Political Correctness in the Workplace Part II

Dear Rabbi Daniel and Susan,

Well, last week’s answer to the Ask the Rabbi question about an employee being directed to use a co-worker’s pronoun of choice caused more controversy than just about any previous answer. That isn’t surprising because it touched a nerve.

Any alert Bible-believer is aware that currently there is a strong attempt to marginalize, condemn and, dare we say, destroy traditional faith and its adherents in the United States. As such, people are aware that if a similar dilemma hasn’t accosted them at work yet, down the road it most likely will.

Can we respond to some of the points raised and elaborate on our answer?

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

Dear Ask the Rabbi readers,

First of all, we must thank you for sharing your views and interacting with us and your fellow readers in the comments section. We disappointed some of you and pleased others and a few of you accused us of not being clear enough. 

We plead guilty to the last charge. As always, we know no more than our Ask the Rabbi questioner tells us. We do not contact the writer personally and conduct a lengthy interview. So, we are always in the dark as to many important aspects of the person’s life. In this case, we have no idea what William’s field of work is, what his position is and what family or other responsibilities he has. We have no idea if he has other work options or not. When you accept employment you surrender a certain independence in return for a pay check. While each of us can make decisions to act on principle no matter the cost, we did feel it would be irresponsible for us to tell William to behave in a way that had a good probability of causing him to lose his job. We can think of questions where that might be our duty—but the point we wanted to get across is that we do not see this as one of those cases.

What might be a harder question? If a doctor or nurse was told that their job was on the line if they did not perform an abortion or participate in an operation mutilating someone who wants to get rid of body parts that identify his or her sex, he or she would have a very serious moral and religious question to ask. If one of William’s female co-workers is told to go on a business trip and share a room with the person who now calls himself a woman despite his DNA showing him to be a man, she would have a very serious moral and religious question to ask. If a teacher is told that he or she needs to teach immoral and anti-Biblical ideas to students, he or she has a serious question to ask. Even in those extreme cases we are phrasing our answer somewhat ambiguously and we’d like to tell you why.

We work within the Jewish system. In that system, complex questions with great ramifications do not get answered en-masse. For example, when our mother was in the hospital in a coma, there were decisions the family had to make. Medicine can do a great deal today, some of which is incredibly life-saving and life-enhancing and some of which is extreme and causes additional problems. We, like other Torah-observant Jewish families in similar situations, worked hand-in-hand with a rabbi who specializes in medical issues. There are only a dozen or so such rabbis in the world today.

Even if friends of ours had gone through what looks to us like an identical situation, we would not have relied on, “Well, this is what they were advised,” to make our own decisions. Each case has its unique and distinct details and needs in-depth analysis. When we were leading a synagogue and someone approached us with a question of the same sort, we “moved up the chain” to get a response from one of these “medical specialist” rabbis. In other words, you cannot find the answer to vital and serious questions by perusing Google or asking even a wise and learned person who is not immersed in that specific area of knowledge. You certainly can’t get the answer in our Ask the Rabbi column. Risking your source of income is a vital and serious issue.

We would like to address some of your specific concerns, especially the question as to whether addressing a person by a name that doesn’t match reality is lying. Those wonderful people who care for Alzheimer’s patients give advice to “embrace the patient’s reality.” If your father with Alzheimer’s asks when his wife will visit and she has been dead for fifteen years, they do not recommend explaining that fact to your father. Rather, they suggest answering something along the lines of, “Mom isn’t able to come now. Why don’t we take a walk in the garden.” If he gets very agitated you could say that Mom might come tomorrow. You aren’t lying to your father, you are meeting him in his state of confusion.

It is not a coincidence that as our world moves defiantly away from a God-centered view, depression, anxiety and confusion are increasing. Meeting individuals with warmth and respect is completely separate from agreeing with their false ideas. It is worlds apart from giving up on the political front and not doing our utmost to keep out of power those who want to bully and terrorize religious individuals. We encourage everyone to contribute to organizations like the Alliance Defending Freedom which works tirelessly to defend Americans who are punished for acting in accord with their traditional Christian and Jewish beliefs. (Of course, we hope you support us at the American Alliance of Jews and Christians as well as we work on strengthening the culture.)

We would add that a lie is defined as something in which someone is misled. If I use  a pronoun as instructed by my supervisor, in most cases, there is nobody at my workplace who will say, “Wow, so I guess old Fred really is now Fern.” People’s minds are largely made up on this subject. If this makes you uneasy, by all means quit and find another job with like minded people if you can, but that is different from being required to lose your job.

We did mention in one response to a comment that there are three instances where Jews actually have to be willing to die rather than transgress. There are obviously complexities to each of these instances, but here are the three. If you’re threatened with death unless you publicly denounce your faith in God and worship an idol, we have to stand tall and say, “Pull the trigger.” If we are threatened with death unless we have sex with a married woman, or a man with a man or many other Biblically prohibited sexual relationships, we have to stand tall and say, “Pull the trigger.” If we are threatened with death unless we murder an innocent human being we have to stand tall and say, “Go ahead, pull the trigger.”

If the culture continues moving in the wrong direction, then we will each have to decide when and where to draw a line in the sand. We do think the ensuing discussion to last week’s Ask the Rabbi question highlighted the importance of this fact. While we weren’t able to respond to each issue raised, we hope this makes clearer why we stand by our decision not to tell William that he was under a moral and/or religious obligation to make this his moment.

With gratitude to you all,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

27 thoughts on “Political Correctness in the Workplace Part II”

  1. As I imagined myself in the same situation and the possibility of reaching a better solution than herein advised, the best solution I could think of was one which involved asking to be met half-way with their own compromise. Alas, this thought seemed too ridiculous. I don’t know, perhaps so ridiculous it just might be taken seriously these days!

    However, I really don’t suppose there would be any agreement that, instead of the terms ‘he’ or ‘she’, I would be afforded the use of my own preferred terms, “herm” and “shim,” even if they are just from my imagination. No, I could not come up with any better counsel than that already offered.

  2. Susan Lapin is wrong again and again. At least recommendation of quitting his job had to be made!
    That is different than instructed obligation that one must quit, I agree. But lack of clarity that you personally recommend him or not should be condemned.

    And since this all is public, I believe that Susan Lapin too is responsible for why the line in the sand is less visible and pushed through.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Allow me this point, Ivan,
      Before we even go into the merits, I just wanted to let you know that it wasn’t Susan who you feel is wrong. It was her and me. We work together and collaborate on most everything we publish.
      That said, I will add that we discourage the tendency of many good and religious people to see value in going down in flames. The Bible does not all upon us to die in suicidal and empty gestures. Losing a needed job is like going down in flames. The alternative is not so horrible; none of us is so pure that we cannot withstand a little inconsistency. I will always be polite and generous even to those I despise. Is that wrong? Of course not. Complying with official corporate policy and being polite to that sick co-worker is fine. No need to immolate oneself in a frenzy of piety.

      1. I am hoping Ivan recognizes that even though he was horribly rude (to your wife!!! I am sooo sorry!) you treated him as if he were a gentleman in need of some clarity?
        Is that much different than being polite, or even better kind, to the sexually confused coworker in question?
        Thank you Rabbi and Susan Lapin for not just sharing your wisdom with us but putting it into action for us to see.

  3. Dear Rabbi and Susan,

    At first I did agree with the advise given and thought no further of it but this second posting has given me opportunity to revisit what I think the underlying issue might be here, and that is moral dilemma of aiding in the furtherance of a poser’s objective. A poser being defined as one who is not what one appears to be, we can’t know the full extend to the outcome of their ruse. Is it for a better lot of suitors from to choose from for matrimony? Certainly this could be a possibility.

    And so, if it weren’t for other than that we could simply trust the morality of the confused subject to fully divulge their gender history to any and all suitors, before accepting proposal, I do understand the reluctance to even pretend to cooperate with this fanciful notion that any he has now become a she. I couldn’t agree, though, that it is in any way fitting that anyone should lose his livelihood for refusing to submit to this misdirected government decree.

  4. Alessandro Mecle

    Dear Rabbi and Mrs Lapin, was a pleasure to read both texts. Just after I finished the first I realized the role of the wisdom to understand the world. When there are many things to consider, to make distinctions is important. Without wisdom grounded in a milenar tradition, we miss the nuances. And we cannot afford to live without dealing with complexities. Things are seldom black and white, even when we wish they were and think they should be.
    If life was black and white, wisdom would not be required.

    1. “If life was black and white, wisdom would not be required.” How very true, Alessandro.

  5. Thank you for the follow-up. It is amazing how you bring together people of all kinds of backgrounds around God. We must be grateful to be able to have this open conversation.

    Wouldn’t using the wrong pronoun be hypocrisy though? Williams co-workers wouldn’t know if he really believed what he was saying or he was doing it only out of fear of losing his employment. You are right that likely he would not be misleading anyone regarding that person’s real gender. But wouldn’t he be misleading his co-workers about what he himself believes is the truth, what his faith teaches to be the truth?

    Furthermore, if it is obvious that he truly doesn’t believe what his lips are saying (perhaps his intonation gives it away or nonverbal cues, etc.) then his co-workers could say “Look at that William. He claims to be a Christian but he practices his faith only when it suits him. I guess we cannot trust them for they are truthful only when they are not risking anything.” If the man in question finds his intonation offensive then William might land in some hot water regardless of his use of the designated pronoun.

    In my country most people can relate many stories where nobody in the room believed what they were saying. But they still did it – out of fear. So great was the fear that parent’s couldn’t speak openly in the presence of their children. Many people sacrificed their comfort and worked grueling jobs in the countryside since any sort of serious careers required being part of the Communist Party with all that it entails. When fear takes over then there is no easy way back. Indeed one could argue that Soviet Union collapsed when the fear of what could happen in the future was not much worse than what already was present.

    I wish from all my heart for you all in the Western countries the courage to not let fear take over. Thank you Rabbi and Susan for teaching us the tools and practices of how to live a virtuous life with God.

  6. Rabbi Daniel and Susan, thank you so much for your wisdom and knowledge of God’s language. I enjoy watching your daily programs and learn so much about the deeper meaning of God’s Word. So many now say the Old Testament is just that old….and we should not follow it. But, we need to know what it says in order to understand the New Testament. The united Methodist Church is in turmoil right now because the hierarchy (Bishops, Pastors, Leaders) do not adhere to the fact that God’s Word is what God meant and God does not change. You are right, Susan…..things will get harder/worse before people learn to draw that line and say ” Pull that Trigger”. GICamps are hurting so many in the process of trying to get everyone to follow culture and not God…..so are many, many churches.

    1. Judy, I think things are reorienting all over the place, for good and for bad, as what used to be accepted as “leadership” is being questioned.

  7. Thank you for the further clarification. I accepted your last answer, but it was educational and helpful to see the thought process spelled out. Bless you.

  8. This is a very satisfying answer! And y’all (I am a Southern woman) gave us some great take away lines such as, “as our world moves defiantly away from a God centered view” and “stand tall and say “pull the trigger.”
    (My husband is going to wonder where l got that line.)
    I’m reading this while sipping my hot tea and getting ready to prepare for the day by applying makeup and doing something with my curly hair which this hot, humid, muggy Georgia weather turns into a mess as soon as l step outside my door. Talk about lying to the world, this 70 year old can do no less because l don’t want to frighten the children. LOL.
    I look forward to stepping into the world of youth and confusion because l am armed with Ancient Jewish Wisdom. Best regards my Rabbi Lapin and Susan Lapin.

  9. Thank you for extending your response to last week’s discussion and expanding on why you responded in the way you did.

    Wishing you a great week moving forward!

    1. The response to last week’s column begged for further elucidation, Cam. Thanks for appreciating it.

    1. I’m afraid it is only going to get crazier, Shawn, before there is enough pushback to restore society.

  10. As always your words always have a deeper explanation. There is always a ‘story behind every story’ & with wisdom you unwrap Ancient Jewish Wisdom. Thank you for tackling the tough issues.

  11. Kathryn L Soderberg

    Thank you both for the clarification. When I initially read this question, I thought if I were in this same position, I would resign. However, as you pointed out, we do not know the writer’s situation or circumstances. He may not have as many options as I do. I have an advanced degree with licensure and a good deal of experience. Additionally, I live in a large metropolitan area. There is a high demand for clinical social workers. In fact for one reason or another, I seem to change jobs every 3 years. So while resigning is a simple answer for me, it may not be realistic for others.

    I enjoy reading your column.

  12. I totally agree with your answer.

    I want to add that I’m currently training for a temporary government position and part of the training is reviewing the federal laws on discrimination.

    If your mgmt informs you that a coworker’s gender has changed and you do not call the person by their chosen gender, you can be terminated for the refusal, if the employee files a complaint.

    In case anyone was wondering.

    1. I commented twice on the previous post to this two part Q&A. You’re correct, Mary, that one can get “canned” if he or she does not follow the standard government requirements while working with others. It’s a fine line to walk and, I think, it’s a good way to exercise creativity. Others are also not allowed to trample on your rights.

      I often ask cashiers when I am making a purchase, “How has your day been?” I get a lot of answers and it fascinates me. Sometimes, some very sad things happen to folks during their day…car crash on their way to work, lost something, a child was ill, or they were called in because someone didn’t show up.

      I’m sensitive when I see a man or a woman looking as if he or she has been on some drugs, has many piercings and many tattoos. I often wonder why people spend money on those things, but it’s relatively common in many circles. Personally, I don’t care for tattoos or piercings so I find them to be unattractive (I also find most dyed hair to be the same way.) I just like more natural looks on people.

      However, these are my tastes and others are entitled to theirs. I have not allowed this dislike of looks to affect my desire to engage with people. I often leave small conversations feeling very good about the exchanges. I’d rather cooperate together to be able to support good causes and I think it’s important to know when to stand firm.

      Our extended family turned on my family 20 years ago because we thought that gay priests were a bad idea. I consider the things that we said, I read some letters recently because our 21 year old son was speaking to us about them, to be calm and collected but firm. I do not regret standing up, but our family members have now attended gay weddings and have celebrated abortion. The division was not our goal, but the others will have nothing to do with us as we will not celebrate the anti-Biblical lifestyles with them. Go figure.

      1. Shawn, voters elect those in government -well, aside from appointees who are a real problem. It amazes me that there are still people who sit out Election Day when so much is at stake.

    2. When the government decided faith-based hospitals receiving Medicare payments must perform abortions to continue receiving them, Catholic hospitals everywhere said, no, we will close down first. The government then backed off. If enough people say, no, I will not do that. Policies will also change to reflect the notion as well. Can you imagine being asked to share a room at a conference event as a woman with a so-called woman still with man parts? I think the reaction the Lapins got was rightly received. Some folks are not buying what the larger culture is pushing. I don’t want to die on the hill of pronouns, but I feel done with the craziness. I guess government employment is out for me.

      1. I would definitely look elsewhere, Kevin. But it is more than government employment. It is government certification for health professionals, teachers etc.

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