Would I be honoring God by working at a secular organization?
However, I find myself struggling with the notion that if I do accept the job, the very purpose of my work as a planner in the college administration would be to further an organization with which I disagree on many issues. I ask myself, “Would I be honoring God by using my professional skills and talents for the benefit of an organization that advances un-biblical teachings, supports same-sex couples by providing them with health benefits and whose Health Services Center offers the ‘morning-after pill’ to female students”? Could this really be what God wants me to do with my life? What should win here, (a) my desire to serve God in a secular institution by being a Christian witness to unbelievers or (b) my desire to avoid dedicating my career to an un-godly organization?
My first suggestion would be to reconsider your assumptions. There may be a lot of opportunities to witness at a Christian college! Not everyone who attends a Christian college is Christian; many nonbelieving students choose Christian colleges just for the education, or because they are looking for a small community. Some Christian colleges have also drifted from their mission, and need to get back on course. Perhaps you could help that happen.
My second suggestion would be to make some distinctions. You’re right to avoid what theologians call “formal cooperation” with evil. Formal cooperation takes place when you share in the sinful purpose of the wrongdoer, and it is always immoral. You would be guilty of formal cooperation if the college development chief proposed to raise money for the college by robbing banks, and you agreed to drive the getaway car — or if the Atheist Studies Center needed a director of outreach, and you took the job.
But consider a different example. Someone offers you a position as a library administrator. Are you formally cooperating with evil merely because atheist and Christian books are mixed on the library shelves? It’s true that your actions help allow the atheist books to circulate, but that’s not at all your aim. This is called “remote material cooperation” with evil — “material” because you aren’t sharing in a sinful purpose, “remote” because any connection with evil is indirect.
Remote material cooperation is not necessarily immoral, though it can be. After all, even buying a quart of milk might be considered remote material cooperation with evil, because for all you know, the checkout clerk might be planning to use her salary to get drunk. Does that mean you have to swear off grocery stores? Of course not.
Here’s how to judge wisely. Remote material cooperation can sometimes be justified — but only if there is a strong offsetting reason for it (theologians usually call this a “proportionate” reason), and only if your action does not cause others to fall into sin by your example (theologians usually call this “scandal”). You can see that both conditions are satisfied in the grocery store example. Both are satisfied in the library example too. In the first place, there are at least four strong offsetting reasons to work there: Reading and reflection in general should be encouraged, you want people to read the library’s Christian books, people who develop arguments against atheism need to study the opposition and the banning of atheist books wouldn’t encourage atheists to believe in God anyway — it would only encourage them to pretend. In the second place, working in the library is unlikely to cause others to fall into sin by example: Most people understand the purposes of libraries perfectly well, and would not be morally harmed just by seeing you shelve an atheist book.
What about this case? Suppose you take a job as abortion referral manager at the campus health center, defending your action by saying, “I am personally opposed to abortion, but …” Theologians call this sort of action “implicit” formal cooperation with evil. Although it may seem to be different than formal cooperation, that’s actually just what it is, because your purpose cannot be meaningfully distinguished from promoting abortion. The difference is merely empty words. Formal cooperation with evil is every bit as wicked whether it’s implicit or explicit.
The bottom line is that you have to consider the purposes of the college as a whole, the purposes of the unit in which you would work and finally the nature of your work there. If taking the job would involve you in formal cooperation with evil, then you can’t take it. If it would involve you only in remote material cooperation with evil, then you might be justified in taking it, but only if there are strong offsetting reasons for doing so and only if doing so would not cause others to fall into sin by your example.
I didn’t say it was easy.
Grace and peace,
Copyright 2005 Professor Theophilus. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Professor J. Budziszewski is the author of more than a dozen books, including How to Stay Christian in College, Ask Me Anything, Ask Me Anything 2, What We Can’t Not Know: A Guide, and The Line Through the Heart. He teaches government and philosophy at the University of Texas, Austin.