my coworker came to work dressed as Jesus

A reader writes:

I work at an up-and-coming, techy, mid-range e-comm company that’s always felt very inclusive, fun, and positive. Most employees are male and between the ages of 25-35, and are prone to ribbing and bets — “grow out your mullet for a year for $1,500,” that type of thing.

One of our employees bears a striking resemblance to the Jesus often portrayed in chintzy kid’s Bibles: long wavy brown hair, soft eyes, big beard. Because of this, his unofficial nickname used throughout the company is “Jesus.”

I’m assuming he was involved in a bet of some sort, because today he walked in decked out in full vestments–long white robes, Hebrew embroidered on the chest, sandals, the whole costume. A few people laughed, and he got right to work at his desk. Our head HR manager walked right past him and didn’t bat an eye.

I’m a fierce proponent of free speech and believe there’s value in cheeky pokes at things we often put on pedestals, like religion. That being said, it seems inappropriate to me to lampoon a religious figure in a work environment.

What would you do? Am I being too sensitive?

If anyone reading this has ever wonder why managers sometimes seem like sticks-in-the mud, this is a perfect example of why.

This guy’s joke is so, so context-dependent. There are lots of people who would find this funny — not in a “we intend disrespect to Christians” way, just in a “ha, you look like a famous historical figure” way. I’d find it pretty funny in some situations.

But there’s a different standard for what kind of jokes you can make at work. Things that would be seen 100% as good-natured fun in your social circle can end up being inappropriate in a work context, where you have a captive audience of people who probably come from a bunch of different backgrounds and walks of life. You’ve got varying religions (and degrees of religiosity), ages, gender, economic backgrounds, sexual orientation, and so forth. And an employer has a strong interest in ensuring that they all feel reasonably comfortable and respected.

That’s why jokes that touch on religion (or sex, or so forth) aren’t smart at work, even if they might be fine in a different context, and even if you’re just talking to one person who you’re sure will find it hilarious — because (a) you can’t be sure that’s true (it’s really common for people to laugh along when they’re uncomfortable because they feel awkward speaking up) and (b) you have no idea if others may overhear it, or hear it attributed to you later.

So, back to your coworker. Was it fine for that environment? Maybe. There are a bunch of workplaces where everyone truly would be amused by this (and again, not in a hostile-to-religion way).

But if there’s even one person who’s already feeling like their religion has been disrespected or has set them apart in some way, you can imagine this feeling like another blow. That’s not good for the company, legally or morale-wise … and as companies mature, they usually figure that out over time, which is why you see many companies become increasingly conservative about this kind of humor. That’s also part of why you generally see much looser cultures at start-ups — they haven’t had the experiences yet that will nudge them into realizing the land mines this stuff can pose.

Some people get that and some people don’t, and those who don’t will think this is reading waaay too much into a dude dressing up like a storybook Jesus. And when you put those two viewpoints together, you get one side perceived as offensive or insensitive and the other side perceived as sticks-in-the-mud … but when smart companies have to pick between those options, they pick the latter.

{ 483 comments… read them below }

  1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

    I have so many questions. Was he absent for three days afterward, and then came back and took over for the CEO? Was there anything funny in the meeting room water carafes? Did he cater fish sandwiches for the whole crew? Did he flip over desks down at Accounts Receivable?

    1. Chickaletta*

      Did he resurrect the canceled project? Hang out with a short man from the IRS? Recruit twelve people to follow him around and sell his ideas to the team afterward?

      1. Amy the Rev*

        HA this reminds me of one time when I went out on halloween and some guy was dressed as Jesus and once he found out my friends and I were ministers-in-training, he started (as so many do) dumping all his life problems, particularly regarding his relationship with his father. The irony was not lost on my friends…of course the guy dressed as Jesus would have daddy issues…

        1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

          “My dad is, like, SO CONTROLLING. I feel like there’s real boundary issues between he and I, too. No matter what he’s doing, he’s always watching me. And his creepy ex-friend keeps trying to seduce me.”

          1. paul*

            My wife’s a deacon so after work we sat down to peruse this more in depth.

            Your comment wins the thread. Period, full stop. I put bourbon through my nose (you know how much that STINGS?)

    2. LadyMountaineer*

      I LOVE this. He should’ve owned that role!

      My father looked like kitchy-Jesus when he was young (he is balding and paunchy now but still 6’2″) and he played basketball. Whenever he would go onto the court (this being in the 70s) the crowd would sing “Jesus Christ Superstar” and my grandmother was horrified.

      I would have found this funny but I can see how you might want to tone it down a tad on an average day at work if only to minimize distractions.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        That is amazing. First that he was such a doppelganger that the crowd would sing to him, and second, who knows all the words to “Jesus Christ Superstar”?? That’s dedication.

        1. Not Rebee*

          I love JCS and even I don’t know all the words! But for this type of scenario I would have learned them all, an very quickly! This is wonderful :)

        2. seejay*

          I know all the words. But I was also in our highschool play of it, so I kind of got it ingrained in me nearly 30 years ago. >>

        3. Venus Supreme*

          When I was in 1st grade I was cast as an angel in a community theatre production of JCS. I had such a crush on the guy playing Jesus. I have two vivid memories: getting a splinter on my foot during the final scene and crying and wanting Jesus to help me out, and passionately belting out the ensemble parts to The Temple, ahahahahah. And so began my career into theatre… I would probably be someone who’d sing to LadyMountaineer’s dad.

        4. So Very Anonymous*

          *raises hand* Daughter of a choir director in the 1970s. If I thought about it, I probably also know all of Godspell. But my sister and I used to listen to/dance around to Jesus Christ Superstar as little kids.

        5. paul*

          Hell, “Pilate’s Song” is excellent. I’ll fight anyone who says otherwise. Break out the mackerels!

          1. ArtsNerd*

            I had to stop and think hard to pronounce that correctly in my brain, and not “Pilates’ song.”

      2. Ann Furthermore*

        On a podcast about TV I listen to, one of the hosts said her father played high-school basketball in to 50’s or 60’s. He really wanted the name of the team to be The Nads, because then during games everyone would be cheering for them, yelling, “GO NADS! GO NADS!” Off topic I know, but that is what your comment reminded me of. LOL.

        1. Cathy*

          We have a college nearby named Austin Peay – that would be pronounced “Pee”. Yes, the stands are filled with students cheering on their team with chants of “Lets go Peay!!”

    3. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

      I choked on my Haribo products and ended up shooting a piece of gummy near out my nose! Thaaaaanks.

      1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

        And here, friends, is the reason I got out of bed and put on pants this morning.

          1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

            Yep. Now that I’ve made someone launch a jelly bear out of their nostril, I’ve made my contribution to the world for today.

          2. Jadelyn*

            I could see that being a useful weapon in boring meetings, actually. Even better than flicking paper at people, because you get bonus points for the extra gross-out factor.

      1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

        Yep. And right afterward, one went and sold him out to HR.

      1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

        …said Commodus to the gladiator who slew all the lions.

      1. Chinook*

        Darn it – now I have to explain to my coworker what started this laughing/coughing fit. Thanks a lot!

    4. rosieflower*

      Best comments of the thread from “The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist” LOL LOL!!

  2. Leatherwings*

    I’m sitting at my desk stifling giggles here. But I would also feel really uncomfortable with this in my workplace. This seems fine for a party where you know everyone, but not for a day in the office.

    1. Addie Bundren*

      This is how I feel. It doesn’t offend me/normally I’d find it funny, but my anxiety would be through the roof imagining the reaction of the potentially-offended person.

      1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

        Would it be different for you (and Leatherwings) if it were another religion?

        1. Code Monkey, the SQL*

          I’d be uncomfortable regardless, but dressing as a storybook Jesus is probably at the less offensive end of the spectrum of choices, compared to say, Muhammad, where there’s a direct religious prohibition against representations of him.

        2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

          I just ask because I feel like non-majority religions come in for more general humor and ribbing than others.

          1. Leatherwings*

            No, ribbing any religious beliefs at work is inappropriate, and it might even be worse for minority religions who aren’t protected by the sort of mass understanding that their beliefs are acceptable and legitimate.

            1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

              That’s where I’m at, but I feel like a lot of times….Christianity gets treated with kid gloves because there’s actually a good chance that someone with strong Christian beliefs will get offended, but nobody assumes there’s a Sikh or a Buddhist or whatever around, and so lips are a little looser.

              1. NW Mossy*

                And also that people tend to have a relatively poor understanding of minority beliefs, and what information they do have tends to be stereotypical and reductive at best. Your story below is, unfortunately, a perfect example.

              2. Leatherwings*

                I definitely agree with that, and that’s out of a lack of awareness for who might be listening. It doesn’t make poking fun at Christianity more acceptable (not that that’s what you’re saying).

              3. LBK*

                Huh, I usually have the opposite experience – as the long-standing de facto “national religion” of the US, Christianity is usually the most accepted target for religious jokes under the “punching up” comedy standard.

                1. Sarah*

                  I agree. The Jesus costume would make me somewhat uncomfortable at work. If someone came to work dressed up as, say Buddha? That would be a huge NO and I think would make many people more uncomfortable.

                2. Amy the Rev*

                  Agreed, LBK…as a Christian minister I looooove me some irreverent humor. I even have a card game created by alumni from my seminary that is based off of the same premise of Cards Against Humanity but is all paraphrases/quotes from the bible. All the violence and sex and weirdness of CAH, but with the added religious bonus! We used to play it at Christmas, until my mom banned it because she felt it was too offensive…to which I rebutted, “it’s all in the Bible, mom!” …Still banned, but my old seminary friends and I break it out every time we get together for a wine night. Context is key, it would seem.

                3. paul*

                  I’ve been part of social circles that swung both ways–some treated it with kid gloves but some felt free to rip into it but would faint at the idea of criticizing any other religion.

                  Honestly I don’t hang out much within any of those anymore.

                4. SophieChotek*

                  Yes, I’ve had that experience also at work. People are sensitive to minority religions but because Christianity is dominate, it’s okay to make jokes about it, etc.

                5. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

                  @Amy the Rev: … that game sounds AMAZING and I would be so down to play that till the cows come home!

                6. Amy the Rev*

                  @Countess, it’s called “A Game for Good Christians”. They also have a blog of the theology behind some of their more ‘controversial’ playing cards. It’s nothing short of amazing.

              4. Emi.*

                I think this is super context-dependent. There are definitely some circles where that’s true, but there are also circles where people treat non-Christian religions with kid gloves, but Christianity is considered fair game because it’s the majority religion so people have a sort of “they deserve whatever they get” attitude. And we don’t know if either of these is the case here.

                It’s obnoxious and inappropriate either way, so if OP’s workplace is the way you describe, it could be worth taking a second look to see if there’s been other religious ribbing that’s been flying under the radar.

              5. Jessesgirl72*

                I would say that no, no one thinks about Pagans or Budhists, but of the 3 main world religions, Christianity is the only one where people actively defend making jokes about or outright loudly criticizing, even in the Western World where it’s the majority religion. Your anti-Semitic if you even hint anything about Judaism, and criticizing or joking about Muslims is cause for outrage (or worse: ie, Charlie Hebdo) but when a Christian is offended by something, they are the ones who are told they are in the wrong. Even your reaction here indicates that.

                It’s just best practice to not make jokes about or discuss religion in the workplace, period. Not about Christians or Wiccans, or Sikhs.

                1. neverjaunty*

                  I think you mean “especially in the Western world”, because that’s where jokes about minority faiths have been part and parcel of actual bigotry against those faiths in a way that hasn’t been true of Christianity.

                  It really is possible to point out that making fun of Christianity at work is uncool without sounding bitter that it’s not considered equally hilarious anymore to crack jokes about how cheap Jews are.

                2. hugseverycat*

                  Oh come on, it is absolutely not the case that Christianity is the “only” one where people defend jokes. Charlie Hebdo had many defenders, both in the U.S. and out, and if you knew any Jewish people, you’d know that many of them make jokes about their religion and culture all the time. People make jokes about all 3 Abrahamic religions, and people get offended by said jokes all the time, and people defend making those jokes, too. The frequency and balance of the defend/offend divide may differ based on the cultural context, but both sides are there.

                  I do agree with your conclusion though.

                3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  I don’t think it’s right to make fun of any religion or philosohical-ethical world belief system, but I think you’re eliding the distinctions between Christianity and other religions in “the West.”

                  First, the sheer number of Christians in the “Western world” is far greater than the number of Muslims and Jews. Second, there’s a significant power differential in terms of which of those faiths is seen as the default norm (it’s Christianity), and in the relative political power of Protestant Christians in the U.S./UK and Catholicism in continental Europe when compared to other faiths and atheism. I’m also not sure how you’re defining “3 main world religions.” If you’re talking about population of adherents or people who identify with their faith, then Judaism is not in that list.

                  As I noted before, I don’t think it’s cool to make fun of anyone’s faith, but I do think people who identify with a relatively powerful cultural/religious group are in a distinct social and political position than religious minorities. And consequently, jokes about a majority group can be in poor taste or reductive, but they’re much less likely to advance harmful stereotypes that contribute to the subordination of the group as a whole.

                4. Amy the Rev*

                  Jessesgirl72, I’d argue that part of having the monopoly of political power and cultural influence in the US and the majority of the ‘economically developed’ world is that folks are allowed to poke fun at Christianity. It’s like in comedy, the general rule is it’s ok to ‘punch up’ or make fun of someone/thing more powerful than you (your boss, cancer, the president, the ruling political party, the majority religion), but not ‘punch down’, or make fun of someone/thing less powerful than you (your employee, cancer patients, historically oppressed groups, disabled folks). In our current geopolitical/religious context, Christianity is the most powerful, aka we are absolutely ‘fair game’ for jokes in the grand scheme of things.

                  Would you rather have undergone millennia of persecution and current, active, explicit discrimination, in exchange for jokes about your religion being considered in ‘poor taste’ (which still doesn’t prevent many islamophobic or antisemitic jokes, by the way)?

                  All in all, however, I agree that religious jokes are best left out of the workplace. The only context I can see it being remotely OK is if the workplace is religious and the people making the jokes are all members of that same religion, making fun of themselves/their own religion.

                5. Observer*

                  I have to agree with Amy the Rev. There really is a difference on a macro level between jokes about Christianity (in the west) and minority religions. Failure to recognize this is not a position that’s going to get a lot of sympathy. Going to “poor beaten down Christians: is going to get some eye-rolling from non-christians who’ve been told things like “Christmas is not a religious holiday, and EVERYONE celebrates Christmas!” etc.

                  On a personal level, it’s different and it doesn’t belong in the workplace in any case.

                6. aebhel*

                  Well, Charlie Hebdo implied that the death of a refugee toddler wasn’t really a tragedy because he probably would have grown up to be a terrorist, which to me is on a slightly different level of offensiveness than showing up to work dressed as Jesus.

                  It’s not just the target, it’s the content, too. Honestly, every Jewish person I know has a vast repertoire of jokes about Judaism; don’t know that many Muslims personally, but I can’t imagine it’s that different for them. Most people are capable of poking good-natured fun at groups they’re a part of; it’s when it becomes mean-spirited that it’s a problem.

                  I agree that the workplace is the wrong place for that, though.

                7. HannahS*

                  If in “three main world religions” you’re including Judaism, you’re seriously off base. Jews represent 0.2% of the world. If you want to top three world religions, you want Christianity, Islam, and “secular/irreligious.” Also, see neverjaunty’s comment. And Amy the Rev.

              6. Observer*

                I hear that. But, for me – as a member of a minority religion – it seems wise to remember that just because that’s the majority religion, it doesn’t mean that people can’t be equally sensitive about their beliefs. I do NOT want people poking fun at my beliefs, so I think it’s both fair and practical to extend that respect to others, even those in the majority.

                1. Emilia Bedelia*

                  Yes. As a Christian, I totally get the idea of “punching up” and I respect that I have privileges as a member of the majority religion. So on one level, I agree that making fun of Christianity is different from making fun of Judaism because of the historical context.
                  But at the same time, it still hurts me as a person when my beliefs and me, as a believer, are made fun of.

                  I think there’s also a difference between satirical/”punching up” humor and flat-out disrespect, and also between making fun of cultural elements of religion and making fun of actual religious beliefs/figures. So, for example, making fun of Catholic guilt or Methodist potlucks is one thing – making fun of the Bible or Jesus himself is different.

                2. Amy the Rev*

                  @Emilia Bedelia, my favorite joke that plays on what I call “protestant guilt” (may be unique to new-england though):

                  Why don’t Protestants go to orgies?

                  Too many thank you notes!

                  Ba-dum PSH!!

                3. mcr-red*

                  I agree. I don’t see why it’s OK to make fun of anyone’s religion, majority/minority or not. It’s just plain rude. No one is asking you to believe what the other person does, just respect that they believe in it. It’s basic human decency to treat other people with respect and not openly mock them.

              7. Anna*

                That’s interesting because I think it’s the opposite. Because Christianity is so EVERYWHERE in the US and Europe, it’s more likely to not be seen as potentially offensive. Like a crucifix as fashion is going to be easier to find than another religious symbol.

            2. Zooey*

              Yep, and by not shutting down Jesus, the company has sent a message to everyone that works there that making fun of religion is ok around the office, and makes it more difficult to put a stop to it in the future.

          2. SarahTheEntwife*

            For me it would depend a lot on whether the person dressing up and/or most of the people in the office were members of the relevant religion. That’s the sort of thing that’s frequently 100% ok as an in-group joke and not at all ok if it’s some clueless Christian (or Christian-cultured) dude doing it.

          3. TootsNYC*

            “non-majority religions come in for more general humor and ribbing than others.”

            I don’t think we can say anything like that w/ any accuracy.

            I think when a religion is the majority, it feels safer teasing itself and making jokes at its own expense. And those jokes may not be noticed.

          4. Mazzy*

            Mmmm I follow humor – tv shows and standup comedians. Lots of jokes about priests and Catholics etc. Barely a peep about other religions for a good 20 years. Maybe someone made fun of Hare Krishna in 1992.

            1. Emi.*

              If it’s specifically about Catholics, that is a minority religion in the US. (A sizeable majority, maybe, but still a minority and historically not a powerful one.)

                1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  I don’t think that’s an accurate description of Christianity in the United States—most folks who say they are “Christian” identify with Protestantism. Most folks who are Catholic actively identify as “Catholic,” not “Christian.”

                  And historically, Emi is right. Catholicism was considered a minority faith tradition, and Catholic communities experienced significant discrimination and identity-based violence. Although Catholics are less likely, now, to be targeted by the KKK as they were 70-120 years ago, there are still areas in the country where being Catholic is very much a minority identity with relatively less political power. And we see this with other denominations, as well—Christian Scientists and Jehovah’s Witnesses are often subject to the same kind of minority repression as other non-Christian minority faiths, even though they fall under the Christianity umbrella.

                2. Emi.*

                  I know that. But joking about Christianity-in-general is different from joking about Catholicism, as far as the concern is whether the jokes are about a dominant majority group. (This applies to a lot of subsets of Christianity—if I made fun of, say, Pentecostals or the AME Church, it would be totally disingenuous to defend it by saying it’s okay to make fun of “Christians.”)

                3. Natalie*

                  @ Princess, I’m well aware of the history. It doesn’t change the fact that Catholics are Christians. It strikes me as being similar to how some people want to treat discrimination against European immigrant groups as though it’s equivalent to the anti-black discrimination that suffuses the country. Catholics were certainly not in the inner circle of American religious power, but that doesn’t mean we were in the outer circle either.

                  Anyway, this day in age I suspect Catholicism is used mostly because the tropes are easily understood as “church”. Nevermind that most Catholic churches look the same as their Protestant neighbors in the suburbs other than the outfits.

                4. TL -*

                  @Princess Historically, the Catholic Church has been extremely powerful and wielded a lot of power. In certain parts/times of the USA, Catholicism is not common and/or Catholics have been persecuted but not as a consistent historical theme.
                  The area where I grew up was majority Catholic – I want to ballpark probably 80%, if not more? I live in the Boston area now and again – Catholics are quite common.
                  I’d also argue that being a Catholic is quite different than being a Jehovah’s Witness or Christian Scientists, because a Catholic priest has the quite significant might of the Catholic Church behind him. So they might be a minority in numbers but in many places, they are a majority in power. Plus, there’s a huge difference between being a Christian “minority” and being Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, whatever.

                5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  @ Natalie, @ TL: I absolutely hear you, and I do think people sometimes raise this issue to either marginalize the experiences of non-Christian minorities, or to introduce a false equivalency.

                  I’m pushing back on a definition of “Christianity” that doesn’t allow for nuance. There are still parts of this country where being Catholic can make you a target for pretty extreme hate violence—I’ve worked in those places, and I found it shocking after living in places where being Catholic was the same (politically) as being any other kind of Christian.

                  So it matters if we’re talking about making Catholic jokes in regions where Catholics are political majorities (even if not population-majorities) versus making those jokes in regions where Catholics are political minorities, even if they are not as politically disfavored as another religious minority group.

                  But of course the easy way around this is to stop making jokes based on people’s religious beliefs ;)

            2. Elizabeth West*

              Having grown up Catholic in a small town that was predominantly Baptist/Methodist, I can attest that harassment over faith is a real thing. Among things I heard growing up were that we baptized wrong, we worshiped idols, we were bead squeezers and fish eaters (it was my fault we had fish in the cafeteria on Fridays), you can’t venerate Mary, crucifixes with a bloody Jesus were gross how can you look at that eww, you’re not going to heaven because you’re not saved, etc.

              Now if someone had made a good-natured joke like, “Oops you ate a piece of bologna; you’re in trouble because it’s Friday!!” and I knew they weren’t trying to be mean, I would have laughed and gone along with it. “Haha, yes I’m going to the bologna eaters room in hell!” I laugh at jokes about Catholic guilt.

              I laugh when people tell jokes about their own religions, but I don’t tell those same jokes, not ever. It’s like telling a joke about someone else’s family. You can make fun of your own little brother, but you’re honor-bound to pummel somebody if they do it.

              1. secret Catholic*

                Yup, like I make lots of jokes about Catholicism with my Catholic friends, but I can usually tell when people make Catholicism jokes who aren’t Catholic (or at least didn’t grow up Catholic), because the jokes tend to come out not-quite-right/not good-natured.

                1. secret Catholic*

                  especially because a lot of the non-Catholic Catholic jokes I hear have a much greater tendency to be ones about priests abusing children–and that’s a very serious matter, not a joke?

                2. SimonTheGreyWarden*

                  Yeah, my sister and I have a running joke (are we Catholic because we sit in the back of the church, or do we sit in the back of the church because we are Catholic) but any time my husband has tried to reference it, it falls kind of flat – he was raised areligeous/agnostic, and while he’s respectful and curious, there’s a lifetime of in-jokes he can’t quite really “get.”

              2. Chinook*

                “I laugh when people tell jokes about their own religions, but I don’t tell those same jokes, not ever. It’s like telling a joke about someone else’s family. You can make fun of your own little brother, but you’re honor-bound to pummel somebody if they do it.”

                I think this is the magic line not to cross. And, in this case, Coworker Jesus is making as much fun of himself as he is of Jesus, so it is toeing the line from the right side.

        3. Vin Packer*

          Oof– this thought exercise was interesting to me actually. I was leaning toward this being funny, but if it had been a figure from a religion other than mine I’d actually be more likely to be uncomfortable. I’d be worried it was disrespectful or hurtful in a way I couldn’t anticipate.

          And there is a way this could be considered a type of “brownface” too, possibly, though saying an icon of a dominant western religion represents the people sometimes oppressed by it is dicey……
          ……and, yeah, this starts to look like probably not a great idea. My stick is now mudward.

        4. Kate*

          Unfortunately people do seem to act like it is different. Some religions people seem to think are totally okay to make fun of, others are off limits for even the mildest of criticisms.

        5. Jess*

          I think it might be different for me with another religion- although maybe in the opposite way as you intended the question. I think it’s pretty hilarious & def would not be offended by the Jesus costume. But I could see having a much harder time with it if it was something from a religion I had no affiliation with. (I’m Catholic/was raised Catholic.) Then it would probably feel too much like making fun of someone else’s religion & beliefs. Especially if it’s in a context where the other religion is less culturally dominant, it could cross over to feeling mean-spirited pretty quickly.

          1. TL -*

            I would find it funny if it was someone familiar with the religion doing it – not appropriate for the workplace, but if my Muslim friends were to do something similar and I got it, I’d laugh. My Jewish friends crack tons of Jewish jokes and while I don’t get/appreciate all of them (humor is super contextual), I laugh at a fair number of them.

            I think a bigger thing is that humor is super culturally contextual. I wouldn’t get a lot of complex jokes about other religions – to get them, they’d have to be very stereotype-dependent, and probably offensive, or very, very simple.
            This joke is funny because we all have seen depictions of this type of Sunday School Jesus and we’ve all been exposed to various depictions of Jesus in the media to build on this and we understand the Christian cultural surroundings. To do a joke about another religion well would very much depend on how much you can expect the people around you to understand.

        6. Observer*

          Nope. Not at all. I’m not a Christian – I’m an Orthodox Jew. But, I would be *extremely* uncomfortable with this in a workplace context. I’ve got Christian co-workers and some of the have deeply held beliefs, even thought they don’t ever ever proselytize. I could see this making them uncomfortable or upset. And for what?

        7. Gaia*

          I’ll be honest – I think I’d be *more* uncomfortable if it were another religion? Why? Because at least in the US, Christians are by far the majority and so while I would be uncomfortable with this portrayal of an important figure for their religion, it would seem so much worse if it was a portrayal of a figure from a less-major religion (again, in this country). It would feel much more like mockery.

      2. Emi.*

        Yeah, I agree. And I’d only find it funny if I *knew* he was doing it in a good-spirited way, which not everyone will be able know even if it’s true.

        1. Gaia*

          Sometimes the intent doesn’t matter and I think this is one of those cases. Even if he was doing in in good spirits, it doesn’t mean it will be taken in good spirits. While I am not religious, I understand religion is incredibly important to people and it is not something to be mocked. Even if he didn’t intend it to be mockery, I could see someone that truly believes in the literal word of the bible seeing this as mocking the man they consider to be their savior and god.

          I just think while I may crack a smile in the right social group, I’d be horrified at work.

      3. Chinook*

        You aren’t the only one. Depending on how Jesus-dude pulled it off and the comments around him, I would either feel very uncomfortable to ROFL. If I worked with AAM commentators, there would be no problems. But, I could easily see this slipping over a line that would make me wonder if I have to hide my own religious beliefs lest I be mocked.

    2. EA*

      I agree. It is funny. But I am also a liberal northeast non-religious person. I don’t know if I would want to work at a place where this type of thing was encouraged. I think diversity of opinions/beliefs is important, and if everyone at this company found it funny (which is possible considering the demographics OP pointed out), it is probably a pretty homogeneous workplace. I’ve interviewed at places that have one type of person they hire, and I think its limiting for their employees and also the success of the company in general.

      I also don’t know how I feel about his nickname being Jesus, but it might be best to try and tamper that down.

      1. Leah the Designer*

        I’m Christian, have been my entire life, and I’ll admit I find this hilarious. I realize I don’t speak for all Christians. I would never do this in my own workplace. The other thing to note is, in general, Christians have little problems with depictions of our religious figures. (Minus the exception of the Iconoclasm of the Byzantine Era. Sorry art history major here). There is only one major religion I can think of whose believers would take general offense to something like this.

        I will I’ve worked at homogeneous workplaces (in very ethnically concentrated areas) that work like a well-oiled machine. I’ve also worked at places with similar make-ups that were a disasters. The success off the workplace largely depended on moral and work/worker ratio.

        1. Bwmn*

          While Islam immediately comes to mind – I think that someone dressing up as Moses or as Shiva would necessarily be received without offense. Ultimately, I think that AAM’s response was done so well because the reality is that context is so much about where this falls on the line. If someone was the only Hindu in an office and a non-Hindu came dressed up as Shiva, that could easily resonate very differently than in a majority “of a Christian background” office where someone shows up dressed as Jesus. Offense may still be found in both cases (or neither), but it still remains very context heavy as to why that reaction would remain. And once “context dependent” comes into play, I can just imagine HR directors breaking out into a cold sweat.

          1. Bwmn*

            Ack – I meant to say “I don’t that someone dressing up as Moses or Shiva would necessarily be received without offense”.

            1. Leah the Designer*

              Most Christians I know wouldn’t take offense to Moses. I can’t speak for people who believe in Hinduism.

              I do agree religion is best left out of the office.

              1. Bwmn*

                Among Jews I know, I could see dressing as Moses going either way. I mean, in any case a Jew or Hindu could be the person daring someone to dress as Moses or Shiva and therefore the context is completely different. On the flip side, a Jew could also show up to the office and seeing someone in white robes carrying around ten commandments tablets and feel uncomfortable. Or be utterly unphased about it.

                Regardless, I think the reality of context becomes sticky if you’re in an office where there is a small minority of people of faith or representatives from one religion. It could be part of a partner that makes someone feel uncomfortable, and again just opens a window for people who “don’t get it” to have strong problems with the company.

          2. A grad student*

            According to my world religions professor, both Muslims and Jews have prohibitions against images of deities, and before Christianity was adopted by the Romans for whom images of gods were important, Christians did as well. I’m not well-versed in modern Judaism enough to know if that’s still taken seriously, but I thought that little tidbit from class was interesting.

            1. Bwmn*

              While the Jewish faith has a prohibition of the image of god – if you get into images of Abraham, Moses, etc. – there isn’t a prohibition, but then the issue becomes a question of taste and context. Which again lands us in the same issue.

              In the boom of ugly holiday sweaters, there was a company that made a series of sweaters that had a snowman family outfitted with ultra-orthodox garb. I had a conversation with another coworker (both of us Jewish, neither ultra-orthodox), whether we’d feel comfortable wearing that sweater to an office ugly holiday sweater party – and the result was that we just couldn’t be 100% sure it wouldn’t be seen as potentially offensive in the display of stereotypes.

              I think the issue of whether or not a religion condones portrayal is generally relevant – in the space of how religion will be interpreted in the workplace, I think far greater sensitivities need to be acknowledged.

              1. SpaceySteph*

                I remember that sweater and thought it was hilarious, but came to the same conclusion you and your coworker did– I couldn’t guarantee it wouldn’t be taken offensively. I do have an “ugly” Hanukkah sweater that I pull out of the drawer 2-3 times a year, but it just has dreidels on it. Even the Chabad folks have complimented that one.

                I think that Moses would fall in the same category– you can’t guarantee that someone wouldn’t find it offensive, or at least be uncomfortable with it.

        2. Anon This Time*

          I’m a Christian too and find it funny. But I know that some of the other Christians I work with would find it sacrilegious. Also, I work in a field that is at best skeptical of religious people of all stripes, so I don’t think people would speak up at all, even if they were bothered by it.

        3. Observer*

          Actually, for Jews it gets really interesting. There is no Human / G-d figure in Judaism ad if someone walked in dressed up as “God” that would hugely offensive. And, if someone walked dressed as Moses as a joke, in most contexts it would be offensive as well. Not in the same way as Islam, because Judaism doesn’t forbid portraits, but still offensive.

          Which just goes to show that making jokes about religions you don’t know a LOT about is a risky thing to do. Don’t it it at work

          1. Bwmn*

            For Jews, dressing up as Moses – I think it would just be so context dependent it would be possible to do anything other than avoid in the workplace. I mean, during Purim, dressing up as characters from the texts is very standard. So if someone was going to Halloween party and wanted to dress as Moses, I don’t think they’d necessarily have to worry about offending Jews that might be at the party. Especially if it was a depiction that was aggressively similar to the image presented in The Ten Commandments.

            Now, if at some point the OP’s coworker goes completely white and keeps the long hair and beard and then opts to dress as Moses in the office……how that would be perceived by any potential Jewish colleagues, that would be a risk.

            1. Observer*

              Yes, well Purim is one of the few contexts I was thinking of when I said “most contexts”. As a workplace joke? Totally offensive. (And hard to believe it wasn’t meant to be disrespectful.)

              1. Bwmn*

                I can mention myself and other Jews that would see a colleague dressing up to work as Moses (in a case where there was no outward facing aspects of work and in a very relaxed sector), I can see it be seen as odd and maybe funny.

                Now again, just because I wouldn’t be offended – I definitely wouldn’t recommend doing it. Particularly given the historic place of Jews in many diaspora communities and the potential for it to be perceived as hostile. As I said up thread, I opted to not to purchase a holiday sweater with a snowman family with ultra-orthodox garb. Despite finding it to be cute and not offensive to me, I wasn’t certain others would see it that way. However, when I worked in Jerusalem…..I would have had a better pulse on my office there and how it would be received.

                It’s a context situation – and like most humor – not a context that I would feel comfortable making that reaching an assumption on.

                1. Observer*

                  From what I’ve seen, in Jerusalem, most Israelis would not have thought twice about it because they don’t have the pervasive Christian / Christmas culture that would let them understand the snowman reference.

                  I remember the first time I was in Israel with my kids during Succoth, and my kids were amazed at the amount of tinsel used for succah decorations. To them, it was so linked to the Christmas decoration they’ve seen all their lives that it was just jarring for them. Then they experienced 12/25 in Israel and they understood why tinsel as a Succah decoration feels different there.

                  So, yeah, context does matter.

        4. paul*

          I think it also works better because it is based on a portrayal that any thinking person *has* to realize has no basis in reality. Jesus wasn’t a western European after all and making fun of the fact that that’s how he’s frequently been painted is (while low hanging fruit) kind of fun.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            That’s kind of why it doesn’t bother me that much–they’re not making fun of Jesus, they’re making fun of this guy’s resemblance to the popular depiction of Jesus. However, I think maybe they’ve reached the pinnacle of the joke now.

    3. Ann O'Nemity*

      This sums up my feelings.

      I think it’s inappropriate for the workplace and frankly I question his judgement. But I’d be laughing if it happened at a party.

  3. ThatGirl*

    I kind of wonder how “inclusive” a company that primarily employs millennial men can really be? Are they predominately white and Christian as well?

    There’s also the fact that the actual Jesus was a Middle Eastern Jew, but, you know…

    1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

      Don’t automatically assume millennial men can’t be inclusive, either.

      1. ThatGirl*

        I mean, they may well be inclusive in the sense of “everyone gets along and nobody feels bullied or snubbed” but … if they’re a fairly homogeneous group that doesn’t really say much.

        1. LBK*

          Yeah, hiring people who have personally inclusive beliefs isn’t the same as the company actually acting on those beliefs by practicing inclusive hiring (which includes creating an environment that encourages a diverse range of people to apply, something these frat-ish cultures don’t tend to do).

            1. LBK*

              This is why I kind of roll my eyes every time a company releases a statement about their inclusive values or whatever. Release some stats about the demographic makeup of your employees and let that speak for itself.

      2. Kyrielle*

        The individual employees may well be inclusive, but if they’re only/mostly hiring white millenial men, the *company* as an entity is not inclusive – they are not including.

      3. ZVA*

        It’s not about the individual men, it’s about the company… Only or primarily employing men between 25–35 isn’t “inclusive,” no matter how you slice it (and I’m willing to bet they’re mostly white as well).

        1. RVA Cat*

          This. Sounds like a lot of sexism/ageism going on, even if it’s more of the “only young single dudes are willing to work 80+ hours a week!” variety….

      4. Observer*

        Oh, plenty of millennial men are quite inclusive. However, when a company is primarily composed of one (fairly narrow) type, that lack of diversity makes you wonder about the inclusivity of the COMPANY.

    2. Emi.*

      Jesus’s actual ethnicity is irrelevant to whether someone looks like kitschy-illustration Jesus, though. And the guy may even be a Middle-Eastern Jew, for all we know.

      1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

        Yeah, if the whole joke is that he looks like the Sunday School book Jesus….

      1. ThatGirl*

        As I said above, they may well be inclusive in the sense of nobody feeling left out or snubbed; they may even be “woke”, and perhaps they do encompass a range of ethnicity and gender.

        But it’s still a pretty specific age range, so yes, I’m stereotyping a bit but tech companies tend to fit that sort of profile.

      2. Doodle*

        Hmm, I’m not sure that’s quite right. I don’t think ThatGirl is saying that the employees are necessarily not inclusive, but that a *company* that only hires a particular type of person is unlikely to be practicing inclusive hiring.

    3. Leah the Designer*

      If I’m reading into what type of company OP works at it sounds like a predominantly male-dominated field which doesn’t mean the company has hired poorly. Equality of opportunity doesn’t guarantee equality of outcome.

        1. LBK*

          Aye. It may not be something a single company can fix if there’s something earlier on in the pipeline that’s discouraging people from getting to the point that they’d be in the hiring pool (eg women being discouraged from STEM majors, so that they never even make it so far as to applying for tech jobs). But it’s not like there’s zero women out there who could do the job, and companies could make an effort to create a demand for/attraction from great female employees that would help foster an environment at the earlier stages that would bring more women into the pipeline.

          Have your recruiters attend some women’s conferences. Make sure you have a great maternity leave package. Publish stats about your company’s pay by gender. There’s ways to attract women even if you’re in a male-dominated industry, and that in turn will help shift the industry from being so male-dominated.

      1. Gigglewater*

        Leah, I think I would disagree with your assessment of predominantly male-dominated field. This company might be but the field as a whole is/has been more diverse than most people realize (are there still ways to go? Absolutely). So if they’re still primarily only pulling men of a certain age and background I would not agree that there is equality of opportunity.

        For example, being able to take a job that pays less because your parents can help subsidize you means you inherent’y have a better opportunity at that job then someone who’s parents can’t.

        I inherently agree that equality of opportunity doesn’t guarantee equality of outcome, but my guess is that’s probably not what’s going on here.

        1. Leah the Designer*

          My point was, given that women and men have equality of opportunity in the US, it is to the fault of any one fields if certain genders gravitate towards different type of work.

          If there is active discrimination against an gender or race that is egregious, but a field primarily dominated by a certain gender is not evidence of discrimination.

          1. chomps*

            “If there is active discrimination against an gender or race that is egregious, but a field primarily dominated by a certain gender is not evidence of discrimination.” But it’s a huge red flag.

            Plus there isn’t quality of opportunity in the US.

          2. aebhel*

            They don’t, though. And I’ve been in male-dominated jobs where I eventually left because I couldn’t deal with the constant disrespect; I’m far from alone in that. Even if it wasn’t the company’s intention to be exclusionary, the behavior of the employees made it so, no matter what their values were on paper.

          3. Marisol*

            ” given that women and men have equality of opportunity in the US…”

            There is no way that you are a feminist. Third wave or otherwise.

      1. Gigglewater*

        While this is true, the population who is able to take chances and eat costs (or be subsidized by their parents) to work on a start-up that maybe doesn’t pay quite COL (in the Bay Area for example) I would venture to say is more likely to be white than non-white.

        1. Anon This Time*

          But that’s been true since Silicon Valley started. It’s not exclusive to millennials.

          1. Gigglewater*

            I would agree with your point, but that doesn’t mean that the color dynamics are changing significantly in this context.

      2. chomps*

        Milliennials are still primarily white. Millennials are people born from 1982 until I think around the year 2000 give or take.

        It’s the next generation or the one right after that that will be majority minority in the US. It’s only been in the past 3 or 4 years that the demographics of newborns has become majority minority.

    4. Mazzy*

      If its mostly 20 somethings they probably aren’t paying top dollar either so it may not even be a place other demographics want to be at

  4. Blue Anne*

    Yeah, the techie companies are particularly prone to this stuff, so maybe it was totally fine in that office culture.

    But when I worked at one I did pull someone’s manager aside and ask him to tell his employee that wearing Flinstones “I’m good in Bed…rock” and Family Guy “Sexy Party” t-shirts at work wasn’t okay. His manager said “Huh, hadn’t occurred to me” but did agree and the guy stopped wearing those shirts.

    1. EW*

      I feel like this could be a great time to make a conscious choice as a company for where they draw the line with the joking and casualness.

    2. IJS*

      Yup, we have a guy who has dressed up as Lisa Turtle, Whitney Houston, Santa, a Leprechaun, and, well, pretty much anything he dreams up. It’s amazing.

  5. Catalin*

    So, you sat next to a man dressed as historically inaccurate Jesus Christ all day and you didn’t ask him what that was about?

    1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

      I’d have spent all day asking him if he wanted to take a walk across the lake, or how his camping trip to the desert was.

          1. Nikki T*

            I managed not to giggle, I held it together….right up until now.
            I was having a horribly stressful day, I really, really needed that.

            1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

              I’m glad! Apparently this is the reason I put on pants this morning, because I’m sure as hell not getting any work done right now.

            2. Golden Lioness*

              Thanks for the laughs. I am having a pleasantly nice day, and I still needed that as well.

              Cheers to a good sense of humour, Scientist!

  6. New Girl*

    In college we got extra credit one year for dressing up on Halloween. One guy dressed up as a pregnant nun.

    1. NW Mossy*

      Oh, you just reminded me of the company Halloween party I went to years ago where the owner came dressed in an inflatable “fat naked lady” costume and a cheap wig.

      Yeah, I don’t work there anymore.

    2. Definitely anon for this!*

      One of our senior officers dressed up as Monica Lewinsky one year.

      In need of a spot cleaner, if you get my drift.

    3. The IT Manager*

      This was at a private friendly party … the regnant nun was accompanied by “her” pimp/priest.

      1. Emi.*

        Wait, do you mean a couple of guys dressed up as a pregnant nun and a “pimp/priest,” or an actual prostitute and his pimp dressed up as a nun and a priest? …I can’t figure out which is worse.

          1. IJS*

            (But not a male pregnant nun with a pimp/priest – I don’t know why, but I feel I needed to clarify here.)

          2. Chinook*

            “Actually, a pregnant nun with a pimp/priest is pretty historically accurate.”

            Source, please. I know plenty of priests and quite a few nuns and I will always find this costume combo highly insulting of both their occupations and my faith.

      1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        Maybe someday we’ll stop conflating “this is funny” with “this will upset someone (who isn’t me)”

      2. Cath in Canada*

        “I went to a “saints and sinners” Halloween party last weekend. I was going to go as Osama Bin Laden but I decided that might be offensive, so I went as Jesus instead” – my sister, age ~19

    4. SKA*

      My mother did that one year to work.

      I should note, though, that she did this for a small staff meeting in the morning where she knew no one would be offended. She was just a “regular” nun for the rest of her customer-facing day. (Not to say any of it was a good idea, now that I’m thinking of it from the perspective of an adult in the workforce, as opposed to an amused teen.)

    5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      This sounds horrible, but is there any chance it was a play on the British “Vicars and Tarts” thing?

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Yes, but with the added uncomfortability of introducing religion into the mix (i.e., signalling that the clergy are total perverts).

          1. Emi.*

            Ew. I never thought I’d see a party theme that gave “Pilgrim Bros and Nava-hos” a run for its money, but this is it.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              WOW. Pilgrims would win for most offensive in my book, but how sad is it that I even had to try to figure out which is worse?

      1. Catalin*

        ok, but why haven’t they turned “Bros and Hos” into “Tarts and Farts (i.e. Henry VIII-style codgers)”?

    6. Liane*

      My community college did that. I won a gift certificate to a local restaurant for my princess costume, all emerald green satin. My bio prof , whose name was Peter K—-, came dressed as St. Peter, tunic and sandals with a small fishnet over one shoulder. He probably should not have given us a mini-sermon. (Mid 80s, things were different then, especially in a small college in a semi-rural area, attended by locals–and me.) Prof. K won the faculty prize, which was cash. He needed it, he was married with 6 adopted kids. (That made me admire him more. I knew how much trouble my dad had raising 1 adopted kid, without benefit of a spouse.)

      FWIW, Prof. K was pretty knowledgeable about workplace norms. He got me a co-op ed job at the agriculture research station–and then sat me down to explain, kindly, how you act in a Real Job, as opposed to a classroom. Just because he wanted me to do well.

    7. dappertea*

      Many, many years ago my parents ended up doing this one year for an early Halloween party because my dad grew up Catholic and thought it’d be hilarious, and my mom really was pregnant (with me). Well, I came a few days early, so my mom and dad ended up in a Catholic hospital dressed as a pregnant nun and priest because I couldn’t wait to get out into the world.

      It was awkward.

      1. dappertea*

        Just to clarify, this was a Halloween party just for close friends. Not a work one, thank goodness!

  7. Summerisle*

    I agree with Alison here. Although I personally would find this really funny in all likelihood, I know that many Christians can feel like their religious beliefs are treated as “fair game” for humour/ridicule in a way that other religions aren’t. Best to err on the side of caution at work with anything religion/politics related, in my experience!

    1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

      I totally agree with the last sentence. The double standard (on their part, not yours!) frustrates me a little. As someone who practices Zen, it’s been my experience that people who are touchy that their spiritual practices are “fair game” for ridicule are often completely willing to ridicule mine….like a coworker of my wife’s who held out his hands, finger and thumb touching, and went “OMMMMMMMMMMMMMM” when I mentioned it.

      1. Emi.*

        I thought Summerisle meant the opposite, i.e. that it’s more socially accepted to make fun of Christianity than other religions. (In my experience, it varies a lot between different groups.) But ugh, how obnoxious of that coworker.

    2. Sfigato*

      Also, as someone that has worked for companies where most people aren’t religious, there are probably a lot of closet Christians at the company who aren’t vocal about their beliefs but might be offended by this. I mean, I get the joke but you are mocking a figure who billions of people believe is God. I’ve learned this the hard way as someone who isn’t religious, assumes no one else is, and has learned too late that in fact my colleague or friend is a deeply religious catholic/protestant/buddhist/etc. That’s why my new motto is to try to avoid talking about religion, and try hard not to poop on someone’s faith.

      1. Lovemyjob...Truly!!!*

        I work with a woman who occasionally talks about her church. It’s usually along the line of “What did you do this weekend?” “Oh I went to my granddaughters soccer game on Saturday and then taught Sunday school at church…you know, the usual”. Recently I posted a photo of the US Constitution and Bill of rights on social media with a comment about how I wish people would quote this accurately as it’s the most important document for our country. OMG…this co-worker literally started posting all kinds of comments like “the Bible is THE most important document!” I quickly unfriended her and have made a point to avoid her for the last few weeks. I wasn’t getting into an argument over religion, the bible, or her politics (where she ended up taking her comments…all by herself. Nobody replied to her.). I was literally just trying to say that more people should familiarize themselves with our Constitution and not incorrectly quote it.

    3. Retail HR Guy*

      The solution, of course, is for all religions to be fair game for humor and ridicule. Just not at work.

  8. LBK*

    I’d find it really hard to take someone seriously dressed in a costume like that on a day that didn’t usually call for costumes (like Halloween). I just can’t picture sitting in a meeting with him or having to come to him with an issue, or god forbid if I were his manager and I were planning on putting him on a PIP that day…

    But I think some of this is probably just me not meshing with this type of culture to begin with – I’m not a big fan of these kind of hazing-esque, publicly visible in-jokes so I probably wouldn’t work there in the first place.

    1. Creag an Tuire*

      or god forbid if I were his manager and I were planning on putting him on a PIP that day…

      Just make sure you’ve bolted your table down, first.

  9. moss*

    I’m not religious but I respect faith and I find this stupid and immature. I don’t think everything is fair game for a joke and I would want the manager to tell him not to do this again.

    1. NoMoreMrFixit*

      This isn’t funny at all. I’d be offended and would easily say so to this person. Mocking other peoples’ beliefs for cheap laughs is rude and disrespectful. No matter which religion is involved. In some places this would be a firing offense. Most places I’ve worked over the years he would have been sent home to change the minute the boss saw him and warned to never try this type of thing again.

      I do have a healthy sense of humour and have even done stand up comedy in the past but there are rightfully some things that shouldn’t be joked about.

      1. paul*

        I’m a Christian and find satirizing what I call the oil painting Jesus hysterical, so YMMV. But that’s part of why this isn’t a great idea for a workplace.

    2. Preppy6917*

      Agreed. This tells me that the Jesus-dresser either doesn’t understand or doesn’t respect boundaries.

  10. Hotstreak*

    If the company was going to treat this as a problem, they should have spoken up when people started calling him Jesus.

      1. Venus Supreme*

        Yeah… reminds me of the nicknames the rugby players would give each other in college. There was a PoopFace.

    1. Jessesgirl72*

      You posted this as I was typing the same thing. That was already pretty inappropriate for the office!

    2. OhNo*

      I wonder – is it reasonable for HR/the manager/the office to regulate what nicknames people call each other? I could understand if they were limiting it based on inappropriate language or something, but “Jesus” is actually a name that people have.

      How would you approach this discussion?

      1. LBK*

        I think someone being named Jesus by their parents and someone being deemed it by their coworkers based on appearance are pretty obviously different situations…seems like a false equivalence.

        1. Kelly L.*

          Yes–I’m now thinking of the old letter where a guy’s given name was King, and his co-worker refused to call him that because she considered her deity to be the only king.

          I wouldn’t call a co-worker “Your Majesty” as if he were the King of an actual kingdom, but if that was his given name, darn skippy I’d call him that.

        2. OhNo*

          I’m thinking more of situations like… you have a employee whose nickname is Jesus, so that’s what they wants to be called at work. Maybe they’re Latino, and that’s what their family calls them. Maybe it’s their middle name. Maybe they’re trans. Maybe they’re in the process of changing their legal name but it’s not official yet. Same thing for someone who goes by Mohammed.

          I guess my point here is, how do you approach the conversation without being insensitive? You can’t assume based on appearance, so how do you ask someone if their nickname is legit or if they’re just trying to be “funny”?

          1. LBK*

            Someone who tells people they go by Jesus when they’re hired is different from someone who (as it seems to be in this situation) is given the nickname Jesus by their coworkers. Most people have more professionalism than to ask to be called something that casual – I certainly don’t ask my coworkers to call me LBK even though it’s a nickname people call me in my personal life.

            I would assume that if someone tells you they go by a certain name when they start, it’s their genuine name, not the result of a joke about their appearance. I just can’t picture someone actually asking to go by a nickname where that’s the reasoning.

            1. OhNo*

              That makes more sense as a distinction.

              Just for context (because I realize I’ve been all about the hypotheticals) – I’m trans, and when I’ve told coworkers about the difference between my preferred versus legal name in the past, there have often been one or two jokers who say something like, “Well, I’ve always wanted to be known as (random name)”. In at least one case, a guy kept using his “joke” name for about a couple days.

              I’m just curious about good ways to approach a conversation about name changes/name preferences that doesn’t necessarily entail a twelve-minute lecture on gender theory and trans rights, and is pretty inclusive overall. I’m thinking of suggesting some policies/procedures for my current job regarding name changes, because right now they have none and it’s all been a bit of a mess.

              1. LBK*

                Gotcha, I can see why this is something raising questions for you. FWIW I think your situation is totally different. For one thing, that guy was clearly being an ass and pretty transphobic, it sucks you’ve had to deal with that.

                That being said, I don’t know if there really needs to be a “policy” per se – I’m not too sure what that would entail, like a formal procedure for submitting an official name change? If anything I think that would just cover the administrative aspects of it (updating it in whatever various systems it needs to be updated in) but I don’t think you can really have an employee policy that says “if someone asks to be called by a certain name you must call them by that name”. I think it’s more up to the decency and professionalism of your coworkers to understand the reason for your name change and that your actual name is changing, this isn’t just some nickname you decided on for yourself for fun.

                Hopefully aside from those few jerks everyone’s been better about it.

                1. OhNo*

                  Obviously we’ve gotten a bit off topic now, but thanks for the thoughts! My idea for policies was more along the line of “When an employee says they want to change their name, here are the questions you can/should ask them (e.g.: is it a legal change? how do you spell it? where do you want it displayed?), and here’s what we can do to accommodate.” Hence why I was curious about everyone’s thoughts here about the conversation.

                  It sounds like long-term use of the nickname/new name might be the deciding factor for whether or not it’s a “real” nickname, which makes sense!

                2. LBK*

                  Got it. I think in general if an employee makes an explicit request to be called by a certain name, especially if that request is made to a manager and not just informally to their peers, it should be respected without trying to “validate” the change. I say that with the understanding that if someone’s going to purposely make that kind of request it’s generally for good reason, since like I said, I don’t think most people would actually ask to be called by a nickname based on a joke. So I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t think there’s a need to have questions you can/should ask, because I don’t think it should generally be questioned.

                  (That being said, we did have a co-op who said we could call him “Toast” since that’s what his friends called him, but he was an odd guy in general and got a little more leeway on professionalism as a college student vs FTE.)

              2. Been through the name change*

                I went through a total legal name change (both first and last name) in the mid 1980s. I just announced that this was my new name and provided proof to HR. When asked why, I just said that this was my preference. No way I was going to tell them the truth (just for the record, not trans). So of course they wondered, but giving them the same answer with a smile and changing the topic every time they asked stopped the questioning. It was none of their business.

                Granted, I was not working with any jerks.

                1. Elizabeth West*

                  A coworker at OldExjob changed his name to that of a fictional sci-fi character. HR sent around an email saying (this is an example), “Bob has changed his legal name and will now be known as Luke Skywalker. Please refer to him as Luke going forward.”

                  He did get ragged a little bit, mostly because the majority of his coworkers were not nerds and they were surprised and didn’t get the reference. None of the few nerds made fun of him because we all thought it was cool. But I can’t even remember now what his name was before. Everyone got used to calling him Luke and that was that.

                  This is the same coworker who surprised his fellows when he told them he and his wife traded off working–he would work for a while and she stayed home, then he would stay home for a while while she worked. They were predictably vocal about it, but later I caught one of them saying, “That’s a damn good arrangement.” HA!

          2. Honeybee*

            I don’t think the question is necessarily relevant in this situation, but I think you’d just call people what they want to be called.

            Jesus in Spanish is pronounced differently than Jesus in English, too, so I think I would be more skeptical if someone said they wanted to be called “Jee-sus” and not “Hay-soos.”

            I think Mohammed is a different story altogether – that’s a very common name and Muslims don’t necessarily have the sort of unspoken taboo against naming people that as English-speaking Christians do with the English version of Jesus.

            1. Honeybee*

              Just now seeing your justification for why you raised the question – ahh, that makes total sense.

      2. Jocelyn*

        Well I’d say you can base the distinction on the nickname’s context/origin. Is it a nickname that’s been used for a long time and/or derivative of their actual name? Or is it based on appearance and in a joking manner?

        A more extreme example: There’s a difference between using “Black” as a nickname for your coworker Fergus Black and using it as a nickname for your black coworker Jane Teapot.

        1. OhNo*

          That distinction makes sense. Do you think there’s a good way to ask about the nickname to see if it’s just a joke? I assume no matter how you phrased it, the employee could just lie about it being a “real” nickname, but in general is there a good way to approach that discussion?

          1. Alton*

            I don’t really see why you’d need to in most cases. If someone adopts a nickname in a serious manner (introducing themselves as that name, signing emails with it, etc,) then it’s safe to assume that they take it seriously, regardless of its origin. In practice, very few people are going to seriously go by a joke nickname that someone else applied to them. I think it’s more a question of whether this is a name that the person goes by or a name that other people call them by. After all, there’s nothing inappropriate about going by “Liz,” but that doesn’t mean that a woman named Elizabeth is automatically a “Liz” just because someone takes it upon themselves to call her that. It’s her call.

            I suppose it could be a problem if someone announced they wanted to go by a culturally-insensitive nickname, but I don’t think that comes up often.

      3. neverjaunty*

        “Sunshine” is also an actual name some people have, but it would be a problem if an older guy in the workplace decided to address all the young women in his office as “Sunshine” purely because they are young women, yes?

        1. OhNo*

          Yes, but that’s not what I was asking about – that’s more forcing a name on others, rather than using a nickname that has the person’s approval.

          Your example, for me, falls more in line with that letter about the employee whose coworkers refused to use her real name and used a westernized name instead. That’s a more clear-cut case of “not appropriate”.

          1. LBK*

            I think it is more comparable, though, because it doesn’t sound like this guy asked his coworkers to call him Jesus. They made up the nickname for him based on his appearance.

      4. Jenbug*

        Except Jesus is pronounced “Hey-Seus” not “Geezus”. It’s pretty obviously not the same thing at all.

      5. Anon 12*

        Speaking as an HR person, I would task the manager with this. I hate that people think that HR on the floor is like CHP on the highway, it’s okay to speed if they are busy with paperwork. It’s so much more powerful for a manager to say, “Hey folks, let’s limit the use of nicknames regardless of the context. This guy might think it’s funny, but the next one won’t”. Some people are offended to be called Mike when they put themselves out there as Michael and we should respect the way in which people want to be addressed. You don’t even have to get into the religion thing.

    3. Jocelyn*


      I can totally understand from the guys perspective that if the nickname wasn’t a problem (even being used frequently across the company), wearing the costume for one day wouldn’t be either. Especially if it was a day where he didn’t see any clients or have an important meeting.

      Honestly IMO, if I were a devout Christian, I’d find the regularly-used nickname more offensive than the one-time costume.

    4. IJS*

      What if his name is Joshua? That is the literal translation for Jesus’s actual name (Jesus is the Greek version). Since Jesus and Joshua are both equivalents of Yeshua (Jesus’s actual name), then making Jesus a nickname for Joshua would be fair game, right?

      1. Jenbug*

        I think most people would give that a side eye. Jesus as pronounced like the Christian messiah is not a common name in any circles. The Hispanic name Jesus is completely different.

  11. NW Mossy*

    One of my team members escalated an issue to me on Friday where a sales rep was trying to include a slide in a client presentation with “funny” made-up names that are best described as completely tasteless. We of course did not approve it, and he actually pushed back with the argument that due to the client’s industry (building trades), we should allow it because a few folks he talked to there apparently thought it was funny. I honestly can’t figure out what part of this annoyed me more – the original tasteless joke, the belief that tasteless humor is ever appropriate in a professional setting, or the assumption that tradespeople per se can’t be offended by tasteless humor.

    The classic rule of edgy humor is that for every one person who laughs, one more is laughing on the outside but inwardly cringing and another isn’t laughing at all. You may be OK with dividing your social circles that way, but it’s awful at work. Just don’t.

  12. Jessesgirl72*

    I would say the problem started when they gave him the nickname of “Jesus.” I guess this is a step too far for the OP, but I wonder why he? didn’t see the inappropriate way it was headed long before it got to the costume point. In fact, it sounds like the office, in general, is pretty immature and *I* would bet that this particular bet wasn’t the first time an appropriateness line was crossed.

    I am fairly religious and Christian, and I would be offended by it, or make any kind of formal complaint, or anything, though. But it sounds like working in a frat house. Gosh, it sounds tedious and annoying there!

    1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

      This is what I always think about the stereotypical e-startup – everybody wears hoodies and has nerf gun wars and wacky nicknames and Razor scooters, and I’m like….there’s a reason I didn’t rush.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      In fairness to the OP, we have no way of knowing that she didn’t find the nickname inappropriate too; it just wasn’t what pushed her to write in.

    3. Amadeo*

      I am Christian too and while I wouldn’t complain and wouldn’t exactly call myself offended either, I wouldn’t be laughing. More like hardcore rolling my eyes.

      1. Jessesgirl72*

        I’d have been rolling my eyes at the mullet too, though.

        I’d just roll my eyes at this harder in a “I can’t believe they don’t see this is potentially a hostile work environment thing” where the mullet isn’t.

      2. Annie Moose*

        I feel much the same. I’m pretty used to people making jokes at the expense of religion (mine and other people’s), so I wouldn’t get upset about it, but I would definitely think less of the person who thought that was an acceptable thing to do. (saying it as a passing joke is one thing–actually walking in to work in such an outfit is another!) There would absolutely be eyerolls.

        Now if somebody started pestering me about why I don’t find the nickname and costume funny… then I’d start getting more annoyed.

        1. Annie Moose*

          I’ve thought about this some more and I’d like to expand on my answer: one or two jokes about the guy looking like Jesus would not bother me, and I would probably find them amusing (and possibly contribute a couple of my own based on more obscure passages). Consistently calling the guy “Jesus” and making a big joke out of it, and especially actually dressing up as Jesus, is when it would cross the line from harmless entertainment to eyeroll territory.

  13. Temperance*

    I have to admit that I find this hilarious, but I’m a liberal atheist coastal elite, so I see this as akin to Jim showing up to work in his tuxedo on “The Office”.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      But in a lot of ways that gets at the point: Just because you’re not offended by it yourself, you still need to be able to see that it’s inappropriate for work. (Not aiming that at you in particular, Temperance, just pointing out that this is why this stuff goes wrong.)

    2. LBK*

      I’m also a liberal atheist coastal elite and I guess I just don’t see what the joke is. There’s plenty of white dudes with long hair and beards these days (much to my chagrin as a manbun hater).

      1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

        “Are you going to turn water into wine or make me a smoked-cinnamon Manhattan?”

          1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

            Not consciously, but all the good hipster jokes have already been made, so I’m probably ripping someone off.

            1. LBK*

              Ha – it sounds like a line from BoJack Horseman, where one of the characters is a hipster-y guy with a beard and manbun who gets mocked for that appearance, so that’s probably what I was thinking of.

      2. Temperance*

        I know a few different guys nicknamed “Jesus” because of their unfortunate hair/beard choices, but at this point, most of my network is atheist, Jewish, or Muslim, so I am admittedly fairly disconnected from Christians.

        1. Nabby*

          My team calls one of the guys who seems to always be lucky, crosses the street dangerously but somehow always at the right time etc . . “Jesus”. I think some are Christian but just generally not religious. Same idea as the OP – all men, around that age group, but more minorities.

          1. Emi.*

            I wouldn’t think to name a super lucky person after the victim of the most famous lynching in history… ;P

            1. neverjaunty*

              That’s an odd definition of “lynching”, and even odder to describe the Crucifixion as “unlucky”.

              1. Emi.*

                Oh, I’m not saying the Crucifixion was unlucky! Far from it. But it’s not at all what comes to my mind when someone narrowly and repeatedly avoids death, y’know?

              2. Amy the Rev*

                A performative execution against a member of a persecuted ethnic minority? Seems like a lynching to me! Or maybe lynching are more like crucifixions. Theologian James Cone has an incredible book about this called “The Cross and the Lynching Tree”. It’s a more common comparison than you think!

              3. Honeybee*

                Is it really that odd? A lynching is killing someone without a legal trial, usually for some kind of trumped up offense. And according to the Christian depiction of Jesus’ death…he was essentially chosen for crucifixion by an angry mob, despite not actually being found guilty of anything.

                1. Amy the Rev*

                  I’d even get more specific: it’s an execution by an in-power group of a persecuted ethnic minority deemed to be getting too ‘uppity’. The Romans crucified Jesus for essentially ‘crimes against the state’, a glorified version of insubordination, or getting too big for his Jewish britches. Both crucifixion and lynching were intended to be a warning for other members of said persecuted minority: don’t get any ideas, know your place, we’re the ones in charge here!

                2. neverjaunty*

                  If you’re a Christian, then you believe that Jesus’ crucifixion was a necessary part of God’s plan for the redemption of humanity, and was a deliberate and willing sacrifice to atone for our sins.

                  If you want to draw a line between that and say, white terrorism directed against black Americans to keep them “in their place” and as a projection of white male power, I don’t think we’re going to find a common point of agreement.

                3. Amy The Rev*

                  @neverjaunty, that’s one of *many* possible Christian theological interpretations of the crucifixion, for sure, but there are others! Also, even if I *did* believe in penal substitutionary atonement, holding that theological belief isn’t mutually exclusive with understanding the sociopolitical context of the crucifixion as a historical event and being able to draw parallels to the lynchings of the 19th and 20th centuries, because the parallel is drawn by connecting the intentions of the Romans with the intentions of the lynchers; you could believe the crucifixion was part of God’s plan and also believe the Romans thought Jesus was getting too uppity for a Jew and had to be Made An Example Of. Also for what it’s worth, I never mentioned “white male power,” just that the Romans were the ruling power and the Jewish people were a persecuted ethnic minority under the Romans.

          2. OhNo*

            Man, I though for sure you were going to say they call him “Moses” because he parts cars like the Red Sea.

            (I have had that joke made about me more than once, because I apparently have the magic ability to make cars stop and let me cross. I’ve told people it’s all about attitude, but they never believe me.)

      3. Honeybee*

        I’m a liberal atheist coastal elite myself, but I grew up religious, and I don’t see the joke as much partially because the depictions of Jesus I grew up with didn’t look anything like that. I grew up in a sect of Christianity that had a LOT of problems…but they portrayed Jesus as an average-sized, medium-to-darker-skinned dude with curly/wavy dark hair and dark brown eyes. So when I imagine Jesus, I imagine a brown dude with a fro. LOL.

    3. Gigglewater*

      I’m not Christian but the nickname and the costume would bother me because I expect *this* type of work to be a place where I don’t have deal with religion or be constantly reminded that I’m in the religious minority of this country and that my religion in general is not often taken into account in any way.

      If I were working for a religiously based company, my expectation for encountering religion would obviously shift.

  14. AnotherAlison*

    Two thoughts:

    I immediately thought of The Year of Living Biblically by AJ Jacobs when I read this post. . .someone could actually dress this way without it being a joke. (I see this was a joke, but it could happen.)

    Second thought. . .now Personal Jesus is on a loop in my head. Thanks.

  15. Karyn*

    The only thing I have to add here is that he could have accomplished the same effect by pretending he was Eric Matthews from Boy Meets World during his “Plays With Squirrels” era.

    That said, while I wouldn’t personally bat an eye, I can see why people could be offended by this.

  16. Mrs. Picky Pincher*

    It sucks, but yeah, I err more on the side of “don’t dress like Jesus at work.” It’s sticky because it implicates religion, but obviously his intent wasn’t to be disrespectful. You just never know when work stuff is involved. Some people take that stuff really, really seriously (I’ve worked with a few of them) and any joke whatsoever isn’t funny.

    1. Temperance*

      I have to admit that I LOLed at this comment, just because of how absurd it is – having to actually spell out that it’s a Bad Idea to dress up in a Jesus costume to go to work.

      1. Liane*

        I agree it is funny–but you’ve read the question from a couple years ago, about a regular, as far as I could tell from the post, workplace where some of OP’s coworkers were seriously discussing doing blackface* for a work Halloween event?

        *In the USA, it is very well-known that this is Never-Ever Done, not in any situation.

    2. Emi.*

      It’s not necessarily obvious that his intent wasn’t to be disrespectful, though. You’d have to know him personally to say, so anyone at the company who doesn’t is left wondering uncomfortably.

    3. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

      I think that’s a good rule.

      Personally, I think it’s funny. As a boss “don’t dress like Jesus at work, please”, while saying to myself, “I just had to say this out loud, I really did?”

      This is a good rule in that it would also cover a someone who was serious about dressing as Jesus at work. We had to take some praise Jesus Lord and savior something or other off of the office refrigerator last year where a well intended (?) employee had put up something (charity drive? item for sale?) with literal paragraphs of bible verses and evangelical message.

      Summary: Jesus belongs in your heart at work, not on the refrigerator and not sitting in the cube next to you.

      1. Liane*

        “Summary: Jesus belongs in your heart at work, not on the refrigerator and not sitting in the cube next to you.”

        This Christian endorses that.

        Although at a couple workplaces, I have had close work friends who shared my beliefs and we would often make payer requests of each other. On break, quietly.

    4. Annie Moose*

      I feel like when you’re dressing up as a person worshiped as a deity, though, you’re being at least a little disrespectful no matter what your primary intent is. Every adult should be aware that religion is Serious Business to a lot of people.

      1. Kelly L.*

        I would be willing to dress as my own deity under certain circumstances. But that may be unusual, IDK.

    5. LBK*

      Honestly, does it even suck that much? As workplace complaints go, “my boss wouldn’t let me dress up as Jesus” ranks pretty low, IMO.

    6. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I really think it’s important, on issues of diversity/inclusion/respect, for folks to adopt an impact approach. Intent frankly doesn’t matter if you’ve made someone feel ostracized or ridiculed by your conduct. Your intent matters later, when it comes to whether or not your coworker feels ok working with you, but it’s not a get-out-of-jail-free card to do stupid/edgy things that could alienate your peers.

  17. Robbenmel*

    I am a Christian with a deep faith…and a pretty good sense of humor (LOVE “Life of Brian”!) Context and intentions would be so, so, so important to me in this situation, so it’s hard to say how I would feel absent that information. If I felt like my faith was the butt of the joke…yeah, I would not be amused.

    1. Leah the Designer*

      Am Christian and I personally would not care. Jokes made at the expense of my religion are not going to change my faith in it. If it was done with malice, yea sure I might be a little miffed, but I also realize the only persons reactions I can control are my own.

      1. MWKate*

        I think this is the key here. We have 1 person that would not be offended, and 1 that would be bothered. You never know how people are going to react, regardless of the type of environment you’re in. Even if everyone is very friendly here, it’s still a workplace and people likely are not close enough to one another to know – for sure, that everyone will be ok with it. And 1 person being offended is too many.

    1. Emi.*


      OP, if you do put the kibosh on it, I highly recommend sticking firmly to “This is inappropriate” and not getting derailed by discussions of whether it’s funny. That’s irrelevant.

      1. Triangle Pose*

        That’s a great point. I think many here are focusing on whether they themselves or other coworkers would find it funny or offensive, the bottom line to be is that it is inapproriate. Actually Temperance’s comparison to Jim dressing in a tuxedo is very apt – simply inappropriate whether you think it’s funny or not.

    2. AndersonDarling*

      Yep. I know it’s terrible, but I hope he had a well positioned spotlight on his desk so he would have a heavenly glow, just like in the storybooks.
      I’m so very torn. It’s clever. It’s inappropriate.

      1. SimonTheGreyWarden*

        Eh. I don’t even think it’s all that clever. In my friend group back in HIGH SCHOOL we had “that guy” with long dark hair and a long beard and we called him Jesus; we also had “that guy” who always wore a trenchcoat and wrote really bitter poetry and we called him “Columbine.” Neither one was clever; both were the kind of edgelord stuff you do at 16, and ultimately the Jesus thing wasn’t original and therefore wasn’t terribly funny.

  18. Beancounter Eric*

    Perhaps I’m a bit too serious, perhaps I don’t know how to have fun, perhaps I’m just speaking like an old hand in accounting/finance, but this sounds like a company which needs a serious dose of adult supervision.

    OP, keep your resume updated, because way too many “up-and-coming, techy, mid-range e-comm company that’s always felt very inclusive, fun, and positive” have gone bust because they are more interested in having fun than creating wealth for their investors….and that is the sole reason for a for-profit company to exist.

    1. Another Lawyer*

      Agreed. I’m in the same age range as the employees at OP’s company and I probably would have flatly commented that it wasn’t funny.

    2. paul*

      Yep. I’m not always the most sensitive/tactful/socially adaptive person (and yes I do work on it) and while I find this funny, and would laugh at it at a party…it amazes me that an HR person didn’t see a problem with it in a work context! How dense can they be? Just because something’s not inherently awful doesn’t make it OK to do at work.

      I like sex and I like whiskey but my wife and I aren’t getting it on in the breakroom for pete’s sake and I don’t keep a bottle of Pappy in my desk…

  19. MuseumChick*

    I know some very devout Christians who would find this very amusing and I know some less-devout-but-still-sincere Christians who would find this highly offensive. When in doubt if something might be disrespectful (or even just perceived as such) err on the side of caution.

    Do you know if this person is religious at all?

  20. Mini Snowder*

    In my last office (young, liberal, casual, very close knit, very silly) I would not be surprised if this happened and wouldn’t bat an eye. In my current office??? I’m uncomfortable just thinking about it.

  21. Danger Zone*

    Please tell me he came dressed like Kenny Loggins the next day. I think that Kenny and the kiddos Jeebus look a lot alike.

    1. Temperance*

      That post legit set me off into an anxiety spiral yesterday. I doubled my sanitizing and Clorox wiped my door handles.

  22. Delta Delta*

    I feel like a “hey dude, I’ll give you $1000 if you come in dressed like Jesus” bet could have still gotten him the money and been done in a different way – a way that would be less offensive (if people were offended), and a way that could be more comfortable and/or productive to him. Here are some alternative ideas:

    1. Modern-day Jesus. White caftan, white linen pants, wool socks (if cold), Birkenstocks. Subtle “Storybook Jesus” look, updated for today’s modern office. I feel like this has to be accessorized with leather cord necklaces and/or bracelets, and horn-rimmed glasses. In fact, I might wear that exact outfit tomorrow, as I am always looking for an excuse to wear Birkenstocks and caftans.

    2. Full-body purple bowling outfit and hairnet, as worn by John Turturro in The Big Lebowski. Technically still Jesus, likely not at all offensive to anyone working in tech. Likely to cause everyone to quote The Big Lebowski all day. Possibly remove all rugs and stock up on White Russian supplies before doing this.

    3. There are lots of people actually named Jesus out there, including lots of professional athletes – I can think of a few baseball players, a couple soccer players, and at least one horse jockey, all named Jesus. He could have dressed in a jersey or shirt of a famous athlete Jesus. Still technically dressed as Jesus.

  23. Roscoe*

    This is definitely something that I personally wouldn’t do, yet I wouldn’t have a problem with either. As Alison said, it is so office dependent. It would probably be fine in my current office, but not my last one.

  24. anonintheuk*

    This reminds me of when work decided to take us to a place which hosted a ‘medieval banquet’. This involved a load of anachronistic foods AND people dressing up as nuns. Ridiculous.

  25. AnonEMoose*

    I’ve read somewhere (I wish I could remember where) that the original model for the portraits of what we think of as “storybook Jesus” was Cesare Borgia…this has since amused me quite a bit, having read a fair amount about the Borgia family.

    Anyway, for a little background on my perspective…at the science fiction convention I help run, there’s often a “boffing” tournament – basically, people fighting with padded foam weapons. And one year, I stood and watched with considerable amusement as three guys dressed as “Buddy Christ” from “Dogma” were beating on each other. In that environment, there was nothing inappropriate about it, and it was hilarious.

    But someone coming to an office job, no matter how casual, dressed as storybook Jesus would get some side eye from me. It’s all about context. I often wear a corset at the convention, but wouldn’t wear one to the office, because it’s just not appropriate in that context. I’m not Christian, and wouldn’t be personally offended, but it would seem in poor taste to me in the context of a supposedly professional job. Not something to rate more than a “hey, not really cool, don’t do it again” from the manager, but something that should be mentioned, if that makes sense.

    1. VintageLydia*

      Currently playing Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood (Cesare Borgia is the main villain along with his father the Pope) and now I won’t be able to see Storybook Jesus the same way ever again.

  26. Katie the Fed*

    “If anyone reading this has ever wonder why managers sometimes seem like sticks-in-the mud, this is a perfect example of why.”

    Hahahaa yes. Preach!

    I have employees like this. I always think of it like when a 3-year old drops an F-Bomb. It’s hilarious, but you still have to go through the motions of telling them to stop.

  27. Loznak*

    Maybe he got tired of the “Jesus” nickname and this was his response. It could be done in humor, or letting people know he doesn’t care for it.

  28. Critter*

    I’m reminded of a story. At the company Christmas party one year, my boss (who was the head of his department, and his had recently merged with another) made those dancing Christmas elves videos with different people’s faces on the elves. One of the people wasn’t Christian; I’m not sure what religion he practiced but he was certainly Not Christian enough that when he saw that he got up and left the party.

    I would have chuckled. But it ain’t the place. (And the fact that is it the place for some places is a problem.)

    1. SCAnonibrarian*

      That may not have been a religious thing tho. A couple of my friends got tagged in the same thing (a coworker snagged their faces from their Facebook profiles and posted the video without asking permission) and it got distributed around and shoved at me to watch. I was so uncomfortable about seeing it (knowing they hadn’t given permission for their faces to be used in it) and at the thought of my own face/body/image getting attached to something similar that I ended up in the bathroom doing breathing exercises to stave off a panic attack. So it could have just been a personal-space or ownership or image-control issue for the guy at your workplace too.

    1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*


      I’ll just show myself down to hell, thanks.

        1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

          Yes. “I got shown all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time and all I got was this crappy t-shirt.”

      1. Amy the Rev*

        @The Not Mad…are you sneakily one of the creators of A Game for Good Christians?

        If not, you should work for them.
        If so, you’re one of my heroes…

        1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

          That’d be hilarious, but nope, I’m just burned out on technical writing and feeling a little slaphappy.

  29. MWKate*

    While I’m not religious, and wouldn’t personally be offended, I’ve always been uncomfortable with people taking religious figures or idols and using them for humor/twisting them to subtly mock. While objectively – yes, I would probably laugh at this, I think the risk of hurting/offending someone is too great.

    There are a lot of areas to draw from for humor, this is one that is best avoided.

    1. TL -*

      Whereas that is generally my favorite form of humor (done well).

      That being said – not appropriate for the workplace.

  30. animaniactoo*

    Truth, I would find this uncomfortable on two fronts. 1) I want to genuinely respect the beliefs of people who are different than I am by not mocking those beliefs. It’s one thing to see a humorous comparison and note it, it’s something else to take it to the “next level” and roll with it. It’s part of how I ask for respect for myself and what I believe in – by choosing to mindfully respect theirs as best I can. 2) I have no wish whatsoever to give those I consider extremist and overstepping an iota more of ammunition in feeling persecuted.

    So… yeah. The office can be fun and friendly, but at the same time, you have to remember that people are there not just because they enjoy working, but because they rely on this paycheck in order to be able to live. This is a captive audience, and the majority of them don’t have the wherewithal to just walk away because they’re not comfortable with the “joke”.

    I think it’s important on this kind of joke to remember who the real target is: It’s a group that they’re not all a part of. That is ripe ground for offending somebody even when it’s “all in good fun”.

  31. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

    Uf da, this is uncomfortable.

    I think the way I look at it, boiling everything down, is this: what is the risk of negative repercussions, and what is the possibility of positive ones? Jokes and inoffensive shenanigans can be great for morale, especially in an office that skews younger, but the flip-side to the morale boost is that you do have to be really careful to make sure that the shenanigans really are inoffensive. Dressing up like a religious figure (any religious figure; I can’t see a Ganesha costume being any more acceptable than a Jesus costume, and probably more disruptive at that) is high on the risk that someone is going to be offended, and I don’t see it being a particularly valuable morale shenanigan to offset that higher risk.

  32. Nan*

    Godless heathen here. I think it’s funny. But I also think it’s work inappropriate. Jesus should have been sent home to change.

    On a side note, my godless heathen husband works for a super Christian company, and I emailed him this article and told him I’d give him $100 to do it. But, he’s bald, so growing the hair may be a challenge.

  33. Allison*

    I’ve worked at some similar chill, techy companies and I’m fairly laid back myself when it comes to office norms. I also know some young, church-going Christians who probably wouldn’t have been offended per se, but to me, this seems inappropriate and unprofessional for even the chillest offices I can think of. For one thing, coming to work in a costume when it’s not Halloween, and there isn’t any other occasion that might call for it, is bizarre. And distracting, which is annoying. I mean really, it wasn’t enough that he could wear jeans and a hoodie and blow off steam playing ping pong like everyone else at those places, he had to wear a costume just for shiggles? And if there’s a chance that even one person will feel put off or belittled for actually following Christ seriously, it’s not worth it. Save your costumes for Halloween.

        1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

          Flawless AAM/Bible combo reference. +1000 points, go home, you earned it.

      1. oranges & lemons*

        Then he comes back to the office on Sunday to pack up his desk and hangs around the break room for forty days before becoming a freelance consultant.

        1. Amy the Rev*

          This is too. good.

          too good, I say!

          Witty, informed, irreverent humor is the best kind of humor IMO

          Favorite AAM comment thread 5ever.

  34. Employment Lawyer*

    I’d make sure that the Jesus dude got a stern “you should know better” lecture. But I’d fire the head of HR.

    This one is gut-wrenchingly obvious.

    I see many people in the thread who viewed this as anti-Christian or “lampooning.” But I assure you that plenty of non-Christians would view it as very PRO-Christian. It isn’t only Christians who will get offended.

    More to the point this guy just handed something close to a per se hostile-environment factoid to everyone in the office. I tell the jury “some guy showed up dressed as Jesus and stayed at work all day with open approval of the management team, and people were smiling and calling him Jesus all day” and it’s brutal for the company in combination with other facts.

    This is HR’s job to know; if they don’t even recognize it then the HR guy should get the ax.

    1. Chinook*

      So, does that mean you would have a “come to Jesus talk” with him?

      (I will now go back and hide in my corner)

    2. Teclatrans*

      I agree that, as a non-Christian, I initially misses that this is something Christians might see as mocking. My own discomfort was with feeling like this was seriously having Christianity shoved down my throat in the environment. So, sound like this stunt has the potential to alienate a broad range of people. (For the record, I would see the humor and kinda chuckle, but at the same time I would feel the weight of Christianity all around me and feel alienated.

  35. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

    I actually think this is pretty funny- the issue for me is how/if the employee talked about religion, and how he acted dressed as Jesus. If he’s pretending to be a conservative Christian (read: religious-based homophobic or sexist remarks, even as satire), or dressing as Jesus while making fun of religion or insisting it isn’t real, that would cross a line.

    Maybe I’m touchy. But I’ve had a really difficult time as an openly gay Christian. Either Christians reject me a lot, or my own community makes really hostile comments. I understand some hostility, since a lot of people have been really hurt by religion, but recent, someone from my community compared Christianity to the KKK, apropos of nothing. No argument or bad actions by any church; someone had simply asked “what is a good church to take my kid?” The person said “don’t take them, if you left the KKK would you take your kid back to it?”

    Also, it’s hurtful for me to hear someone say, without considering who’s around, that God is imaginary or a myth, or for it to be denigrated in that way. If I don’t insult your atheism, don’t insult my faith by callously saying “imaginary sky god” or something.

    So Allison’s right, the costume is probably too risky.

    1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      Man, sad gay Christian brofist :( It’s a tough line to walk, on both sides of it.

      1. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

        Definitely. I’m sorry, and I hope you’re able to find a good community. I would invite you to my church! Both pastors are gay and are very anti discrimination since both were defrocked/not given the collar since they were out before the decision to ordain LGB clergy.

        1. Liane*

          Supportive, straight Christian here hoping the Countess finds a good community. My church is mostly straight as far as I know, but we have gay/lesbian members. Yup, in the Bible Belt.

      1. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

        I’ll post in this weekend’s free for all, if I remember, asking who else is one! It’s always great to find people.

  36. I'm Not Phyllis*

    Yah I don’t know. On some level I could see finding it funny, but in a work environment it would probably just make me really uncomfortable because I’d be waiting for SOMEONE to have a problem with it. Plus I feel like after the guy walks in it would lose its appeal pretty quickly (just for shock value maybe?).

    It may just be me, but I feel like certain topics should be off limits for jokes at work – religion, sex, politics … but maybe that’s just me being a stick-in-the-mud!

    1. Lovemyjob...Truly!!!*

      Not being a stick in the mud! I’m with you. I feel like this is one of those things where you have to know your audience. I went to a Halloween party where there were several risque religious themed costumes. All of the costumes were based on Catholicism and the majority of all party-goers were affiliated with the religion at one point in time and the costumes were received with humor and a few “Oh, that’s terrible.” said with laughter and a bit of disbelief that someone would dare wear them. I, myself, laughed uproariously. I would NOT laugh if one of my co-workers came to the office wearing one of those same costumes. It’s not the place. I would never wear a religious, political, or even questionable pop-culture* costume to a work event, but to a private party, where I knew the audience, I might.

      *thinking specifically of the time a co-worker changed into her costume before a party she was going to dressed as “Octomom”. Luckily there were only 4 of us in the office, it was after hours, and the boss wasn’t there…but it was definitely eyebrow raising.

  37. Kms1025*

    I was taught a very long time ago that you don’t talk about sex, politics, or religion in “mixed” company. I always took that to mean family and friends, ok. You know your audience. But co-workers, no way! Just calling the guy Jesus should have been shut down. And the HR guy, what size are those blinders you’re wearing buddy? Perfect example of a “funny” joke in the wrong setting and then not handled appropriately. Knuckleheads all around :(

  38. FOH Manager*

    Does make me wonder where this office is based, if the guy had to use public transport to get to work, what the people on the train/bus/whatever might have thought (if he didn’t drive), whether or not he wore a coat over it, that kind of thing.

    Personally, I would find this funny, but I am a) British with a self-lampooning sense of humour and b) not easily offendable and c) not religious.

    Having said that, I agree with the general consensus – probably not appropriate at work.

  39. Miss Elaine E.*

    I happen to be Catholic and take my faith seriously. I can only think of one workplace where I’ve been in which the OP’s post would have any possibility of happening, but I think if it had, I would have been straddling the line between being horribly offended and rolling my eyes in a “are we in junior high?” kind of way.
    But then, I tend to think costumes don’t generally belong in the workplace. At another workplace, we did wear costumes on Halloween (non-client-facing office setting). I was very young and it was not a big deal but no one came in with a potentially offensive costume either.
    I certainly hope this scenario did not take place in any client- or public-facing situation. I also wonder if “Jesus” is running the risk of burying any professional credibility he may have built by now being known as “the guy who dressed up as Jesus.”

  40. Cath in Canada*

    I know a guy who, when he was younger, looked a LOT like Jonathan Frakes from Star Trek: TNG. We used to call him Commander Johnny. One evening he randomly showed up to the pub in a Star Trek uniform, to universal hilarity. He said it had gone down well at work, too.

    Be like Commander Johnny. Don’t be like dress-like-Jesus-at-work guy.

  41. Former Computer Professional*

    I cannot believe nobody asked if this guy swallowed a “Little Book of Calm.”

      1. Purest Green*

        Add a dab of lavender to milk; leave town with an orange, and pretend you’re laughing at it.

  42. Thomas E*

    This would be highly insulting to Islam. The Messiah, Mohammed and Moses are all Islamic Prophets and the prohibition against depicting a prophet applies to all three.

    1. Temperance*

      I don’t think that this is true. Otherwise, it would be offensive to have a cross/cruficix or Jesus statute, and those absolutely exist.

    2. LabTech*

      No, it isn’t. Actually, one of the major significant differences between Christianity and Islam (because, honestly, they’re a lot more similar that the current political climate would have you believe), is that Muslims don’t believe Jesus is the son of God. This is because our religion says God has no son, father, siblings, etc. That’s not to say we don’t think highly of Jesus; he just doesn’t have the same standing in Islam as with Christianity.

      More on topic: I would find the depiction mostly uncomfortable, as I’d have no way of knowing if anyone was offended. But also I’d worry about the door this might open to Islamophobia in that office (e.g. “If making fun of this religion is okay, why not make fun of that other one?”).

        1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

          Yep, absolutely. In fact, Islam in general tends to shun representative religious art as a whole, no matter the depiction – hence the use of geometrical, floral, and motif designs in most Islamic art.

          1. ResearchTech*

            The geometric designs and intricate wallpaper patterns are also due to the fact that early Islamic cultures were intellectual centers for developing mathematics. (Etymologically, it’s why we use “x” for an unknown, and where the word algebra comes from,”Al-jabr.”)

      1. Thomas E*

        You are wrong, LabTech.

        Jesus is a prophet within the Islamic tradition. He doesn’t have the same status as he does in the Christian religion but I did not claim he does.

        Note I also said depicting Moses or Mohammed in this way would be insulting to Islam.

        1. LabTech*

          Hm, I was reading your comment as referring to depictions in general – since Jesus gets depicted all the time without any complaint, I figured that was no big deal. But I realize now you’re referring just to dressing up as a religious figure, not depicting them.

          1. LabTech*

            (Though I should add, I’m Muslim and don’t feel personally insulted by that – but different people will feel differently.)

  43. Stellaaaaa*

    The fact that a lot of people here are making biblical jokes I can’t quite place is an indication that the office in question was probably a rather exclusionary environment that day for anyone who isn’t Christian. Seriously, I’m pretty fluent in pop culture and basic global reality and I’m not getting a lot of these jokes. You can’t assume everyone speaks this language.

  44. Tuckerman*

    Someone needs to have a come to Jesus talk with this guy. Or maybe they did, and he took them literally?

    One problem with this employee’s decision to dress like Jesus is that people may feel like they need to pretend not to be offended so that they don’t disrupt group dynamics.

  45. Colorado*

    The first thought that popped into my head is a scene from The Big Lebowski at the bowling alley where John Goodman says, “Jesus!” to the creepy guy who licked his ball. I’m sorry, I just thought that was funny. For work, probably not appropriate.

  46. Whats In A Name*

    OK, so am I the only one who thinks the nickname originated as a reference to The Walking Dead character and then went too far? In the comic books and the show the guy does not dress like a biblical character so I never really gave the nickname a 2nd thought & probably wouldn’t in the workplace either.

    Dressing like Jesus, complete with Hebrew inscription on his clothing? At work it’s beyond inappropriate. At a party I’d probably think it was genius to include that level of detail. Know your audience.

  47. Jules*

    Could we please keep sex, politics, and/or religion out of workplace. How does this fit into workplace, joke or not? Look, have an afterwork party and dress up however you need/want, talk about whatever you want, but keep it out of workplace. I am seeing a lot of blurred lines here. People, we don’t go to work to have frat parties/have fun. We go to work, to work and earn money for after work fun. What are people thinking? Am I thinking too old school?

    1. Fawnling*

      Ugh. Tell this to my co-worker please. He brings up the election/politicians/political “memes” on a daily basis. He continues to do this even after I told him I don’t share his same sentiment.

  48. Brogrammer*

    1. I think it’s funny, especially since it’s a running joke about how the guy looks like Sunday school storybook Jesus. I also think that broadly speaking, it falls under the “punching up” rule of humor since Christianity is the dominant religion in most of the Western world and especially in the US.

    2. The fact that this is so polarizing means that, funny or not, it’s not appropriate for the workplace. I’m reminded of the letter here about a meme reading “Tea time, bitches!” being circulated around an office.

  49. Fawnling*

    Liberal Pagan here! Dressing as Jesus at work is highly inappropriate. I find religion and spirituality to be a highly personal and private thing so I would be incredibly uncomfortable to have someone dressed as Jesus at work just as I’d be equally as uncomfortable working next to someone dressed as Cernunnos.

    1. paul*

      Did Cernunnos even have a set outfit/look? I know a torc is pretty standard but other than that I haven’t seen a lot of references to a standard outfit

  50. Lee*

    Dressing in a white robe and sandals is inappropriate? Because westernized Jesus is depicted this way?
    It could be a bit inappropriate in the context of the nickname that his work gave him, but it’s the nickname, not the clothing. Westernized Jesus does not have a copyright on beards, white robes and sandals. If his work addresses anything, it should be the nickname. Artistic depictions are what the masses are using to form some visual of their version of Jesus, but nobody really knows how he really looked. ::shrugs::
    Also, that $1,500 bet example really rubbed me the wrong way, how much expendable income do white techy guys at start ups have? :(

    1. Fawnling*

      Right. But he was INTENDING to personify Jesus. We know this because the way he dressed is consistent with Western ideas of what Jesus would look like as stated by OP. We may never know what Real Jesus looks like, but that isn’t the point.

  51. Rachael*

    Aside from any religious controversy, it is not appropriate to dress in costumes at work, no matter what it is. If there is a dress code it obviously violates it. Now, there are people who wear such clothes, but they are not wearing it as a costume.

    We don’t know if the person is Christian and is actually mocking a religion, but bottom line is that ut is the workplace. If a Hindu dressed up as Vishnu it would be the same.

    No costumes at work.

  52. Fresh Faced*

    Yeah not a fan of this. I had a friend dress up as Jesus at a Halloween party and that was uncomfortable for me, but in that situation I could just walk away. I wouldn’t be able to do that at work. Whether or not a person finds it funny the issue is that they can’t leave regardless of their feelings. They had to go about their work day interacting with “Jesus” in a somewhat professional manner, and if the situation affected them an a deeper level they’re going to be feeling uncomfortable interacting with this person, and the people who were in on the joke for a while. If no one (HR) says anything about it I don’t see that environment getting better.

  53. Lissa*

    Oh man. This is a great example of why whether or not something is *funny* has nothing to do with whether it’s work appropriate. So often people fall back on “I don’t find this funny” as shorthand for “I’m offended” but really it doesn’t matter. I find a lot of really offensive things funny, and a lot of things I find completely unhumourous are not offensive at all.

    How funny a joke is really shouldn’t even matter here – nobody gets disciplined for telling bad knock-knock jokes after all. I feel like linking the concepts leads to a lot of stuff like “oh, you have no sense of humour” where it’s like, well no, I can find something funny and also realize it’s completely not appropriate for work!

    1. Stellaaaaa*

      You’ve hit on two really good points:

      1) “Oh come on, it’s just a joke!” Well it’s a bad one. Also, we’re adults so how about we knock off the jokes at work?

      2) I’ll wear yoga pants and a bathrobe tomorrow and say it’s a joke. A comfy, unfunny joke. I’ll wear perfume in the fragrance-free office and say it’s a joke. You’re just opening the door for people to do whatever they want, and it doesn’t take long for legitimately offensive remarks to bubble to the surface in that type of environment. Family Guy is “just a joke,” but IMO they use the veneer of self-conscious humor to say the racist/sexist stuff that they already wanted to say.

  54. Printer's Devil*

    At the office, this is highly inappropriate.

    That being said, it provided us with some glorious comment threads. So there’s that?

  55. AR*

    Very funny thread- just wanted to add that this is one of the best, concise descriptions I have read about why “office jokes” should be treated differently.

    “But there’s a different standard for what kind of jokes you can make at work. Things that would be seen 100% as good-natured fun in your social circle can end up being inappropriate in a work context, where you have a captive audience of people who probably come from a bunch of different backgrounds and walks of life. You’ve got varying religions (and degrees of religiosity), ages, gender, economic backgrounds, sexual orientation, and so forth. And an employer has a strong interest in ensuring that they all feel reasonably comfortable and respected.”

  56. Will's mom*

    Back around ’92-94 my oldest son (not named Will) also resembled the Sunday School Jesus picture. His job was to drive nursing home patients to and from hospital/doctor’s appointments.

    One Halloween, he dressed as Jesus. He went to pick up a lovely lady (one of his favorites) who had dementia. He had to wake her up to get her on the gurney. She woke up and started celebrating because she thought she had died and gone to Heaven. Once she realized that she was still alive, she sobbed uncontrollably from disappointment. Then she got really angry and started thrashing around and screamed obscenities all within a 10 minute time frame. He was able to quiet her down by putting his hand on her arm and said “Peace, be still!” It worked, and until her dying day, she swore up and down that Jesus paid her a visit.

  57. mwatkins*

    And here I was, thinking this was a very clear and clever message from the guy in a building full of people who are not listening or paying attention to him . “My name is MIKE. Get it? MIKE…not Jesus.”

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