my boss wants to bring me back into the religious fold

A reader writes:

I have a great job (honestly, my best yet) as an assistant in a local office of a larger company based in another state. The big boss of this office (not the office manager, who is my overall boss in addition to the people I support) discovered that I’m the daughter of someone whose career he greatly admired — in fact, the parallels of their respective careers are sort of remarkable, though they never met. Big boss is also a member of the religion of my parents. I have had my name removed from the records of this same religion, a decision I made many years ago and regret not in the least.

Big boss is nice enough (I guess), but he’s made noise more than a few times about having me over on Sundays, said things like my parent must have sent me (from heaven) to this company because it was time for me to go back to the religion, etc. At the same time it’s sort of a “respect” for me, because of my parent, it’s extremely uncomfortable and feels very patronizing, as if I, an adult, can’t make my own choices clearly in life and just need someone like him to show me the way. Also, my (late) parent was abusive and not quite the same as the public persona, so having to hold up some ideal is wearing.

I can navigate hearing about my parent, even though I’d rather not, but the pressure however slight to show up for some religious BS (in my opinion) or even just to have to address this is really obnoxious. So far my polite “oh, I don’t think that’s going to happen” to his sort-of invites hasn’t really sunk in. I’d like to tell him that I’ve had my name removed from the records and that I’m really not interested in anything church-related, but it’s also none of his business what I’ve chosen to do with the religion I grew up in, and frankly I’m not interested in being judged. I know what he is doing is inappropriate, but I don’t want to step out of my level and tell a big boss to back off.

I’m thinking of talking to the office manager, who is super cool, but I’m not sure exactly how to approach it with her. One of the people I support is also a member of this religion, but not in the least pushy/intrusive. He seemed to get it right away — I’m not one of them anymore — and has no issue with it whatsoever. I didn’t even realize he was still an active participant until about two years into the job. So, I also thought about talking about it with him, as he is a peer with big boss, but again, I’m not sure.

While I question whether big boss is ever going to seriously expect me to show up for something religious-wise at his house or anywhere else, I would rather just be clear that I’m not ever going to be interested so that I don’t have to hear about it anymore. I’m sure he “means well” (ugh), but however well-intended it feels like bullying, in that I truly want nothing to do with this religion, which is why I took steps to get them to leave me alone. I know it’s not actual bullying, I just say that because it brings up so much yuck for me.

Yeah, he shouldn’t be doing this at all in a work context, but if he’s going to, then he damn well should take “oh, I don’t think that’s going to happen” as a message to back off. He’s being really inappropriate and boundary-crossing. And maybe he’d be like that with anyone with family roots in his religion, or maybe it’s just because of your parent, but it will doesn’t matter — it’s not okay regardless.

I hear you on not wanting to tell someone several levels up from you to back off … but there’s a way to say that politely that won’t be in the least bit insubordinate. Several ways, actually! Here are some options:

* “I should have said this earlier, but I prefer not to talk about religion at work at all.” (To be clear, you were not obligated to say that earlier. That’s just softening language because you’re concerned about power dynamics.)

* “It’s kind of you to suggest that, but I am not a member of (religion) and I definitely prefer not to talk about it at work. I hope you understand!”

* “Oh, I’d really rather not discuss religion at work. My parents actually drilled into me that I should never do that!” (Let’s see if playing off of his admiration for your parents will work here.)

Or you can jettison all that padding language and just say bluntly: “I’d rather not discuss religion at work!” Truly, just saying it outright like that is fine. Say it in a cheerful tone so that you don’t sound like you’re chastising him — because, again, power dynamics, and that’s likely to get you the best outcome — but it’s fine to say.

It would also be fine to seek advice from your direct manager (the office manager) or the other person you support who you thought might be helpful, but before you do that, I’d try clearly telling this guy that you’re not up for religious talk … both because that might solve it and because anyone you ask for advice is likely to ask you if you’ve tried that yet.

If you tell him directly that you don’t want to talk about religion and he keeps doing it anyway, then at that point definitely do seek help from your manager or someone else. He’s actually opening your company to legal liability by continuing to prosthelytize at you after you’ve asked him to stop, and you’d be on solid ground saying something like, “I’ve asked him to stop but it’s continued, and I know we can get in legal trouble for pushing religion on employees, so I’m hoping you might be able to help me get this to stop.”

{ 274 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager Post author

    This is a request not to indulge in speculation in the comments about what religion you think this is. The letter writer presumably chose not to name if for a reason, and speculation is likely to be derailing and not change the advice. Thank you.

    1. JM60

      “about what religion you think this is”

      …or lack of religion. I think it’s worth keeping in mind that both religious and non-religious people can run into boundary crossing problems like this.

      1. JM60

        I interpreted “what religion you think this is” to be referring to what religion the OP converted to, not the religion they deconverted from.

        1. Jasnah

          Hm. The way I read it, “what religion” clearly refers to the only religion mentioned in the letter, the one OP is no longer a member of. Though that would also be pretty off-base to speculate about OP’s new religion, if she even has one.

          1. JM60

            I agree that that’s what she meant, but that’s not how I read it when I wrote my initial comment. So I wanted to point out that misinterpretation so that my comment makes more sense.

    2. Database Developer Dude

      I’m betting that even if it is painfully obvious which religion this is, Alison doesn’t want speculation because she wants advice for the OP, and does NOT want this to turn into a -bashing session, as she is afraid it might.

    3. Lance Tukell

      Separation of church and office and does not always work. I was in a similar situation many years ago where I worked for a small company that was comprised mostly of fundamentalist ultra-religious people. I used to be in their fold. When they learned that I was no longer religious, they went on a not-so-subtle campaign to include me in religious events or other rituals – even to set me up on dates with religious partners. I set very clear boundaries that my private life is private and that I do not wish to discuss religion in the office. Well, the managers stopped bugging me. But more insidious was that I was gradually being excluded from the kind of business information and meetings that were so vital to my success there. The detente that I was looking for resulted in a kind of attrition of my stature and inclusion there. I quit, and moved on to much greener pastures. My conclusion is that fundamentalists are hard-wired and while you can insist on equality when among them, it is more effective to change the channel.

  2. CaliCali

    I absolutely think going to the “cool” peer of the boss would be a really helpful move in light of the dynamics. I imagine if LW is more upfront about deliberately leaving the religion, the boss will double down on their efforts to bring LW back into the fold, since that’s part of the tenets of the faith itself (I’m guessing it’s like being ex-LDS or ex-evangelical). Having a peer pull him aside might be more effective.

    1. JSPA

      I suspect we can guess which religion based on there being a “record of names,” but I’m equally sure it would be derailing and intrusive to go ahead and name it. It’s not my place to say, “please don’t,” but I’m going to suggest it gently (in the same way we don’t out / hint at our ability to ID or dox people if we guess their employer, home town, etc). And I’m dropping this in as close to the top as I reasonably can.

      1. JSPA

        OP, if your father’s as dominant a figure as you suggest, I would take another tack for your (very specific) situation.

        As I read it, the religion is a big irritant, but the personal stuff cuts far deeper. The combination is particularly poisonous. But if the religious talk were to stop and the father talk continued, it would be very nearly as problematic as the current situation.

        So:

        “Because my father has had such an outsize influence on people, I made a vow* early in life that I would succeed or fail entirely independent of him, his influence, his name, and his legacy. Reflecting on our conversation about my father**, I have come to the knowledge** that your kind offer of further such meetings and discussion would violate that vow.”

        *Use whatever equivalent terminology in your ex-religion means, “this was sworn before god, and you need to back off” and ** “I gave this deep thought with possible religious overtones and saw a message as clear to me as if it came from god.” Seems like every religion has its own variant, so find what works in yours.

        Rationale(s):

        First: religious people respect vows–leverage that. (It’s about the only thing that’s likely to trump both general “father primacy” and the specific connection he feels with your father.)

        Secondly: It’s not particularly contentious or unusual for the child of someone famous to express a desire to succeed or fail on their own merits. In fact, it plays as the good sort of “gumption,” plus “humility,” making it a broadly admirable / “no red flags” way of phrasing a wish to avoid further Father-related talk.

        Thirdly: there’s absolutely no hint in your statement that the person he apparently reveres was a bit of a monster (which obviously should matter a heck of a lot more to you than it does to Big Boss…but if Big Boss is oddly invested and going to be strange about that, then that’s the reality you’re dealing with).

        Fourthly: It sets up a general theme of “respecting people (more and better) at a distance” and “making my own way in the world” as a philosophy. If that’s how you (as far as your boss knows) deal with your dad, and with life in general, then it may make boss feel good that you deal with him that way, too. Basically, it takes the emotional implications of your being cool and distant, way down. Anything that buys you distance without ramping up the weirdness quotient is a winner, here.

        If this doesn’t work, continue on to the other, more generally applicable “religion at work / personal vs work streams” comments and strategies.

        Note, however, that it’s not impossible that boss is channeling actual directives from the religious org, or even from your dad / dad’s enablers, and the process won’t stop unless you start throwing flame. In which case, you’ll have to decide whether the job is really lovely ot the point where you’ll ignore the misery; whether you want to blow things out of the water, and accept the fallout; or whether there are other lovely jobs that don’t come with a side of grabby tentacles, and it would be better to shift over to one of those, before making waves.

          1. JSPA

            Some religions have sub-sects that form around a powerful charismatic figure and persist after the figure’s death, carrying out their stated, implied or imputed wishes. (I suppose one could argue that most religions follow this pattern in a grand sense — but some do it recursively, down to the granular level of current family interactions. That’s what i was thinking of.)

        1. AnnaBananna

          I actually really like your language about the OP taking a vow to distance herself. If that doesn’t work, then I’d use Alison’s last one basically shaming Big Boss about talking religion with coworkers without their consent.

        2. Michaela Westen

          If she does decide to leave, I hope she’ll throw flame on her way out. IMHO people like big boss need to be called out and an attempt made to get them to understand the effects of their behavior.

        3. Bobbin Ufgood

          I think this is an excellent suggestion. I have a parent who is a relatively prominent religious figure and if that impacted my work, I would immediately take this advice.

          1. Bobbin Ufgood

            I’m referring to JSPA’s excellent suggestion, by the way — sometimes I fail at nesting, sorry!

            1. JSPA

              I can vouch that I’ve seen variants of this (secular or religious) work well for people with generally powerful parents + family disengagement needs (personal, or merely based on strong disagreements about many of of various “isms”).

  3. MLB

    I prefer the simple “I don’t speak about religion at work.” Rinse and repeat. And if he doesn’t stop, speak to the office manager. It’s none of his business whether you do or do not support the religion. All he needs to know is that you don’t want to discuss it, regardless of the connection with your parent.

    1. Liet-Kinda

      The downside is that this can come off as weirdly stonewallish and robotic, especially in the context of an actual conversation.

      “LW, you should come over some Sunday after we sacrifice to the dread god Shekondar, my wife makes a lovely meatloaf.”

      “I don’t speak about religion at work.”

      “Your parents must have guided you here to get you back to Shekondarism!”

      “I don’t speak about religion at work.”

      Do you not see how that comes off as more than slightly bizarre? Actual human beings do not speak to each other like that in real conversations, particularly if there’s a relationship there they don’t want to burn. Not to be too repetitive, but like I said below, I feel like a lot of the JADE scripts and “No is a complete sentence” have been generalized to all awkward conversations when they were intended as final-option conversation-terminators between people in genuinely toxic relationships.

      1. designbot

        You don’t have to stonewall with it, you can vary and react like you normally would, just keep to the message.

        “LW, you should come over some Sunday after we sacrifice to the dread god Shekondar, my wife makes a lovely meatloaf.”

        “I’d prefer not to talk religion at work, please don’t invite me to things like that.”

        “Your parents must have guided you here to get you back to Shekondarism!”

        “I’ve told you I’d prefer not to talk about that, I’m actually here to work on my knowledge of XYZ.”

          1. AcademiaNut

            They are kind of stiff. But that’s sort of the point – the boss is doing something inappropriate, he has ignored attempts to deflect it tactfully, and the OP is not in a position to tell him to %@#$ off and leave her alone. So a stiff and repetitive answer is entirely appropriate, particularly as she probably does not want to get into a detailed religious discussion with him.

            And keep in mind that if this doesn’t work, the next step of escalation is to talk to HR using words like “unwanted proselytisation” and “legal liability”, which is definitely going to be awkward.

          2. Geoffrey B

            Boundaries have to become rigid if somebody pushes against them hard enough, though. Otherwise they’re not functional as boundaries. You can put some padding on them for the benefit of people who might impinge on them accidentally, and it sounds like OP has already done that, but their boss hasn’t taken the hint.

            Captain Awkward has a great line about “returning awkwardness to sender” that’s applicable here. Yes, this situation is weird, but the weirdness began with the person who kept pushing their religion on a subordinate.

            1. Jasnah

              I never understood that line, because the “awkwardness” is only perceived by one side. The issue is Big Boss does not see how he is making LW uncomfortable. If pushing back would make him feel awkward, then this wouldn’t be letter-worthy. Is the idea just to encourage people to do or say things even if they feel uncomfortable because it’s not their fault the situation is uncomfortable? That line gets repeated here a lot and I’m not sure how it would work in the wild.

              That said, I always interpreted “‘I don’t want to talk about it’–rinse and repeat” advice not as a Tommy Wiseau-esque script to repeat as-is ad nauseum, but as advice to use various wordings that show disinterest in the whole topic.
              “OP, I’m so glad you’re here, it’s like a little bit of the Smiling God in the office every day.”
              “Aw, thanks boss, but you know I don’t like to talk about religious stuff at work.”

              “Hey, you should come over on Sunday after we sacrifice to Huntokar!”
              “Can’t make it but it’s kind of you to think of me!”

              “OP, your father revolutionized the bloodstone circle. He really…”
              “Sorry boss, but I like to keep work and religion separate. Gotta get to those reports!”
              and so on.

                1. Michaela Westen

                  As I posted below, if he’s like the fundamentalists I knew growing up, he thinks his mission to “save” is the only important thing and doesn’t care about boundaries, unfortunately.

              1. Casual Fribsday

                The way I interpret returning awkwardness to sender is not that you make the other person feel awkward, but that you acknowledge to yourself that the other person is causing the awkwardness you are feeling. Because “I’m being / making this awkward” is way to talk yourself out of assertiveness, when that isn’t necessarily warranted.

                1. Jasnah

                  Ah, I see, it’s a mantra about shifting blame for the awkwardness, not a goal to make the other person feel awkward. Thanks!

                2. Geoffrey B

                  After googling on occasions where Captain Awkward used that expression, I think it *is* meant to encompass making the other person feel awkward – not necessarily as a *goal*, but accepting that if solving the problem requires doing it, then it’s okay.

                  See e.g. this post: https://captainawkward.com/2015/08/01/729-shutting-down-nosey-strangers/ where her example is:

                  “If you want to remain scrupulously honest, I’ve had luck with “I don’t discuss that with strangers.” Occasionally it needs following up with, “I told you I don’t talk about that. Your questions are getting rude. Stop it.” But obviously being that confrontational is going to require a lot more emotional energy than a lie, and sometimes the situation isn’t appropriate for the rough waters that can come with returning the awkward to sender so very blatantly.”

                  That doesn’t seem to be just about acknowledging the other person as the cause of one’s own discomfort.

              2. Ellex

                +1 for the Night Vale references. It turned my “people proselytizing at work” cringe into a smile!

              3. Geoffrey B

                Basically, what Casual Fribsday said.

                Another way to put it – most of us are socialised to avoid making other people uncomfortable, which is *usually* a good thing that keeps society running smoothly. But sometimes people create problems that can’t be addressed without making the culprit uncomfortable, and that’s when it’s okay to “return awkward to sender” – the usual instinct to avoid making waves becomes a liability.

                IMHO varying the wording is fine, for people who feel like it and are up to it, but I don’t think it needs to be mandatory. I have a lot of difficulty thinking of smooth and tactful responses when I’m put on the spot – dealing with people who don’t respect boundaries drains the kind of resources I need to compose those responses – and if I try to improvise I’m at risk of saying something that doesn’t actually cover everything that needs to be covered. So sometimes I do need to fall back on a simple prepared script, and if the person I’m dealing with doesn’t take the hint and keeps trying, I will quite likely end up repeating that script.

      2. Working Mom Having It All

        I think as long as you weave it into normal conversation like a non-robot, this is fine.

        “Like I was saying last week, I prefer not to talk about religion at work.”

        “Growing up, my parents instilled in me that it’s not polite to talk about politics or religion in the workplace.”

        Etc.

        People actually respond pretty well to being told the same thing time and again. In my experience most people won’t even pick up on the fact that your response is always the same, if you play it right and don’t act like a weird robot about it.

        1. Michaela Westen

          I think there have been studies about how many times something is heard before it registers in the brain. More than one or two, IRRC.
          I’ve had good results with patiently repeating info. :)

      3. Magenta

        From a UK perspective the idea that anyone would try to push religion at work is so incredibly “bizarre”, “awkward” and “toxic” that nothing short of a “No is a complete sentence” would do.

        Stonewallish and robotic would be the bare minimum someone should expect if they continued to ask and invite after being told no.

      4. Bobbin Ufgood

        Speaking as the child of a relatively prominent religious leader, I want to refer you to JSPA’s excellent suggestion above — the “I want to make my own way” suggestion. I’ve decided that this is my new exact plan if my parent’s religious prominence ever becomes a problem for my work (fortunately, this is currently a non-issue for me, thankfully). Although simply refusing to engage *should* work, the truth is that, in this setting, with this level of poor boundaries, it may only exacerbate the situation

  4. voyager1

    I would go with the first suggested script that AAM suggestion. It is clear and to the point.

    I get the impression the religion in question is Mormonism. If the office manager is also Mormon, I don’t think I would expect much support, however if they are not then you might consider looping them in with the issue with this big boss since you report to the office manager.

    Hopefully your company has an HR department that is decent you can fallback to if need be.

    1. Kathleen_A

      It’s Alison’s call, of course, but I just don’t see the value in speculating about which religion we’re talking about here. It won’t change the possible approaches, it could be counterproductive, and it could be a distraction from the OP’s question.

      And no, I’m not Mormon, so it’s not self-interest that’s making me say this. :-)

      1. voyager1

        Well after reading the comments downthread, my advice is still the same just should have left the Mormon reference out.

    2. Washi

      This is not helpful! It doesn’t change the advice and a lot of the speculating that happens when commenters try to guess the OP’s religion, country, etc is based on stereotypes.

    3. Jojo

      Mormons, jehovah witness, scietology are all out. The first 2 have been around since the 1800s, the third, I doubt she is the daughter of L. Ron Hubbard. She says her father i’s one of the founders of the religious. Perhaps it is not as well known as she thinks it is.

  5. animaniactoo

    “I understand your interest, however I am making a strict point to keep my religious life and my work life completely separated, even if the two happen to intersect. I hope that you can understand that and appreciate why I am not comfortable coming over to discuss this or having discussions in the office about any of it.”

    Note: Nowhere in here are you actually claiming to be or not to be a member of the same religion. You are simply stating your intention to keep the two worlds completely separate parts of your life and that as such his invites are unwelcome and will hopefully be discontinued.

    1. Hills to Die on

      I really like that. The one part of Alison’s advice I don’t agree with is saying this to the office manager or Boss’s peer:
      “I’ve asked him to stop but it’s continued, and I know we can get in legal trouble for pushing religion on employees, so I’m hoping you might be able to help me get this to stop.”

      If I were the office manager or the peer, I would hear “He has to stop or I am going to sue”. If it were another employee and the OP was a 3rd party witness, it might be okay but that is way too in-your-face for what I think the OP is trying to do, which is keep it low-key and not ruffle feathers. (Note: it is absolutely correct and OP would be justified, it’s just a bit…not gentle enough IMO.)

      1. Ralkana

        That’s the point, though. OP might not be willing to sue, but the next person this guy proselytizes to may.

    2. Augusta Sugarbean

      I like the phrasing of “I understand your interest” rather than “I appreciate your interest”. A nice and subtle and polite deflection to add in.

    3. Liet-Kinda

      I will disagree with both you and Alison on this point. The “I keep my work life and religion separate” line strikes me as a little weasel-wordy. That’s not the issue; the issue is that LW is not active in the religion anymore and does not want to be involved with it on any level. I think “Your invitation is so kind, but I parted ways with Church some time ago and no longer practice. Thanks for understanding,” is fundamentally a more straightforward and honest way to deal with it. And then if she gets any pushback, maybe then she can say, “I’m sorry, but this is a conversation I don’t really want to have with my boss, at work. You understand.”

      1. AKchic

        At the point of “…I don’t really want to have with my boss, at work…” will invite the “but that’s why I’m inviting you to my home for a meal!”

        LW doesn’t have to disclose anything other than being unavailable or unwilling to discuss this, full stop, end of discussion.

        These types are insidious and really don’t take “no” for an answer. They keep coming unless you’re firm and refuse to play the game.

        1. Sacred Ground

          There’s a certain proselytizing mindset that simply doesn’t recognize the separation of work life and religious life as desirable and the need for it as legitimate. For them, religion is inseparable from everything they do. It doesn’t occur to them that others would want to separate their faith from any part of their lives (especially if they’re under the mistaken impression that you’re of the same faith), and when told so will wonder why someone (someone of their faith, that is) would want to do that.

          I think he means well, or well enough within the value system of his religious culture which he’s assuming LW still shares, but it doesn’t matter. It’s patronizing and presumptuous, of course. And regardless of his intentions, given the power imbalance here, it’s still harassment since he a) brought it up in the first place and b) got way too personal way too soon with a new subordinate and c) LW was made so uncomfortable that she’s hesitant to refuse his invitation or push back against it (to the point of writing an advice column!) lest it affect her job which she otherwise loves.

      2. Temperance

        You don’t owe complete honesty when someone is stomping your boundaries and being so inappropriate. Also, with certain religious types, this is frankly an invitation to kick it up a notch.

        1. Liet-Kinda

          We can agree to disagree that this counts as “stomping boundaries,” because it’s not clear from the letter that LW has made it clear to the boss that such a boundary exists.

          But no, you don’t “owe” complete honesty, but I generally find that when I try to be evasive or use a polite lie instead of the truth, it never ends well. And if they kick it up a notch, then that’s when you drop the “I don’t discuss religious matters at work and would prefer to just leave it here.”

          1. animaniactoo

            The point is that such a boundary exists without LW having to make it explicitly clear. It is the standard boundary and boss is not acknowledging that as such.

            Having invited once and been turned down with an “Oh, I don’t think that’s going to happen” sort of response is open to nothing more than “Alright. You know where to find me if you change your mind.”

            I agree with Temperance that the kind of person who won’t do that, is also likely to dig in harder if she’s just straight up that she’s no longer a part of that church/religion.

            However, it’s not being evasive or a polite lie to say that she doesn’t intertwine her work and religious life. She doesn’t. That is also a hard boundary that is completely true. She doesn’t have to explain her reason for the hard boundary – only that it exists. It’s a question of privacy.

            For some people, their faith is intensely private and not up for discussion or persuasion any more than their marital status or current health is. It is far preferable imo to reinforce THAT – that the entire subject is personal and private and off the table for discussion regardless of what she currently believes. Because it shouldn’t matter whether she is no longer with the church or not for her to be able to reinforce that boundary with the big boss. If it matters, it only undercuts the idea that boss should not be bringing religion into the work space for any reason at all no matter how fervent about it he is in his own personal life.

            1. Geoffrey B

              This comment reminds me that possibly the strongest religious conflict I’ve seen in my workplace was between two people who shared the same religion, but had very different views about what was appropriate in terms of religious display in the office.

          2. Courageous cat

            I’m with you on this, and with a lot of stuff on here in general. A lot of things suggested, such as the somewhat generic template of saying something along the lines of: “I’m not interested in talking about ____. Thanks!” would just never come off anything but icy and frankly weird, at least in my world. You have to have real conversations with people if you want to maintain a relationship, rather than bluntly shutting it down.

            1. Courageous cat

              To clarify though, this applies to matters like these, not so much matters where someone is being sexist/racist/etc to you, in which you can and should shut it down bluntly.

      3. TootsNYC

        But the OP *wants* weasel words!

        She doesn’t want to explicitly say “but I parted ways with Church some time ago…”

        From the OP:

        I’d like to tell him that I’ve had my name removed from the records and that I’m really not interested in anything church-related, but it’s also none of his business what I’ve chosen to do with the religion I grew up in, and frankly I’m not interested in being judged.

        With someone this pushy, that “being judged” is going to be pretty much a given. Especially since the OP is the child of someone famous in the religion, and because the Big Boss has already brought this up, so he’s just going to intensify his reaction.

        1. TootsNYC

          also–“I don’t want to mix these two worlds” is the exact truth.

          It is in fact the problem.

      4. Jasnah

        In addition to what others have said, I’d argue that there is no better way to get the boss to double down on his conversion efforts than to explicitly admit that she is no longer practicing the religion. Since the boss clearly doesn’t get it, I’d be afraid that admitting religious differences would affect the relationship.

      5. NACSACJACK

        As Alison has said in the past, you have to keep in mind the power dynamics here. As I’m beginning to understand, you can’t be that blunt to a superior , esp a big boss, because it’s considered disrespectful by the receiver and can get the person demoted, fired or lack of advancement.

    4. Amelia Pond

      I really like this one. It’s respectful while being direct and doesn’t soften the message too much.

    1. MissDisplaced

      Unless one happens to work at or for a religious institution… then it can’t be escaped (plus, we assume this was known upon taking the job there). But that doesn’t seem to be the case here.

    1. Michaela Westen

      She could loop in HR and her supervisor to her efforts to get big boss to back off. However, if she’s in an area dominated by big boss’ religion, she might not get as much support as she should.
      She could document everything just like if it was another form of harassment or something shady going on – then at least if she lost her job she could take it to the unemployment office. And if the clerk at the unemployment office is another religious fanatic, she could take it up the chain to federal, if necessary.
      I hope none of this is necessary, except I would definitely let supervisor and HR know about this now.
      Maybe something like “Big boss keeps asking me to discuss/participate in his religion and I’m not interested. I’m trying to get him to stop.”

  6. Utoh!

    My only concern with Alison’s recommendation is that it includes “at work”. This might prompt him to push heavier on the Sunday dinner invite since it’s not “at work”. If you want to shut this down, shut it down completely. Religion is not something I discuss, period.

    1. Doug Judy

      Maybe OP can just say “I keep my personal life and work life completely separate, so I will not be going to your house.”

      1. An Amazing Detective-Slash-Genius

        Yes, or substitute “at work” with “with my colleagues/coworkers”

        1. TootsNYC

          or don’t substitute, but when Big Boss say, “Oh, come to my house, that’s not work,” she can say: “You are the big boss at the company–there will never be any interaction between us that isn’t fundamentally about work. I’m sure that you will understand.”

  7. Shelly

    Alison: is there anyway to restrict comments speculating about which religion the LW is referring to? I know it’s been disheartening in the past when I’ve seen comments about my own religion, and I wish there was some way to head this off at the pass? I think these comments may be more damaging than anyone recognizes or intends.

      1. Shelly

        There’s so much variation in religion, so that’s a hard question to answer. But I think the speculation is harmful, especially as it seems that most letters are purposely vague about the specific religion. (And I don’t think the religion would change the advice that Alison gave about how to handle this situation, or other religion questions that have been asked.)

        1. Zweisatz

          Yeah, I find it kind of disrespectful to speculate about the religion in question if the letter writer hasn’t mentioned any. I’d assume that’s on purpose.
          Also speculation just distracts from the point which basically doesn’t change no matter the religion promoted by the boss.

      2. gmg22

        Plenty of things said here by people who feel confident that they are “accurate” may regardless be derailing and hurtful. This is why we stay on topic and don’t speculate. The useful advice here will be the same regardless of which religion it is. (The only exception I might make here, and it’s a very specific and idiosyncratic one, would be if this religion were one whose members are widely known to actively harass former members. We don’t have any indication at all here that that’s the case — instead we have the counterexample of the other colleague who practices the same religion but is not at all intrusive about it.)

      3. Observer

        Frequently, no. Also, frequently, only accurate for a small portion of the adherents of the religion, but stated as a thing for the entire religious community. So, totally not useful.

    1. Kathleen_A

      I agree. I think even speculating about the possible religion is (1) probably unhelpful and possibly even counterproductive, (2) distracting and (3) unnecessary. So why do it? What religion it is has no bearing on how to handle this particular issue.

      1. Ms Cappuccino

        It depends. If this is a cult rather than a religion (and it sounds like a cult when considering the insistence of the boss), it could be helpful to find appropriate response to the boss.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          I assume if it were a cult, the OP would have noted that. Since she hasn’t, we can reasonably assume it’s not and speculation to the contrary is more likely to be unhelpful than helpful.

        2. Shelly

          The reader said “religion”, so we shouldn’t assume that it’s actually a cult. I don’t think that distinction changes how LW should handle it.

        3. gmg22

          The counterexample of the other colleague who also practices the boss’s religion, but is not at all intrusive about it, suggests that we can safely assume this isn’t the case.

        4. Rainy

          Just as an FYI, there’s no substantive difference between “religion” and “religious cult” for the members of such a group. It can tick all the boxes, do all the bad stuff, what have you, and the people who are members do not think of it as a cult. For them, it is a religion. People in such groups who come to think of the group as a cult leave.

          So I don’t think it’s going to be particularly helpful to know exactly what religion or whether it’s widely held to be a cult, and I don’t think it will substantially affect the advice or scripts provided.

          Source: I grew up in a religious cult.

        5. Not a Mere Device

          “A cult is a religion small enough to pick on.” Yes, there are various “is this a cult” checklists, but whether people even think to ask “is it a cult” has a lot to do with how large the group is (and how many members it has locally) and whether it’s a group they’re familiar with.

          I’m confident that the LW already knows things like, how relatives/friends who are still members of this religion treat ex-members, or to what extent they were isolated from non-members and secular culture when they were growing up.

        6. Observer

          If all it took to classify a belief system as a cult was the fact that some adherents can be weirdly insistent about “spreading the light”, we’d have to classify a LOT of beliefs as cults. And I’m not even talking about just actual formal religions. I mean, just look at all of the people who stridently try to get others to join their particular brand of healthy / Moral eating wherever they are, for an example.

          1. whingedrinking

            See also breastfeeding, menstrual cups and distance running – and I’m broadly in favour of all of those. It’s just embarrassing when other people on your “side” are overzealous.

                1. whingedrinking

                  Oh, never mind, I get it now. Yes, distance running evangelists are a thing, though you’re just as likely to come across the ones who are less interested in converting you to it as being unable to shut up about their own “fitness journey”. In fairness, you come across this kind of person for pretty much any sport or fitness regime, I just happen to know a lot of runners.

        7. pleaset

          “cult rather than a religion”

          Is there a difference between these two things other than how widely accepted one is?

          1. Oranges

            I have thought about that and my deliminator is “how much does it cost* you to get out of the religion”

            And that’s a gradient so… my line won’t be the same as anyone else’s line. Yay!

            1. Oranges

              * Cost meaning social cost.
              Example:
              Will you be shunned because you’re not part of their religion? High cost.
              Will you be left out of the social loop because you’re not part? Medium-low cost.

          2. ToCultorNotToCult

            I heard a great saying in college, that I find generally to be true:
            A religion is hard to join, easy to leave
            A cult is easy to join, hard to leave

          3. whingedrinking

            I say this as a pretty hardcore atheist – I don’t think it does us much good to claim all religions are cults, nor is it a spectrum with “religion” on one side and “cult” on the other. Most religions have a few cult-like tendencies, but then so do some workplaces – “never question the leadership” and “devote all of your time to the organization” come to mind. Of course, you’re not wrong that we do tend to cut more slack to established beliefs. If you believe Jesus is the Messiah you’re going to get a lot fewer side-eyes than if you believe Kevin is.

            1. Oranges

              See that’s why I like the spectrum idea. It’s not a straight checklist because of course all religions and social groups have some “cult” like tendencies. Those tendencies are good since they are used for inner group cohesion. It’s when they become maladaptive and amplified that it turns into what we call a “cult”.

          4. Stardust

            Yes. I was in a cult as a child and would definitely say it’s a different animal than a religious group. You can Google for a better check list of what makes it a cult but some of the basics are:

            Cults generally incubate “group think” instead of appreciating a variety of viewpoints. Alot of manipulation of members’ emotions to an extreme…

            Many churches and religious groups have the pastor/clergy under another authority such as a church board or district leaders. No one leader is above having accountability and if needed local law enforcement and church discipline happens. In a cult however the leader will have power without accountability and are “above” any other guidance/discipline.

            Cults generally force the members’ offspring to join (vs. a group that allows the children to decide what they will believe- this is why Amish while they are very unique group of people aren’t considered a cult. They allow their youth to explore their life options before joining the church)

            Cults won’t allow you to question the “authority” and don’t allow anyone to have questions. Typically the leader is put on a pedestal and those that have questions are kicked out. Most (non cult) religious groups you can agree to disagree on non-core theology and it’s fine to ask questions. Questions are how we learn and how we all grow.

            Cults often are ok with “end justifies the means” and may be fine with breaking laws.

            Cults may have an us v them worldview with the whole world being the “them” and along with that they often cut off outside influences to an extreme level.

            Cults often have one acceptable translation/version of “Bible” or “scriptures” (often they prefer King James which is coincidentally also harder for most people to understand) My relative was kicked out of the cult for having questions and for reading the NIV.

      2. Danger: Gumption Ahead

        Seriously. The religion could be anything, doesn’t matter, the appropriate response would be the same

      3. Temperance

        While I do agree that the speculation can be off-topic and distracting, I do think that the actual religion can be relevant. If it’s a well-off, prominent religion with a lot of money and political power (like Mormonism in the midwest, for example), she may have to handle differently than if it’s a less common religion or one with less clout.

        1. Cochrane

          That’s my feeling as well. If the religion is such a dominant force in the local business and political scene, that’s worth considering when playing coy or defensive with someone who has hire-or-fire power over you. It’s a 100% inappropriate, to be perfectly clear, but that’s the hand you’re dealt in this scenario.

        2. CaliCali

          Yeah, I’m inclined to agree. As an example, I have a neighbor who is no longer LDS, and his mom (who lives several hundred miles away) has reached out to the church to get missionaries to come out to his house to try and recruit him back, and they do this because keeping members in the fold (and recruiting new ones) is part of the church’s mission. There’s power beyond the boss in this scenario, and the scope of that power is somewhat religion-dependent — which is why I think the messaging can also vary depending on what Pandora’s box LW wants to open. Saying “I’m not interested in talking about religion at work” is a VERY different statement than “I’m no longer part of that religion” and can bring about different consequences.

        3. RandomAA

          Oof, I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen that in action. I assume it has less to do with the actual religion encouraging or condoning this kind of behavior, and more the boss in this case attempting to inappropriately control a female in his office by holding this information about her family (family’s religious heritage, her parents’ reputation, sent from heaven, etc.) over her.

          1. Temperance

            To be clear, I’m not making a statement on the validity or merit of any religion. I grew up in a faith with the concept of “loving someone for their own good”, and this kind of behavior was actually specifically encouraged. (When the stakes are eternal, you basically have the right to be a friggen nightmare human to bully others into following your will.)

        4. Observer

          The speculation still is not useful or relevant, because there are so many variations on this. If you’re in Utah, then this description applies to Mormons, but if you’re in Mobile AL it doesn’t. In other places it’s likely be something like Baptist, but in NYC, not at all. etc.

          Even smaller denominations are likely to have one or two areas where the local environment is going to make this true. So, better to just address the overall issue than speculating about which particular religion, and where it is.

          1. Temperance

            I wasn’t advocating for speculation, especially since LW herself did not want to disclose. Just pointing out that it’s relevant to the advice at hand.

          2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

            Yeah, this is where I’m at. I know Temperance isn’t promoting speculation, but in circumstances in which the OP does not disclose their religion/region or any other details that could be relevant to power inequalities, it’s not helpful to go down this path. And in the absence of that information, speculation would not help OP at all, wouldn’t change the (generalized) advice, and is likely to derail.

        5. Nita

          Yes, it is relevant to some degree. This may be a situation that’s between OP and the boss (and possibly HR). However, if they’re in a community dominated by this religion, OP will have to tread much more carefully to make it sound like this is “just” about keeping work and personal life separate, or risk all kinds of social repercussions.

          It doesn’t have to be Mormonism, I can think of another community like this in my own neighborhood – people who do not toe the line can end up ostracized in many ways. They can, of course, leave and go into the “secular” world, but that often implies losing contact with extended family, sometimes even close family, and the loss of one’s entire social network.

        6. EOA

          While I agree that it would be helpful to know the religion (because beyond influence and power, there are cultural and religious directives that could impact things), since the OP was pretty scrupulous in not naming it or providing much identifying info, it probably makes little sense to speculate.

          1. Temperance

            To be clear, I wasn’t advocating for speculation, just rebutting the point that the actual religion/culture/location aren’t necessary. They’re relevant to OP. We don’t need to know them.

        7. Anancy

          I agree with Temperance that speculation isn’t a good path to go down, but that the tenants of the religion are important to consider. For some religions, shutting it down or saying you’ve left it will result in heavy recruitment to return to the fold. And to be honest, having your name removed from the records is a pretty specific and significant thing that points to a religion whose idealogies lean towards not accepting an easy “I don’t talk about religion at work.”
          A great resource will be others who have left the same religion, and dealt with that in a work context. All the best to you LW.

        8. Michaela Westen

          Mormonism wasn’t so big in Kansas. My impression is it has more power in Utah and nearby states.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        That said, I’m dealing with a cat crisis so may not see it if it happens — if someone can flag it if it happens (via a link in a comment), I’d be grateful!

  8. Elsie432

    I worry that “I don’t want to talk about religion at work” won’t be effective because Big Boss wants OP to come “over on a Sunday.” A “no religion at work” response from OP could open the door for Big Boss to say “Well, if you come over on Sunday, we won’t be at work.”

    1. Katniss

      Yeah, I think it needs to be “I don’t want to talk about religion with my boss or coworkers”.

    2. animaniactoo

      Yeah, that was what I was thinking when I suggested phrasing it is making a point about keeping religious life and work life completely separate, even with they happen to intersect.

    3. Liane

      “Let’s sleep together, Report, on Sunday at my place, when the office is closed,” is still workplace sexual harassment, and pressuring the OP to do Religious Thing outside of the office and working hours is still inappropriately pushing religion at work.

    4. krysb

      “Sure, I’ll come to dinner on Sunday and we can talk about the benefits of Satanism.”

      I shouldn’t be around people.

    5. TootsNYC

      “You will still be a high-ranking executive at the place where I work. This is important to me for my spiritual well-being as well as my professional integrity–please respect it.”

  9. Hiring Mgr

    I’m sure he means well but you need to try and nip this in the bud by using one of the lines given (by this I mean try to stop this early, as if it was the bud of the flower, never reaching full bloom)

  10. BradC

    I think “I don’t like to talk about religion at work” is a good response in similar situations, but I’m not sure that is quite on point here. After all, he’s asking you to meet up with him OUTSIDE of work, isn’t it likely to simply escalate the “so come and meet with us on Sunday” invitations?

    I think emphasizing the “I’m no longer a member of that (church/temple/synagogue)” is probably the right way to go in this case.

    1. Sarah

      Or “I keep my spiritual and my work life separate” so it’s less about the day of the week/location and more about delineating the two (though it seems like that’s not a difference he practices, which may end up with more pushback than the LW wants).

    2. TootsNYC

      “You are still a high-ranking executive at the place where I am employed. When I said ‘my work life,’ I meant all aspects of it.”

    3. fogharty

      “I think emphasizing the “I’m no longer a member of that (church/temple/synagogue)” is probably the right way to go in this case.”

      I think the LW would very likely face some subtle retaliation then. Suddenly having work assignments taken away, being marginalized at meetings, etc.

      I like the “vow” wording someone upthread suggested.

    4. CanCan

      The OP shouldn’t have to reveal the break with the religion if she doesn’t want to.

      OP: “I’d rather not discuss religion at work. Thank you for the invitation, but I’d rather not.”
      Boss: “Oh! You can tell me all about it on Sunday during dinner.”
      OP: “Thank you, but I prefer not to mix work and religion.”
      Boss: “Ok, just come for dinner then.”
      OP: “No, thank you, really. Very kind of you, but I’m actually quite busy on weekends.”

      Just stick to the same tune. Be polite but firm.

  11. Esme

    I agree with the comments about “at work” leading to doubling down on personal time invitations. Maybe “I don’t discuss religion with work colleagues?”

      1. Rainy

        This is the way I would go. It leaves no wiggle room, and means that if the boss keeps on about it, they are very clearly trampling on a clearly delineated boundary.

      2. Esme

        Good call. I think we are trying to engineer a comment to point out to the boss the inappropriateness of what he’s doing. He’s not guaranteed to pick up on that and the LW is not obligated to correct big boss’s professionalism, they just need to communicate the point that it’s not welcome.

        “I don’t like to talk about religion.” Full stop.

      3. Sacred Ground

        For an evangelical religion in which everyone is expected to talk about religion with fellow believers pretty much constantly, saying “I don’t want to talk about religion” will likely also communicate “I am no longer a member of that faith” without actually having to come out and say it. I like that.

    1. TootsNYC

      This is so simple to respond to: “You are still my boss’s boss. That means it will always be work, no matter where we are. Please respect my wishes here.”

    2. CanCan

      There’s no obligation to accept personal time invitations. Say you’re busy, that’s what people do when they want to say no. With what? Oh, just a lot of things to catch up on.

      Invitations to do something religious on personal time is still discussing religion, unless the person says that they don’t discuss religion at work, but would love to come to your church picnic, etc. Otherwise, it’s a polite way of saying: I don’t want to hear anything religion-related from you.

  12. Temperance

    LW, I also recommend getting advice specific to this from other people who have left your faith. There are a lot of great websites for ex-Mormons, ex-Catholics, etc., and I’m sure you’re not the only one who has had this specific situations happen.

    Depending on the particulars, and where you’re located, the advice may have to change. For example, I was raised evangelical Protestant but live in a fairly liberal area, so my lack of current religion isn’t an issue, although I do get a lot of questions about being part of real life “Jesus Camp”. I don’t have to worry about my background hurting me, whereas I imagine being the secular child of a prominent Southern Baptist in the bible belt might be very difficult.

    1. LW

      Appreciate this. I will look ok at some of the sites I went to when navigating my departure. Thank you!

      1. Anancy

        I was going to suggest the same thing, to talk with other ex members of your old religion. If you Twitter, I’ve found some good hashtags there ( #exvangelical, #exmo etc) that have led me to good writing and information. Good luck!

        (Also, my personal go-to is to not actually address my religious views but to say something like “My Sundays are covered thanks!” Or “I’m happy with how my Sundays are right now but thanks for thinking of me.”).

    2. EOA

      As a practicing Catholic, I can assure that no Catholic would actually put the hard sell on like this. :) But yes, consulting how former adherents address these kind of issues makes a lot of sense.

      1. Rat in the Sugar

        Yeah, most Catholics wouldn’t be like this, and for ones that are a pointed comment like “…I didn’t think Catholics evangelized.” would probably drive the point home.

        However, I think Catholics are more likely to engage in subtle pressure–I can definitely see members of my family thinking it would be good to keep dropping quiet invitations or mentioning Church events while adding a “…and of course you’re always welcome back!” at the end. And while doing that honestly wouldn’t have seemed that bad to me at one time, after reading letters like OP’s I can see that even that level of “soft” pressure, so to speak, would be really wearing to have happening at work all the time.

        Unfortunately, while I don’t attend Mass much anymore, I’m still a believer and so the kinds of phrases I use to shut down family pressure to attend probably wouldn’t work for OP. I usually say things like “That’s between me and JC” to remind them my personal relationship with God isn’t their business. Maybe OP could tweak a phrase like that…”I know my father was very public about his faith, but I’m very private about mine.”. Something like that?

        1. Anon for today!

          I previously worked with my local Catholic diocese and this is changing. We actually had an Office of Evangelization, and workshops and everything.

          1. Book Badger

            It’s been changing for a while. I went through Confirmation roughly ten years ago, and one of the first classes we had was an “Evangelical Retreat.” First order of business: “‘Evangelical’ doesn’t mean ‘Protestant,’ it means ‘spreading the good news’!”

          2. Elizabeth W.

            This makes me even more glad I left, if the Catholic Church is turning evangelical. What’s next, required flagellation and cilices? Is Mike Pence going to be canonized?

      2. fnom

        I was raised Catholic and have definitely encountered people like this. They’re often extra enthusiastic about things like the Latin Mass too, IME.

      3. Ellex

        I’m sorry to have to tell you that Catholics are second only to the LDS in the ranks of people who have aggressively quizzed me about my religious beliefs or lack thereof. Including a Catholic priest who tried to give me a pretty hard sell at 14 (without my parents present), and I was just a member of the folk-dancing troupe using a rehearsal room in the church.

        1. Temperance

          I was seriously polite about not being Catholic and just tagging along when my in-laws had a church thing, up until I had to deal with a baptism and a funeral with the same jerkass priest in quick succession.

          He decided we all MUST be Catholic, and acted accordingly, openly shaming us for not coming up for communion or for not yelling that “I BELIEVE IN JESUS” thing out loud. Calling on us specifically kind of put the nail in the coffin to me ever considering being anything more than polite when it comes to them. He also did some weird woo-woo crap that involved us supermanning to direct energy, which was so weird and uncomfortable, oh and he shamed us for that, too.

  13. Longtime Listener, First-time Caller

    Based on the language, I have a guess as to which religion this is, and it’s a religion of which I am also a past member. I have also had my names removed from the records and leaving has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

    Just wanted to be here to show solidarity. I hope your boss will start keeping his mouth. I know for me, although the decision was a good one, it can be at times painful to deal with mentions of the church.

    1. Finstagram

      Same, and I also have a surname that is highly recognizable in that community (one reason I moved very far away). This situation would be agonizing for me–you have my sympathies!

  14. AdAgencyChick

    If I were OP’s direct boss, I wouldn’t react with “well, have you talked to him first?” if she came to me with this. This person is a bigwig; I wouldn’t blame OP at all for feeling uncomfortable asking the guy to stop. And I think it would be my job as her manager to “manage up” to MY manager and say things that are fine coming from me but that might sound like a threat coming from OP. (Like “I think we really need to avoid even the slightest hint of pressuring anyone here into [Religion], because that could get us in legal trouble.”)

    1. Jadelyn

      Absolutely agreed. Something as sensitive as this, with the power dynamics involved, I’d absolutely understand why someone’s first choice of action would be to seek help from someone else rather than confronting the guy themselves.

    2. TootsNYC

      I know that I would be capable of bringing this up as though the OP had never even come to me, but that I had overheard it, or it had been casually mentioned by “someone.”

      Not everyone can do that, though.

  15. Joe Lies

    I’m sort of in the opposite boat. My boss who married someone of my religion (Jewish), regularly takes time off to participate in religious holidays, whereas I only participate in the ones. I’ve said to him several times that he’s a better Jew than me. Now, I’m wondering whether I’ve offended him?!

    1. Bea

      Doubtful that he’s offended. I originally read this as HIM telling you that he’s a better Jew than you and gasped. Now that would be an issue, yikes.

      I’ve noticed new members tend to focus more on every holiday or group activity etc. He’ll slow down to the major ones over time unless he’s super forever enthusiastic about his new found faith.

    2. Hills to Die on

      I was a non-Jew in a Jewish step-family for decades and all of my step-siblings married non-Jewish people. OTOH, I married a Jewish man. Lots of comments and joking all around at family dinners. I don’t think this would be offensive.

    3. McWhadden

      I really doubt he’s offended. It’s funny! It would be very different if you were pressuring a non-religious Jewish person into being more active in the religion. That would cross a real line and be more analogous to above. (I know you wouldn’t do that but just as a hypothetical.)

    4. Holly

      I don’t think you should dwell on it – he likely didn’t find it offensive. But going forward, I would definitely refrain of making comments like that.

      1. Legal Beagle

        I have to agree. I’m modern Orthodox and I get occasional comments from non/less-observant Jewish colleagues about how they’re “bad Jews” or I’m a “good Jew.” It’s uncomfortable! I’m not judging them, I hope they extend the same courtesy to me, and I just want us to be friendly colleagues. Making comparisons is awkward, even when you intend it as (sort of) a compliment or self-deprecating humor.

        1. Technically Jewish

          I have mixed feelings. On the one hand I love the jewornotjew website that rates how Jewish people (and fictional characters…) are. Most times “who is a better Jew” jokes don’t bug me because I feel like a member of the in-group. But for Judaism there’s that thing about Jews being an ethnic group/race. (I don’t personally subscribe to it but it’s been a source of pain for my family)–depending on the context I can see “good Jew/bad Jew” being hurtful or weird. I think as long as it’s clear it’s a joke it’s fine.

    5. Mockingdragon

      Judaism is weird…I was raised Reform and began questioning when I was about 12. My rabbi once told me that by sincerely thinking about whether I believed in/agreed with the teachings and making the decision not to identify with the faith anymore, I was being a better Jew than the people who showed up for services every week and zoned out.

      Granted I know that more strict variations get very different, but based on my own experience I’d say you’re probably fine ;)

    6. SarahTheEntwife

      Probably not offended, but I always find it kind of uncomfortable when people say things like that to me.

  16. Bee Eye Ill

    The problem with talking to your office manager is that the big boss is that manager’s boss, too. Seeking advice from inside the company is good, but you probably shouldn’t expect them to go to war for you.

    With stuff like this, I prefer the blunt approach. Flat out tell him you had a bad experience with that religious group or whatever it was, and that you chose to distance yourself from it many years ago. Then ask him to please not question you about it any more.

    Unfortunately, you may also want to plan an exit strategy as you pretty much are in a no-win situation.

    1. Rainy

      It is going to be way better to just say “I don’t talk about religion” than to explain you had a bad experience. If you explain, the boss will see it as an opportunity to rebut and convince you that whatever bad experience you had was something that won’t be replicated when you rejoin the fold.

      Not wanting to talk about religion doesn’t require justification, argument, defense, or explanation. No is a complete sentence.

      1. Hills to Die on

        Yes, he might try and get you to give it another chance because (this situation, city, local group, new doctrine, whatever) is different.

        1. Rainy

          And even if everything is the same “you’re older now and I’m sure you understand that there are things more important than [whatever originally drove you to leave]”.

          Or my favourite–“Don’t you want to have kids? How can you raise them without a faith?!”

          1. Temperance

            Or the even better “well how can you expect it to get better if people like you don’t stay to change it?”

            1. Rainy

              Deeply, profoundly frustrating in every way to casually be made responsible for healing the sick system that damaged you.

              1. Oranges

                Yes. Churches are asking why they’re loosing people and I go… well… you have been tainted by the scary people. You kinda need to undo that damage. Of course people are people and they go “but can’t you SEE that WE’RE the good ones?” That’s… not how this works.

                I and other white people have an epic amount of work to do before PoC will view us without doing mental Schrodinger’s racist calculations. I do not judge them for having to do them. I don’t judge them when they come up with an answer I don’t like (such as “I need to be on guard around this white woman”). I just try to sit down, shut up, listen and then try to be the best ally that I can knowing that I’ll mess up sometimes and get blowback. Accepting that and hoping that I’m making things better rather than worse.

                1. Oranges

                  Clarification: accepting that = accepting the blowback and adjusting my actions while not becoming defensive

          2. ElspethGC

            It would horrify those people to know that not only was I raised without a faith, but I was in my mid-teens before I realised that religion was actually a thing.

            I mean, I knew it existed, but for everyone I knew (and most people I currently know) it’s much more about tradition than actual belief. There was a moment of utter bemusement when I realised that not only did some people actually believe, but they believe really *really* hard. It’s all a bit foreign to me.

            (Yes, I come from a secular-CofE British background, how could you tell? My parents put Christian on the census but we all know that if you really get down to it, they don’t really believe the stuff in the Bible and are more vaguely spiritual. Which is why I thought that’s what it was like for *everyone*. Turns out it’s not. Oops.)

            1. londonedit

              ElspethGC – exactly the same here. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone CofE who was evangelical, it’s all very much in the Eddie Izzard ‘cake or death’ realm :D

              I was christened because it was ‘what you did’ in the early 1980s, and I went to a CofE primary school because there was only one school in the village and it was CofE. We trooped off to church for harvest festival and Easter and Christmas, and the vicar came in and sang songs in assembly, but as a child I definitely saw religion more as a tradition and not as an actual belief system.

    2. President Porpoise

      Yes, I think harsh bluntness may be key. In my former religion, removing your name from the church records is not particularly easy and shows a decided commitment. It also makes it really hard to rejoin. Telling big boss that you have done so, and while you appreciate his concern with your overall wellbeing, you’re unwilling to discuss church or religion with him further in any context may actually work, and may not have negative career repercussions, depending on how it’s handled.

      1. Lynn P

        Agree – I think more direct might be more effective. Religion is often a part of work life – and discussions. For those who are religious, their faith is a basic part of their personal identity. If OP can establish a boundary that is clear that she does not want to be told what her faith should be/is/was — and he can accept that, it seems like that is better than just trying to tell him a “work rule” of leaving religion outside of work. In fact, the rule is not that religion is not allowed in work environments — but rather that individual preferences need to be respected.

        1. Jadelyn

          The problem is, with people like this, they will often double down upon finding out that you’re no longer part of that faith. Instead of “Oh, they’ve left the church, this is a boundary I need to respect” something in their brains switches the script so they think “Oh, they’ve left the church, I must browbeat them into returning!” Or they start asking why and getting even more intrusive, and any reason you give them becomes a topic of debate so they can convince you you’re wrong about leaving.

          Like, it would be great if OP could draw a boundary and have it respected, but that’s the whole problem here…I don’t think directness will actually change anything.

          1. Lynn P

            They do often double down – but if she is direct and open, I think that OP has the best shot of getting through to Big Boss. If he doubles down then she can take the next steps with her manager and HR. And will have already have taken the step of being candid and real with Big Boss. I am a big believer in candid/real/respectful. It is my MO – and have seen it take the wind out of some pretty big sails.

  17. Tara S.

    One thing I worry about here is that it would feel weird to me to say ” I don’t like to talk about religion at work” to some of his comments as OP described?

    If my boss said to me “ah, you’re like an angel sent from heaven, God knew I needed you today!” and I said, “Oh, you know, I’d rather not talk about religion at work”, it would feel weird and kinda off topic? The boss’ comment is not necessarily what I would call proselytizing, more in the vein of heavily coded religious language. It’s still not great, especially when combined with the more prominent references to OP’s parents, but I feel like using that response to that kind of comment is more likely to cause animosity. (It shouldn’t, OP would still be within their rights to respond that way to that kind of comment, I just don’t feel like it would go down well, especially with a big boss.) I don’t have a great alternative, I guess I just would feel weird in OP’s shoes if I used that phrase in some of these situations.

    1. LW

      Yep – it’s so weird it’s almost beyond that. but I do think that in the next moment, I can say, hey, thanks but this is work, so…

      This part of it does make me feel more like approaching the other person who is a member, who has the standing to say whatever he wants – only issue with that is I’d like to be able to advocate for myself, so if this came up some other place and I was on my own, I’d be good to go

    2. sin nombre

      But the letter doesn’t include any comments like that? The comment about being sent from heaven was “because it was time for me to go back to the religion”, not “because boss needed me today”. That’s very different and it’s absolutely proselytizing.

    3. HannahS

      Yeah. Sometimes I deal with people working their beliefs that I don’t agree with into a conversation where it would be weird for me to divert and address it by just saying that I don’t agree and quickly moving the conversation forward.
      “Wow, yeah, it’s so sad what happened to so-and-so, but I guess everything happens for a reason”
      “Well, I wouldn’t say that/I can’t say I agree/I don’t know that that’s true, but it’s very sad. Is she taking time off for it?”

      “I think your parent in heaven send me to you at this trying time!”
      “I can’t say I agree, but I really appreciate your support. What would you recommend I do?”

    1. Close Bracket

      I think that is a fairly common spelling. I had to double check the spelling bc I actually had no idea what you were talking about, and it’s not in Miriam Webster. Maybe there’s just a lot of people making the same mistake.

      1. Aunt Vixen

        It strikes me as a combination of “proselytize” and “prosthetic,” as though you were – I don’t know, sort of trying to convert someone in someone else’s stead. thefreedictionary dot com claims to have definitions for it, but it redirects to “proselytism” – and the rest of the google hits have the spelling I’d expect, without the “th” (except for one blog post from a Toronto newspaper in 2014). So I think I’m right that this spelling was probably unintentional? But whether it was a typo or a genuine variant that I’ve never heard before, the idea of the mashup pleases me very much.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom

          I saw it that way too. Never saw that spelling before, and I’ve been on both sides of proselytizing.

      2. Michaela Westen

        It’s not in the Word dictionary either, or the one for this blog. I had to google it to see how to spell it. :)

  18. LW

    Hi – Letter Writer here. I really appreciate the advice to keep the conversation directed about not discussing at work – however, the commenter above mentioning it might make them more evangelical about it does have a point. Alison’s “my parent taught me to never discuss religion at work” is really genius. The hard part is advocating for myself, I’m realizing, as it’s so ingrained to do exactly the opposite of that. Which, yes, makes it all the more beneficial to do so.

    One twist of fate to this story since submitting the letter is that Big Boss has now relinquished his Big Bossness to someone else, though he hasn’t stopped being boundary challenged. I doubt he’d retaliate, but he would definitely take it personally. He’s pretty darn narcissistic on top of all the rest.

    People are definitely on-track to the type of organized religion involved here – but I don’t want to identify the religion and inadvertently cause someone else to feel judged or hurt.

    I will keep reading. You all are so awesome! I’m so grateful for everyone’s thoughtful input. This blog is so dang (beyond) helpful.

    1. Danger: Gumption Ahead

      Not sure how this would work because I have not had anything to do with religion, but, if he is still senior to you/influences your work, could you say something like, “I like to keep my religious and professional lives separate and definitely don’t want people thinking there is some sort of favoritism being shown to me because of my family (or my family’s faith) if I came over to your house/socialized with you after work hours, especially given your position and mine in the company. Can we just keep things between us 100% focused on work?” This might clue him into the idea that asking you to his home could make it look like favoritism.

      Please keep us updated and good luck!

    2. Student

      I’ve also had my name removed from the records of my parent’s church, and in that context it might make a difference if one’s dad is religiously prominent (a higher-level church leader) v. someone who is known for a secular career.

      If it’s just a secular career thing, I’ve had some success with just saying, “You know,
      my decision to leave the religion was made with a lot of thought and prayer. There is a lot of good there, as you know, but I didn’t make the decision lightly and I’m still pretty sensitive about religious topics. Could we avoid them?”

      This works in my context because my parents’ religion tends to lose a lot of people by attrition, but a non-trivial number because of unsavory historical details. In my experience, people anxious to proselytize back off if it seems like I want to discuss $HistoricalLeader’s personal peccadillos. I find that this is often communicated by my decision to have my name removed, but not always.

      It also helps that my parents’ religion pushes personal prayer as the ultimate way to make decisions. If there’s a different religious idiom that serves the same purpose, you might sub it in.

      1. Jennifer in GA

        Totally picking up what you are putting down, Student.

        It’s getting more easy to leave if you put it in the context of “I left because I have problems with the doctrine regarding X, the behaviors of Y, and the policy of Z”.

        And you are also right about the concept of personal prayer. It’s not a trump card, but it can go a long way with someone who cares about YOU as opposed to your church standing.

        1. CanCan

          I think this is opening a door to discussion. What’s your issue with the doctrine regarding X? Jesus would have endorsed behaviour of Y because blah blah. The bible addresses Z in [chapter]/[verse] – how can you question that? I think OP should keep reasons out of it.

    3. Amelia Pond

      Enforcing boundaries takes practice but it does get easier over time. It may not be exactly comfortable when you need to enforce them with people that don’t respect boundaries, but you probably won’t get as flustered. And it’s ok if you don’t do it perfectly every time! You can just try again at another point, whenever you’re ready.

      I also suggest checking out Captain Awkward. Her advice isn’t specifically for work but she deals with boundary issues a lot and has great advice. I know I’m certainly not the first person here to ever suggest Cap as a resource, proving many commenters here have excellent taste! Good luck, LW!

    4. Deb

      I like the ideas of saying you aren’t interested and leaving it at that but I wanted to share another option. This may not work for you but ….

      I left a religion(maybe the same one!) and also had my name removed and have dealt with coworkers initially trying to “save my soul” so to speak when they found out. There is often also an initial belief that I must have a rabid hatred for the church and everything associated OR live a crazy/sinful life (neither of which is true – even by their standards).

      Something that works for me is to state that the things I didn’t like about the church and the reasons I left haven’t changed and I have no interest in returning. If I feel I need to give a reason at some point I do: Ex. the way women are treated, the way gay people are treated, etc. These mean it doesn’t work FOR ME. However, I have lots of people I love who are still members (including many family members) and I’m happy that it works for them.

      One coworker in particular used to make comments about reactivating me. But now he enjoys talking to me about it because he can mention a specific change in the church or a meeting that occurred and I will know what he’s talking about without him having to explain the history and I am fine listening. I can tease him about how he’s “going to hell” when he swears. I don’t like the religion FOR ME and that isn’t going to change (and he has come to understand that) but I am glad it works for him and for loved ones and brings joy to their lives. And I’ve been very clear/firm, without being mean, about that with them.

    5. Susie

      I’ve also left the faith of my fathers but not yet had my name removed. I don’t know how he’ll react, but what about a more blunt, “To be honest, I feel a little uncomfortable with you bringing this up in a working relationship. I’m very happy with where I am and feel strongly it is the right path for me. I’d appreciate it if you respect that.” It would bomb with some and work well with others–no one wants to make someone uncomfortable! Good luck!

      1. Michaela Westen

        I’ve experienced people who are ok making people uncomfortable.
        At best, they think their goal or mission is worth the discomfort to themselves and others.
        At worst, they enjoy making people uncomfortable. :p
        In both cases they would never, ever admit to this.

  19. Jennifer in GA

    OP, I’m going to read between the lines and empathize with you. It’s hard enough to leave the religion (I haven’t) but almost impossible to leave the ‘culture’.

    I’d lean into the cultural elements that aren’t neceassrily religious a bit more if you can. I’ve found that if you can still discuss the cultural touchstones then you tend to get left alone about the day-to-day religious stuff.

    I’d also talk to your coworker. I’ve been happy to run interference for friends who are no longer members with those who are; the coworker may be able to tell your boss to back off or risk turning you permanently “away”.

    At the end of the day, youve made your choice and there’s nothing wrong with saying “This isn’t part of my life anymore and I’m not going to discuss it.”

      1. Jennifer in GA

        I wanted to add that it can be hard to set boundaries in any given situation, but I know it can be especially hard in you situation for…so many reasons. ;)

        Just remember it’s perfectly okay to say “No, thank you” to any invitations that may come your way from…anybody. You don’t owe them an explanation.

    1. TNgirl

      I am also a member of this particular religious tradition; I am so sorry that you boss has put you in this awkward and difficult position!

      I’ve had a handful of friends leave the fold, with varying degrees of finality, and I know that it hasn’t been an easy choice/process for any of them. But we are far outside the usual geographic area and your experience may be even more difficult.

      One thought I had– our culture puts a strong emphasis on the value of individual choice/agency. Perhaps if you use that word, i.e., “I would appreciate it if you respect my agency in this matter,” it might help the message get through?

      Wishing you the best!

  20. Rusty Shackelford

    * “Oh, I’d really rather not discuss religion at work. My parents actually drilled into me that I should never do that!” (Let’s see if playing off of his admiration for your parents will work here.)

    I’m pretty sure this will not work. If the parents were well-known members of this religion, it’s not because they felt it shouldn’t be discussed at work. The opposite is probably true.

      1. LW

        It’s a good question. As much as I’d like to call in parent’s authority I don’t know that (until this week) big boss would even respect it. I think you raise a fair point.

        1. LW

          Oh “until this week” meant to modify big boss status. Now he’s more just a big shot that doesn’t call all the shots i guess. Sorry if my workding wasn’t the best

  21. Anonamoose

    OP, I wonder if you can nip this in the bud by stopping him from talking about your parent with you (it seems like the reason he wants to spend time with you outside work all has to do with his admiration of your parent). Maybe tell him that you’re not comfortable with talking about your deceased parent, especially at work (trying to hint at him that it is grieving at work that’s uncomfortable but still being truthful because I’m sure you don’t actually WANT to be talking about your parent). Maybe imply that small conversations about your parent seem harmless to him but can sometimes bring up fresh feelings in you that linger the rest of the day while you try to work (you don’t have to mention whether those feelings are sadness or anger…) If you shut down that connection between the two of you, he might lose interest or just become more uncomfortable speaking to you (because his favorite topic makes you uncomfortable). This could backfire or not work at all, depending on his personality, but at least food for thought for you.

    1. LW

      I like where you’re going with this. Because yes, I don’t want to talk about my parent pretty much ever…thank you

  22. SheLooksFamiliar

    I would be so tempted to tell Big Boss, ‘I would love to discuss my beliefs with you! Have you heard the word of The Flying Spaghetti Monster?’

    Yes, I know, this would backfire and also insult people of faith. But I can’t help but be tickled at the thought.

    1. Zennish

      I was just thinking “I’d love to discuss my religion with you, but the Shoggoths will eat me if I reveal the tenets”. …Probably not the best approach, but I’ve been tempted to use it more than once myself.

    2. Jadelyn

      For bonus points, give him a pamphlet for The Satanic Temple’s “Menstruatin’ with Satan” campaign (donating menstrual supplies to students who can’t afford them).

      (I wouldn’t actually do this, but the thought is satisfying.)

    3. Free Meerkats

      Forget the FSM, join the United Church of Bacon! The real, legal church with a funny name but a serious mission. We mock all beliefs, even our own.

      And we have bacon! Offer him bacon. He doesn’t need to know why, you will. Praise the Lard!

    4. Who you gonna call?

      Long ago, when I was much younger and stupider, I tried to push back against a religious business owner who was preaching at me by informing him that I practiced Satanism. I was fired for cause with the most transparently false reason ever less than 24 hours later. Lesson learned.

      So these days, I use the Ghostbuster’s method if they don’t take the first polite brush off. I inform them that work is one stream, and religion is another stream. If you cross the streams, it will result in all life as you know it stopping instantaneously and every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of light. Since nobody wants total protonic reversal, for the sake of the existence of the universe itself, we can’t talk about that.

      This has two advantages. First, it’s light and kinda funny, so it doesn’t come across nearly as aggressively as stonewalling or some other methods I’ve tried. Secondly, it confuses the hell out of people. The type of person that won’t accept the polite brush off usually has a script in their head, and this reply throws them off their script, which makes dealing with them much easier.

  23. HailRobonia

    On a related note, in the past I’ve been at risk of becoming a Loud Mouthed Atheist. Luckily I realized this, hopefully before I offended anyone at work and am much more careful and sensitive about what I say.

    1. BookishMiss

      How’s life in the land you didn’t make up?

      I’m pretty grey on my religious beliefs, so I avoid it like the plague at work. Having very firm, gently enforced, boundaries between Work and Not Work helps.

      “Yes, my pendant is a [symbol related to my beliefs]. It’s a gift from my spouse. How did the new blue glaze work out?”

      It works 9/10 times, and the tenth time I just keep. Going. Back. To the work topic, until they get bored. I used to go with the “argue in good faith” plan in my social life, but that never ended well, so I’ve stopped altogether.

    2. Temperance

      I treat my atheism as equal and valid to organized religion. I don’t really criticize anyone’s individual beliefs unless they veer into sexist territory (Titus 2, Proverbs 31, etc. etc.).

    1. Beto

      Bea how awkward that those people whom came here to escape religious prosecution nearly eradicated the Native Americans via genocide.

    2. ElspethGC

      That’s…really not how being trans works. Trans people don’t decide to change gender. They might decide to change things about their body so that it aligns with their gender, and change their gender marker on documents from the incorrect version to the correct one, but they don’t change gender. Gender *is* an immutable characteristic. (And yes, I’m including people with non-binary genders in this. Still immutable.)

    3. pleaset

      This. Religion is (typically) a deeply-held belief, and changing it is not as easy as, say, deciding to watch re-runs on TV rather than going out to a movie.

      Plus their is a long history of persecuting people based on their religions – many of the earlier European colonists came to the US to avoid that.

      (I’m completely non-religious BTW)

  24. Meredith Brooks

    While this certainly is a question about the appropriateness of religion in the workplace, I think the Big Boss is feeling more comfortable discussing it because he feels he has a personal connection to you based on your parent. It might be worthwhile to take a broader approach and mention that you don’t discuss personal matters (whether it’s family, religion, or what have you) at work, which may help take the stress of feeling like you need to explain things that you shouldn’t really need to explain. Then dial back the engagement with Big Boss to an acquaintenance level (Hello in the hallway, nice weather in the elevator) until he gets the point.

    1. TootsNYC

      yeah, “personal matters” could include your parent.

      Also: I worked for a while for a CEO who was also a celebrity.

      I found that so many people didn’t regard her as a person; she was a character. Heck some of us at the office regarded her as more a character than a human being; I know this is true of the CEO where I am now, and often any high-ranking person.

      But w/ Celebrity CEO, I felt extra icky about it. I wasn’t a personal friend or anything, but I was VERY conscious of how people(especially those outside the company) dehumanized her when they talked about her. So I didn’t like to talk about her at all. And I tried very hard to see her as a full human being.

      So you could try that as well: “Well, he’s my father, which is very different from him being a church leader and a well-known figure. Our family life was much more real to me than the things everyone else knows about him. To you he’s a well-known guy, but to me he was my dad, you know? So I don’t talk about him to people who knew him as a church leader.”

      This is true because he was abusive, but it would be true if he was your beloved daddy. You don’t have to get into which it was. Just: “You think of him mostly as a church leader, but he was my day-to-day father. Because of that, I don’t talk about him with people who knew him as a church leader.”

  25. Mr M

    I worked for a private (non-religious) company whose upper management was so filled with phony piety they began the monthly all-employee meetings with prayers to Jesus (something they neglected to mention in my job interviews). But when it came to serving God or Mammon, guess which one they served..

  26. 2horseygirls

    Channel your inner Jack Reacher, look at Big Boss, and very calmly say, “I have repeatedly said no. Please do not bring it up again.”

    If he does not get it after that, then “No” is a complete and very clear response. Rinse and repeat.

    1. Liet-Kinda

      I mean, yeah, if you don’t care about maintaining the professional relationship at all. The problem with “no is a complete sentence” being trotted out in situations like this is that the advice was originally intended for toxic personal relationships where establishing a boundary is more important than burning the bridge. When it’s your boss, a little lighter touch is frequently warranted.

      1. Aleta

        Yuuuup. “No is a complete sentence” and “don’t JADE” are the nuclear options for when a relationship can’t be salvaged. It’s not going to fly in any sort of reasonable relationship (which abusers absolutely take advantage of, both with your general social conditioning and leveraging the “Wow, I can’t believe this person is refusing to answer a simple question!” of outsiders who don’t have all the information). Similarly with the tendency to eschew any sort of softening language. Like, sure, you’re not REQUIRED to use it, but it’ll make your life easier, and it’s perfectly acceptable to value “less tension in my work life” over “didn’t say some things that I’m not required to say”

        1. Rusty Shackelford

          But “don’t JADE” can actually be very useful even in the context of a boss/employee relationship. It doesn’t mean you’re rude, it just means you decline to explain yourself when it’s not necessary.

          “Fergus called in sick, I need you to come in today.”
          “I’m sorry, I can’t.”
          “Why not?”
          “I have plans today that can’t be canceled.”
          “What plans? You got a hot date or something? I’m sure you can reschedule it.”
          “I’m sorry, I can’t help you out today. I hope you find someone.”

          In the context of this LW’s situation, it could possibly be used to politely and respectfullydeflect both invitations and religious talk. Because the thing about not JADEing isn’t that you make it obnoxiously clear that you’re standing your ground, the thing is that you aren’t giving them anything to argue against. And you don’t have to be rude or disrespectful when doing it. (Since we’re talking about non-work-related issues – obviously it would be different if Big Boss were giving LW a job task rather than interfering in her personal life.)

          1. Rainy

            This was the thrust of my comment above, which I believe was being referred to. I wasn’t saying “be a giant asshole about it” or “say no and don’t explain to work-related requests”, I was saying that making it clear you won’t talk about religion with the boss while politely declining to offer info that isn’t the boss’s business is going to be the best way to handle this because it gives the boss the fewest toeholds.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        Yeah; I find this advice frustrating. “No” is not a complete, clear, or reasonable response when you’re trying to preserve a professional relationship. Big Boss is out of bounds, but there’s a spectrum of how far out of bounds you are, and he’s not so far out that it merits a response like the one 2horseygirls is recommending.

        1. nonegiven

          “I am not comfortable discussing ‘personal topic’ with you.”
          Fill in the blank.

          “I am not comfortable discussing my parent with you.”

          “I am not comfortable discussing my faith with you.”

          “I am not comfortable discussing my diet with you.”

          “I am not comfortable discussing my health with you.”

          “I am not comfortable discussing my marriage with you.”

          “I am not comfortable discussing my hobby with you.”

  27. Lynn P

    I do not know if skirting the issue will work. Can there be a more straight forward response that is not too threatening? Something that addresses that what he sees as imperative, you see as intrusive? — something like “I appreciate that you would like me to return to ____ faith. But I need to let you know that I am uncomfortable discussing this, or my parents, with you. It is a deeply personal issue for me and not one that I want brought into my work place. I do need you to refrain from trying to be involved in this part of my life.” If he persists – I would then go to the Office Manager or HR.

  28. Frozen Ginger

    I’m surprised no one has said this yet, but as an apostate myself I heartily advocate for NOT saying you’re no longer a member of the religion.

    Telling someone, “Oh I’m not a member of X anymore” or “I’m no longer an X” leads to the question “Why?!” (And with someone who’s pushing the religiousness boundary, I’d be wary Big Boss would push this one too.)

    Plus you might end up with Big Boss going on a personal crusade to bring LW back into the fold. (e.g. “LW has lost their way! Clearly it is my DUTY to [Deity] to help poor LW!”)

    1. Bea

      This crossed my mind as well as the infusion turning him ice cold and ruining an otherwise nice work setup. Suddenly instead of being her biggest fan, she’s turned her back and therefore he starts being super critical.

  29. Independent George

    Big boss is being super inappropriate regardless of OP’s views on his religion. Imagine if OP took Big Boss up on his offer to come over for Sunday dinner because OP is not an ex-member of this religion. Is Big Boss capable of avoiding favoritism or avoiding the appearance of favoritism? I work in a part of the country with a religious majority, and this type of behavior can trigger a major divide in some workplaces. The Religious vs. the Ex-Religous and the Non-Religious.

    There is a reason why many people have a ban on topics of religion or politics in the workplace. It’s just not really possible to navigate without hitting a hot button for someone.

  30. Rey

    The other thing that makes this argument hard to swallow is that sometimes people are persecuted based on their ancestral religion. For example, during WWII, Nazis often asked about whether your grandparents were Jewish. So even in the face of escaping persecution, it wasn’t possible to “instantly” change their religion.

  31. Jadelyn

    OP, you don’t mention HR at your company at all. Do you have an HR department? If so, have they handled things well in the past?

    Speaking as an HR person, I’d be horrified to find out that one of our managers was saying this kind of crap to an employee, and if we found out – whether directly from that employee, from someone who witnessed it and told us, or from overhearing something ourselves – we would peel out and leave a cloud of tire-smoke behind us on our way over to put a stop to it.

    The one unfortunate thing is that if you involve HR, there’s no way to avoid him knowing you complained, and while retaliation is illegal and unacceptable it can also be hard to prove and put a stop to, so you’d have to decide if you want to take that risk.

  32. Anonymous Engineer

    How about something like, “This topic makes me uncomfortable. I’d rather not discuss religion with anyone I work with.”

    And then if he crosses that very clear boundary, you get backup from your manager or HR. Unfortunately, with someone like this who is both (1) more powerful than you in your company and (2) an enthusiastic member of a religion that encourages or requires proselytization, I don’t think there really IS a way to both shut down the topic AND not ruffle this guy’s feathers. Folks like this tend to prioritize their religious duty to bring the heathen back into the fold over their duty to respect others’ boundaries in the workplace.

  33. FaintlyMacabre

    I’m afraid I have no advice to offer, but as the child of a father whose public and private personas differed wildly, I feel for you. Moving far, far away was the best thing I ever did. One thing I did learn was that when people would talk about how wonderful he was would be to say something neutral, like “Yes, Father has many points.” It felt like a win to not outright agree with them, while not delving into all the relationship baggage.

    1. Beatrice

      I’ve used some version of “Growing up in his household gave me a different perspective, but he’s certainly dedicated to his charity work” (or some other neutral-to-positive characteristic you can live with), followed by [abrupt subject change]. It’s not for every situation, but it can be used to flag that a closer relationship with the person isn’t all sweetness and light, without giving any details on the baggage.

  34. MissDisplaced

    Ugh! Asking about religion at work is kind of like asking about kids and other personal matters. Once or twice is alright, but to continue to do so becomes nosy and annoying. I used to work someplace where people kept asking me if I had kids (which is fine) and when I said no, would proceed to ask why I didn’t, didn’t I like kids, etc., etc. And I agree that some people will continue to question no matter what. Any of the responses are good, but I think simple is best. “Oh, I’d really rather not discuss religion at work. Thanks for understanding.”

  35. AnotherFed

    I was strategizing with a good friend about the impending visit of her housemate’s parents. They were are terrible, body shaming people who would likely pick a part my friend’s health and body (not getting into that whole story). Anyway, we strategized that her response would be “I discuss my health with my doctor.” I wish there was a way that you could say to him, thanks but my spiritual needs, should I have any, are covered. In my experience whether it’s religion or health or sports teams, giving people the opportunity to get a wedge in and evangelize about something is a recipe for trouble. You may just have to resort to a varied but consistent “thanks, I’m glad you think so” or “thanks, my Sundays are taken care of” or “thanks, but my faith is something I prefer to keep private.” And I’m sorry to hear about the situation with your father and the difference in public perception and private reality. It’s something that I have gone through with my stepfather and it’s…a lot sometimes.

  36. Detached Elemental

    Several of my extended family are religious sisters or brothers. Sometimes when people found out I was their relative, they’d ask if I had any interest in a religious vocation.

    I typically said “I don’t think that’s my path/calling in life”.

    Similar to the poster above who talked about a ‘vow’, phrasing it as a ‘path’ or ‘calling’ gave it more weight than a ‘decision’ or “opinion’.

  37. Michaela Westen

    “I’m sure he “means well” (ugh), but however well-intended it feels like bullying”
    If it’s like my experience growing up in a fundamentalist city, it is bullying. So many people in that town were on a mission to “save” me and would not take no for an answer.
    What it was really about was forcing their religion on everyone. It was complete and utter disrespect of both me – trying to stop me from living in the way I thought best – and God, ignoring that he would guide me as he saw fit without interference from them.
    Thinking about it now, after decades away from there, still makes me fume. Such disrespectful, controlling monsters!

  38. AnonNonReligiousPerson

    This is rough. The problem with the “I prefer not to talk about religion at work!” response and any variation of that is that many religions, including the one I was raised in, drill it into the members that you should talk about your religion ALL THE TIME WITH EVERYONE. Because you need to be a good example and bring people into the fold and all that. So that response doesn’t really work for them, because in their worldview, they SHOULD be talking about religion at work, even if it makes them feel a bit awkward or uncomfortable. It’s what God wants. They may even see it as a “commandment” from God to “witness” of him or something. (I remember sitting through so many talks and discussions about how to overcome your embarrassment about testifying to your friends and coworkers and ways to work religious comments into regular conversations so that religion seems to come up organically and then you can start talking about it.) So while this response may work for many people, the fact that the boss is already bringing up religion at work frequently and in inappropriate ways tells me that this isn’t going to have any effect in this case. And this is what makes situations like this so hard.

    Allison’s advice is spot-on, that you need to ask the person to stop so you can say you asked and they didn’t stop. But approach it with the understanding that you will likely have to bing it to HR (or the office manager you mentioned) at some point.

    1. Michaela Westen

      After growing up with fundamentalists this so didn’t work with me! At the slightest hint they were bringing in religion I ran, or stopped associating with them.

      1. Michaela Westen

        I live in a big city now and most of the people I know have seen this and are wary of it. Proselytizers don’t get far here.

  39. Hm...can't think of something clever

    Just wanted to mention that if it comes to it, asking your peer might be a good idea. I know others are saying that you wouldn’t get support, but in personal experience I am a pretty religious person and work with more than one person who used to be part of the church I attend and then left. If anyone was pressuring them and asked me to intervene I wouldn’t have any problem telling (even a higher up) that they should probably stop mentioning it. Not all religious people are ok with religion at work, especially when its pushed upon someone.

  40. Noobtastic

    If you want softening language, you might try, “Thanks for offering to help bring me back into the fold. I appreciate your warm welcome. I’m not ready for that at this time, but if I ever am, I will come to you, first. In the meantime, I have to ask you not to bring it up again, as it just drives me further away.”

    Then, he can’t talk about it anymore, as that will have the stated effect of driving you further away, which is exactly what he doesn’t want, so if he does want you back in the fold, he has no choice but to shut up about it, and exercise patience and faith. Sort of a Catch-22 for him.

    Whatever tactic you use, good luck!

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