NASA, David Coppedge and evangelism at the office

There’s a trial in progress alleging NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory demoted and then fired computer specialist David Coppedge for promoting his views on intelligent design.

None of us can know what really went on at the JPL offices, to know how or how often Coppedge brought up the topic. It’s equally possible he did so from a position of humility and grace as with an agenda of self-righteousness. Since we can’t know that and the trial likely won’t explain the spirit of his evangelism, I have a related question: how can a Christian be a Christian, right where they are, and make their faith known without honking off the people around them?

I believe the Bible offers a few models.

Follow Paul and know your audience.

If you are called to the ministry of people who are far from God, you need to know them. They will get to know you in their own time. It’s very easy to stand on a street corner with a placard reading “Repent” or perhaps something less dignified and more accusatory. Anyone can wield a Sharpie and some poster board on a stick. However, consider the way the Apostle Paul approached his audience. He lived where they lived. He worked where they worked. He knew their language and their customs, even though he was a Jew. He knew their business, and he knew their gods. Then, when the opportunity arose, he was able to speak to them from meaningful and useful common ground.

Follow Peter and know your Gospel.

The meta-narrative of Scripture is important and of course critical to a deep understanding of who God is and who you are in relation to Him. Peter’s sermon at Pentecost, however, focuses on two things: who is Jesus and what happened. Peter did not spend his few moments explaining the full scope of the Pentateuch and the lineage of Jesus from Adam to Joseph, but nails it down to Jesus - a man who proved himself with miracles and was proved by God when He raised Jesus from the dead. At the same time, it’s important to remember that Peter was speaking to an audience of faithful Jews in the temple. These were people who knew the scriptures he referenced. Peter was preaching to the choir.

Follow Jesus and know how to love.

Jesus was kind and loving to those who were hurting. Jesus was confrontational in many situations. He told off religious leaders. He told people to stop sinning. Once he even did both at the same time when the leaders brought him an adulterous woman. He told the woman to stop her behavior, but first he made sure she knew he loved her and didn’t condemn her. When faced with someone who is hurting themselves and others, follow Jesus’ lead and love without avoiding and confront without condemning.

Follow John the Baptist and know who needs to repent.

Likewise, John the Baptist spent his ministry career calling God’s chosen people to repentance. He was not reaching out to a Gentile audience but was preparing the way for the Messiah; for Jesus to come to His own people. John picked on Herod because he was supposed to be the example as the ruler of the Jews. He called out people who were supposed to know better, and not people who were not connected to God.

While we can’t know how David Coppedge spoke to his NASA coworkers, we can approach our own coworkers, neighbors and friends in ways that are meaningful and beneficial. Let’s focus on the things that are important when we get the chance to share the Gospel. Let’s be sure to actively love people and bring them into a closer relationship with Christ. Finally, let’s keep our signs and banners for change inside the church where they can do some good.

What Do You Think?

  • What are appropriate ways to share your faith at work?
  • What experiences have you had either sharing your faith or having a coworker share theirs in the workplace?

 

Comments (5)

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I wouldn't want to push my religion on others in a work environment. If I make people uncomfortable, it isn't like they can just leave.

But I wouldn't want to hide the fact that I'm a Christian because it is a part of who I am. Everybody else is encouraged to embrace their identity, so why should this be different? If I were to discuss Christianity with people it would flow out of talking about my own personal life.
Brian,

You've made very fine points about biblical models for sharing one's faith in public.

But I wonder, in the case of this particular trial, if it's right to equate Coppedge's behavior with evangelism. Certainly that may have been his intention, but there is a critical distinction between one being a proponent of ID and one having Christian faith. Both are distinct and neither necessitates the other.

Yet, it seems from the article you've linked to that the issue in the trial is, first, his advocacy of ID and, second, religious discrimination. The latter seems far more defensible to me then the former as, being self described as a scientific position, it is not subject to the same protections.

Perhaps, ironically, Coppedge would be better served by claiming ID is indeed his religious belief. One cannot be fired for one's religious belief, but a scientist can be dismissed on scientific grounds for professionally promoting views that are considered unscientific---if such promotion affected work performance.

js
I would think the other aspect is simply to know your job. We are known (and trusted) by how we live publicly, that is what gives warrant to our convictions and testimony. They know us first, trust us, then listen to us.

As to the Coppedge case, it appears that he had been outspoken in ways that created distance between himself and his colleagues (e.g. rename the holiday party a Christmas party, vocal in defense of Prop 8). It's this aspect that others should follow, this aspect of advocating derivative Christian positions as it were, that creates the distance and has others not trusting, not wiling to listen. In a workplace, task focus is important. The workplace is a community, and in that community we witness differently than we do in other aspects of our lives.
Exactly what I'm talking about - it's the difference between having a lit candle on your desk vs running around in the office with a torch. I'm exaggerating of course.
Thanks Jason!
I'm sure you see that I'm using the term "evangelism" loosely here to describe what Coopedge may or may not have done. We simply don't know the full context nor content of what he said or did. I simply used it as the launching pad (ooohh... NASA reference!) for my points on sharing faith at work.
Your points about science or religion do ring true. If Coppedge was including his thoughts on ID in conversations where he was expressing his faith, he's got a legitimate claim. However, It wasn't my goal to really address the lawsuit, but rather promote Biblical models for sharing our faith.

 

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