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The Intersection of Faith and Career

The Intersection of Faith and Career

Dr. Brad Faught, Professor of History

When I was a boy growing up on the Prairies in the 1970s, my world was dominated by sports, especially hockey. Like scores of other Canadian kids I played it, watched it, and dreamt about it in reveries populated by stars of the day like Bobby Hull, Bobby Orr, and Guy Lafleur. Of course I aspired to be one of them, skating out on Saturday nights in front of the whole country on Hockey Night in Canada. Despite a moment at age fourteen when I really thought I might have a chance to make it—I did not! Instead, I became a history professor…

The other constant in my boyhood life was the Christian faith. I was a Preacher’s Kid, a PK, and so initially that faith literally was the faith of my father. Yet it was a faith shared by family and church and by a wider community network of friends and relatives. Ultimately it became my own faith in a pattern recognizable to many who grow up in homes shaped by religious belief. Equally, as my (alas, unrealistic!) aspirations for a sporting career faded, they were soon replaced by similarly keen hopes to become a professor of history. Such hopes were inspired and nurtured by my own historical curiosity, by an excellent undergraduate experience, and by the historical nature of the Christian faith itself.

More than a quarter-century onwards and now in midcareer, I am in a good position to reflect on why I do what I do as an historian. In so doing, perhaps I may be able to offer some measure of explanation about the intersection of spirituality and the workplace or, to put it another way, about personal faith and career—any career.

"Christianity... resides overwhelmingly in its laypeople."

Ever has it been the case throughout the two millennia of the Christian faith that the vast majority of Christians are not pastors or priests, missionaries, monks, or nuns. In other words, Christianity, like most religions, resides overwhelmingly in its laypeople. From time to time in the history of the Church, that cardinal truth has been forgotten by those charged with overseeing organized Christianity, but, of course, such a situation has not lessened the truth of this fundamental reality. All of us—whether it’s me as a history professor or you as something else—are part of a broad swathe of Christians living and working out their faith in all manner of careers and contexts. There is no hierarchy of service in God’s eyes, only honesty, commitment, and love.

In some of my work as an historian, I have the privilege and the job of encountering (so to speak) generation after generation of people who have embodied the reality of faith intersecting with career. I have even been able to research and write about some of them. For example, William Wilberforce, the great late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth century British parliamentarian and abolitionist saw his work in the politics of the anti-slavery movement —probably the biggest public issue of the day—as divinely inspired. Similarly political was the four-time Victorianera British Prime Minister, William Ewart Gladstone. After contemplating entering the Anglican priesthood as a young man, he went on to spend a remarkable sixtythree years in Parliament in a political career based firmly on a robust Christian faith. In the twentieth century, Dame Margery Perham (whose biography I wrote recently), another Anglican, became a pioneer in the field of African studies while teaching history and politics at Oxford. As a direct outgrowth of her Christianity, she insisted that the presence of Europeans in Africa as colonizers could be justifiable only in moral terms. Meanwhile over at Cambridge, was the well-known historian Sir Herbert Butterfield. A Methodist, his highly influential philosophy of history was grounded firmly in his Christian faith.

In some ways, it’s easy to cherry-pick prominent members of society who also happen to be Christian— R.A. Dickey, the award-winning pitcher for the Toronto Blue Jays comes to mind immediately as a contemporary example—and point to them as exemplars of how one’s faith ought to intersect with career. For most of us, however, living out faith and career is done in relative obscurity. We’re part of that silent band doing what we do, with the public, in the main, taking no notice. I suppose that’s what is meant by doing it unto the Lord, doing it without recognition or fanfare, quietly contributing to our professions, our workplaces, our communities, in short, contributing to the common good. The great names of history and society who have personified Christianity’s intersection with career give the rest of us something to aspire to, to be sure, but at the same time we know that God doesn’t rank order us based on earthly fame or accomplishment but by what guides our hearts.