faith with others. In its presence, our hearts palpitate, our palms become sweaty, and our words dry up. The giant has a name. Its name is fear.

The reason we sometimes do not speak up about our faith is not that we don’t want to. It’s not that we aren’t passionate about our beliefs. It’s not that we couldn’t be bothered. The reason why we often don’t verbalise our faith is because we are afraid. Fear is the bully that clamps our mouths shut and stops us from speaking about the beliefs and values that are most precious to us.

If we are going to conquer this giant, we must firstly face up to it and look it squarely in the eyes. We must examine it closely to see if it has any real substance. Because the thing about fear is that it is often amplified beyond all reasonableness by our own imaginations. And sometimes, it has no basis in reality at all. Rudyard Kipling once wrote:

“Of all the liars in the world, sometimes the worst are our own fears.”[1]

So, let us front up to this bully and examine it to see exactly what it is we are afraid of and what we can do about it. I want to suggest to you that there are three specific fears that intimidate Christians and silence their witness: the fear of being accused of intolerance, the fear of some kind of legal action or employment dismissal, and the fear of rejection.

Fear 1: Intolerance

Previously, I have shown that the accusation of intolerance that is sometimes levelled at people who are simply expressing their religious beliefs and values is a false accusation. It is based on a completely wrong understanding of intolerance, and those who make the accusation are, in fact, usually the ones who are guilty of it. So, while I can’t promise you that in speaking of your beliefs respectfully you won’t be accused of intolerance, I can assure you that it is an accusation that has no substance.

Surely, this realisation is a great comfort to us. While it does not dissolve this fear altogether, it diminishes its power over us. It removes the fear that we might be doing something wrong by speaking about our faith. I am convinced that many Christians are significantly intimidated by this particular fear, because it produces a doubt deep within them. They begin to question themselves: ‘Maybe I am being intolerant by expressing my beliefs. Maybe the people who are accusing me of intolerance are right. Maybe I am being hurtful and discriminatory by speaking about my faith.’

No, you are not. Expressing and defending your beliefs respectfully and sensitively is not intolerance; it is your right in a free and democratic society. Understanding the baseless nature of the accusation levelled against you removes its power to intimidate and paralyse you. It neutralises its ability to undermine your confidence. Truth does that. It conquers fear, or at least diminishes it to a level that we can deal with. Jesus said:

“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32)

Of course, Jesus was speaking of freedom from much more than just fear in this instance, but fear is certainly part of it. In our particular context, a proper understanding of the truth of the situation sets us free from fear by removing its power over us.

Fear 2: Legal Consequences

The second fear that now afflicts many Christians is the fear of possible legal or employment consequences if we actively share our faith. Are we still legally allowed to evangelise – to seek to convince and convert someone? I suspect that many Christians are now thoroughly confused about what they can and can’t say in various social and employment situations. Can I speak openly about my faith? Can I be prosecuted if I ask someone what they believe or if I share my own beliefs? Will I lose my job if I initiate a discussion about faith with someone at work?

Certainly, some employers and organisations are pushing to ban ‘religious’ discussions within their environment, and this can be a paralysing fear for many Christians. But as in other instances, the truth will set you free. The current consensus of legal opinion on this issue is very clear. An employer can only sack someone if they are guilty of harassment, and only after several warnings. The simple legal definition of harassment is “unwelcome conduct[2]. In the context of having a faith discussion with someone, it would only be regarded as “unwelcome” and, therefore, as harassment, if the other person had previously stated that they did not wish to talk with you about religion. In that case you are under a legal obligation to respect their request and no longer speak about faith with that person. If you persist in doing so under those circumstances, it can give an employer grounds for dismissing you.

But with that exception, an employer currently has no legal right to fire you for talking about your faith with people at work, provided doing so does not diminish productivity or negatively impact the business in some tangible way. In fact, as the law currently stands, no employer can forbid you from speaking about your religion, as that would be an infringement of your personal rights. It is also important to note that the law does not prohibit you from initiating a faith conversation with work colleagues or anyone else. You don’t have to wait to be asked; you can start the conversation yourself. Harassment only relates to unwelcome conduct, not unsolicited conversation. In his online article, “Can You Be Fired For Talking About Religion at Work?”,[3]solicitor David Yeremian states that with the exception of clearly documented harassment, the answer to the question of whether your employer can sack or reprimand you for speaking about your faith, is a clear and unequivocal “no”.

Of course, there have been a handful of cases, particularly in America, where Christians have been sacked for talking about their faith at work even though there has been no proven harassment. But in every instance at the time of writing, when these sackings have been tested in court, the sackings have been overturned and the employers have been found guilty of infringing the religious rights of the terminated employee.

Despite the legal situation which protects our right to speak about our faith, there are some employers who have attempted to prohibit a person’s right to discuss their faith at work by making the prohibition a condition of the employment contract. Chaplaincy in the Australian education system is a case in point. The various state education departments now specify in their chaplaincy employment contract that:

“A chaplain must not take advantage of their privileged position to proselytise, evangelise or advocate for a particular religious view or belief.”[4]

In other words, a chaplain is no longer allowed to try to convince someone to become a Muslim or a Christian or an adherent of any other religion. In fact, this nationally rolled out employment policy defines the role of the chaplain as:

“… supporting students and staff to create an environment that promotes the physical, emotional, social and intellectual development and wellbeing of all students.”[5]

Significantly, nowhere does this job description mention providing spiritual support. Indeed, the document specifically states that a chaplain may be “a person of any faith or no faith.”[6] In other words, faith is now apparently irrelevant to the job and faith discussions are not part of the role. In fact, they are expressly forbidden unless a chaplain is specifically invited to discuss faith by a student or staff member. And even then, the chaplain is forbidden to speak in such a way as to try to convince or convert a person.

This is a complex situation, because the employment contract that chaplains must now enter into actually infringes their statutory rights of freedom of religious expression. I have heard of other businesses and employers beginning to write similar clauses into their own employment contracts, forbidding faith discussions in the workplace. To date, I am not aware of any of these employment contracts being challenged in the courts, but it is possible they may not be legal. In Australia, the Fair Work Act states that it is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an employee because of their religion.[7] If it can be shown that speaking about one’s faith to others is an integral component of a person’s religion (as is the case in Christianity, with its core mandate to make disciples) then an employer would be in breach of the Act by prohibiting respectful and reasonable faith discussion in the workplace. In addition to this, no employer has the right to ban consentual discussions of faith in the lunch room or between two work colleagues during a designated work break. Your work breaks are your own time.

If you have been forced to sign an employment contract forbidding you to speak about your faith during work hours, I recommend that you get legal advice to clarify what your rights are. If you have not been forced to sign such an agreement – and this would be the case for most Christians – I can assure you that you have every legal right to speak openly about your faith in the workplace. Even if your employer has issued verbal warnings, sent emails or published notices forbidding the discussion of religion, they have no legal right to restrict your expression of beliefs in that way and they certainly have no power to dismiss or reprimand you. If an employer does threaten you with termination, you have clear legal grounds to defend yourself. So, be released from this fear.

Fear 3: Rejection

The first two fears that we have examined to this point – the fear of being accused of intolerance and the fear of possible legal or employment consequences – are not felt equally by all Christians. Those who do not need to attend a designated workplace and who spend their lives primarily mixing with friends and acquaintances may not be particularly troubled by these fears. For them, these fears are not intimidating bullies; they are merely a remote and troubling symptom of a society that is moving further away from God, but not something that is impinging directly and personally upon them.

But there is one giant that looms large for all of us: one fear that almost all Christians feel intensely and personally. It is the fear of rejection – the fear that if we speak about our faith, we will be met with a negative or hostile reaction. In our imaginations, we foresee all kinds of unfavourable responses. At the extreme end of the spectrum, we fear being abused or openly ridiculed. We fear offending people who might become angry and abusive toward us. At the more moderate end of the fear spectrum, but equally concerning, we worry that people might respond to our comments with superficial politeness or even feigned interest, while underneath writing us off as religious extremists. We fear that by being more forthright about our Christian faith we might permanently damage existing relationships, perhaps eliciting resentment from our friends who may feel that we have abused their friendship by seeking to convert them.

If you have felt these kinds of fears and concerns, you are not alone. This is a giant that hovers over most Christians, either bullying them into complete silence or intimidating them to the point where their verbal witness is so mild and innocuous that it is rendered essentially meaningless. Even the ‘experts’ feel this kind of fear. Well known street evangelist, Ray Comfort, makes this surprising admission:

“For more than forty-five years, I have regularly shared the gospel with people from all walks of life. Yet I still battle fear. I fear the initial approach. I fear rejection. The battle that I continually have with fear is very real; fear is an enemy that shadows my every move.”[8]

I can testify to experiencing the same fear. I have been speaking to people about Jesus for many decades and I still battle with this giant. But my own battle with fear has decreased significantly over the years because, as with the other two kinds of fear, my fear has been diminished by my encounter with reality. Truth has shrunk my fear.

What truth am I speaking of? I have made the surprising discovery that people are not as averse to talking about faith as my fear would have me believe. My fear is not matched by reality. Throughout my many decades of being a Christian, I can only recall a couple of times when I have been abused by someone for daring to broach the subject of ‘religion’ with them. And that abuse was not particularly traumatising. It occurred while I was doing some street witnessing several decades ago, and a couple of people simply told me to “#@%* off!” and kept walking. That was it!

In a 2016 survey of 2,000 unchurched people, Lifeway Research asked the participants if they would be open to having a conversation about faith with a Christian.[9] Here are the results:

  • 47% said they would be interested and would actively participate in the discussion.
  • 31% said they would happily listen but would only minimally participate.
  • 12% said they would discuss with some discomfort.
  • 11% said they would change the subject as soon as possible.

Does that surprise you? A whopping 78% of people said they were open to hearing a Christian share about their faith!

I haven’t witnessed to nearly as many people as street evangelists such as Ray Comfort probably have, but I have had enough faith discussions with people of all kinds to provide me with a fair sample. And I have discovered that the vast majority of people are more respectful of my faith than my fears would suggest.

Of course, in saying this, I am only speaking of face-to-face encounters with people. Conversations via social media, where people can remain unseen and anonymous, are another thing altogether. In that setting it is very likely that you will be occasionally abused and vilified if you speak up about your faith. People will say things to you under the cover of anonymity and distance that they would never dare say to your face. This social media animosity toward faith in general and Christianity in particular has increased demonstrably over recent years. So, if you are planning to make a Christian contribution on social media, you definitely need to ‘gird your loins’ and be prepared to take some personal hits.

But in face-to-face conversations about faith, most people will still show you respect even though they might disagree with your views. This is particularly true regarding people with whom you have an existing relationship. As a general rule, even if they have atheistic or secular views, your friends and work colleagues are just as reluctant to ruin the relationship as you are. Furthermore, if you broach the subject respectfully and you are living a godly life that reflects your Christian values, you will almost always be treated with dignity and respect. In the vast majority of cases, our fears in this regard are unfounded; they are not matched by the truth of the situation. Once again, the truth can set you free – set you free from the fear that threatens to stifle your witness and silence your voice.

Thus, in each of the three kinds of fear that we have examined – fear of being intolerant, fear of legal consequences and fear of rejection – our fears are significantly diminished when held up to the truth of the situation. A logical and factual analysis of reality reveals that our fears are grossly exaggerated and, in some instances, largely unfounded.

I believe a significant cause of our exaggerated and ungrounded fears is the spiritual warfare that we are involved in. The kingdom of God is actively and powerfully opposed by Satan and his demons – evil spiritual beings who are doing everything they can to nullify the effectiveness of our witness. And one of their chief weapons is fear. If they can’t convince you to abandon your faith, the next best thing is to get you to keep it to yourself. And their most effective means of doing this is through fear.

The spiritual forces of evil are not passive observers in all of this. They are not standing idly by, hoping that we will not share our faith. They are actively fanning the embers of our natural fears, fanning them into a blazing fire that consumes and paralyses us. There is a spiritual reason why our fears are often so exaggerated and groundless: it’s because we are in a spiritual battle! Thus, the Apostle Paul writes:

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12)

Paul then goes on to exhort us to arm ourselves with a number of weapons as we do battle with these spiritual forces. And strangely, the very first one he mentions, before talking about swords and shields and other obvious weapons, is the belt of truth:

“Therefore, put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist …” (Ephesians 6:13-14)

Really? We are going into battle and the first thing we need to arm ourselves with is a belt? Yes, really! Because it’s not just any old belt: it’s the belt of TRUTH. And truth is a powerful weapon in the spiritual battle because the devil is a liar. He deceives and distorts in order to undermine our faith and diminish our witness. And the best weapon to defeat lies is the truth. Obviously, the ultimate truth we are called to uphold and defend is the truth about Jesus, who is THE truth (John 14:6). But we are also called to open our eyes to ALL the lies of the evil one, and defeat those lies with truth.

What I am saying is that part of the reason we are so afraid to speak about our faith, is that there are spiritual forces of evil who are messing with our minds. The fear that we experience comes, at least partly, from the pit of hell itself. Being more consciously aware of this, ought to motivate us to stand against those fears; “to stand your ground” (Ephesians 6:13). It ought to fire us up. It ought to make us angry and determined to no longer be helpless victims in this spiritual battle. And the ultimate truth that will help us overcome the devil’s exaggerated fears and lies is the truth that Jesus is far more powerful than the enemy who is trying to intimidate us. 1 John 4 describes the evil spiritual forces which are seeking to intimidate and confuse us, but then gives us this powerful promise:

“You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” (1 John 4:4)

Hold onto that promise. Believe it and act upon it. It is the truth, and the truth will set you free.

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The above is an excerpt from my book, Believing Out Loud, available from smartfaith.net.

 

[1] Rudyard Kipling, The Phantom Rickshaw,

[2] David Yeremian, “Can You Be Fired for Talking About Religion at Work?”, Yeremianlaw.com

[3] David Yeremian, “Can You Be Fired For Talking About Religion at Work?”, Yeremianlaw.com

[4] “National School Chaplaincy Guidelines”, Victorian Department of Education, https://www.education.vic.gov.au/school/teachers/health/mentalhealth/Pages/nscpchaplaincy.aspx, accessed 23/2/2023

[5] “National School Chaplaincy Guidelines”, Victorian Department of Education, opp. cit.

[6] “National School Chaplaincy Guidelines”, Victorian Department of Education, opp. cit.

[7] Quoted in “Religion in the Workplace: What Can Employers Do?”, on ClinLegal website, https://www.clinlegal.com.au/religion-in-the-workplace-what-can-employers-do/ accessed 23/2/2023

[8] Ray Comfort, “Faith Is for Weak People”, Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition, p.18

 

[9] https://research.lifeway.com/2021/09/09/christians-dont-share-faith-with-unchurched-friends/