Is it OK to use my work resources for the church or is that stealing?

Several people came up to Jesus and asked him questions: “Who is my neighbor?” for instance, and “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” Jesus pointed the first man toward overcoming the hatred between Jews and Samaritans! He pointed the other toward selling all he had and giving the money to the poor! I think many people quickly decided to stop asking him questions! Maybe you don’t dare, either — not really, at least.

I think the vast majority of people who stopped asking would be like American Christians, at least a lot of them, who still won’t care for their neighbors (especially if they don’t share their “identity”) and certainly would not even consider impoverishing themselves to care for “the poor” as a class of people. How many times have I heard, with a laugh, “Be careful what you ask God, you might get an answer!”

So why do we keep asking so many questions?

We keep bravely asking because we have the freedom to do so. That is, we have freedom to ask any question we want if we live in the “tier one” of Paul’s thinking, as our new nomenclature identified last year. We exercise our freedom in Christ when we ask whatever question we want and do not fear what we will hear in reply. What can happen to us, now that Christ has set us free?

When the question in the title was asked on our Leadership Team Survey, I don’t think it came from such freedom. I don’t know, because it was anonymous, but I don’t think so. I think It probably came from “tier two” thinking where things are a bit murkier than the confident faith of tier one. That’s OK. Probably the majority of us are working toward forming a container that is settled enough to receive the content the Spirit of God wants to pour into it. It takes a lot of development to resonate with revelation. That development  includes asking some questions that might result in answers that reorient our entire lives!

We also keep asking questions because we have no idea what we are doing much of the time. We need help figuring out how to be alive, much more how to be alive in the Spirit! There are no “dumb” questions. The word “dumb” developed into meaning “stupid,” you know. It started with “mute” or “unable to speak” and, by extension “disabled.” Maybe dumb should really mean “unable to ask a question!” We try to accept every tiny question we or someone has because we know we are all seeking and developing. What’s more, we know God became tiny and humble in order to hear and bear all our questions and to assure us anything that confuses or troubles us will always be heard and carried.

So what is the answer to the question?

As with most questions, there were a lot of answers our team explored last week. And even though this question seems like a simple one, just like the questions people thought Jesus would simply answer, the question set off some lively, instructive dialogue at our Leadership Team meeting.

The simple answer is: If you employer thinks using company supplies for personal uses is stealing, then yes, it is stealing. Ask her for some paper for personal use and see what she says. If he gives you reason to think he doesn’t mind, then no, it is not stealing. The general implication is that things belonging to other people are used for the purposes they design. But another implication would be that you would not know their designs unless you ask them.

This answer breaks down a bit, however, when it comes to intangible resources, like time or thoughts, which are the things we mainly sell to our employers these days. It would not be surprising that an employer acted as a slave-owner who behaves as if they own you, not just the paper supplies. They would never say this, of course, but they might behave as if they own all our time and resources. The partner in the law firm is in St. Lucia, but you are supposed to work 80 hours a week to do what is assigned. You are otherwise booked, but you must come into work if called. Some employers might fire you if you call your sick mother on company time.

This sense of ownership might extend to what we think! If you violate the political or religious sensibilities of some employers, they might fire you, even though that’s illegal in many cases. So some people might be afraid to use their money for things other than what their employer desires (or for anything a prospective employer might desire in a new employee). Even if an employer actually assumes people need to care for other people than company employees during the work day, you might not even ask if you could do it and just wait until the end of the workday to care because you assume the principle is: the employer owns my time and thoughts during work hours (and maybe all the time!).

Does paying you entitle the employer to police your time and thoughts as if your personhood were part of the resources they have? Are you stealing if you make a phone call? Write an email? Take a break for a church, school or community meeting? Call in sick because you are sick of not being at the retreat day the church has planned outside your two-week vacation allotment?

I think the tangibles are easy. Don’t take manila folders unless you ask. But the intangibles are not. I am very “liberal” about the intangibles, since I expect you will do your job with excellence and, at the same time not become “slaves of men” (as Paul says). So your employer is going to get more than their money’s worth, and you are going to be free. Serving a master so Jesus is glorified is a strategy only a free person can apply.

Moral questions are a good place to start

One reason I thought this was a good question for our Leadership Team dialogue is that it is a moral question. Morals are concerned with the principles of right and wrong behavior and the goodness or badness of human character. We are regularly (as in every week, at least) faced with someone’s moral issues around Circle of Hope. People have been known to leave the church because of them. The questions Jesus was asked were deeply moral questions from moral people brave enough to ask them. Most beginners are confronted with questions like them all day, if they are actually growing into true selves. We need to ask them.

But let’s be honest. Moral questions are not the ultimate questions. Jesus was regularly accused of being immoral, himself, and was killed for being a lawbreaker, wasn’t he? So there is something to think about when we ask moral questions seeking to get things right. Nevertheless we will ask them, because how we have sex, how we eat, how we share, how we talk, how we raise children, how we think and so behave are all moral issues. If we don’t leap at them to satisfy our own curiosity, someone else will probably leap for us (just watch Fox vs. MSNBC).

Unfortunately, I think most believers are probably more comfortable with questioning how we use work resources than they are asking how the Spirit is leading regardless of how our enslavers dominate us. But we have to start somewhere!  Let’s keep asking, and hope someone who is farther along the way is around to help us hear the answers. Thank God, the resurrected Lord is around and our questions often lead us directly to a deeper relationship with him.

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