Seventh-day Adventist church members, entities, and institutions are located in nearly every political and legal system of the world. From time to time members and church administrators seek guidance on how Christians should respond to requests or demands put upon them by employers, labor organizations, and governments. In view of the wide variety of political, legal and cultural situations it is impossible to offer specific recommendations that apply equally in every location. Biblical principles and spiritual values however, provide a common foundation.
The history of employer-employee relationships is witness of the excesses and shortcomings to which human institutions and organizations are prone. Industrialization of societies introduced major changes in how work was organized, administered, and accomplished. Guilds or associations of persons in the same trade gave way to labor unions that became collective bargaining agents on behalf of employees. Relationships between trade unions and employers have ranged from adversarial to collaborative.
Today the workplace environment is influenced by numerous forces: political systems, legislation and trade policies, economics, technology, labor unions, and professional organizations. These fulfill functions ranging from industry regulation, practitioner licensing, definition of work, employee advocacy and representation, codification of best practices, and the scrutiny of ethical conduct. The multiplicity of organizations and functions defy generalizations. Therefore, it is important to identify and reiterate general principles and values that provide a Christian basis for dealing with particular issues in the workplace.
The Seventh-day Adventist view of employer-employee relationships is based on teachings and narratives in the Bible, especially those dealing with creation, sin and its effects on persons and communities, salvation provided through Jesus Christ, and the ultimate restoration of harmony and perfect order in the universe. Scripture affirms and balances the value of individuals with the importance and good of society as a whole.
The counsel of Ellen G White on employer-employee relations is rooted in historical situations of her time and a prophetic insight concerning social and economic conditions in the future. She gave stern warnings about the trade union practices of her day. She was fiercely protective against incursions on the conscience of individuals or the intrusion of barriers to Church mission. Some would assert that the situation is considerably different today. To the extent that things are different one needs careful discernment in identifying and applying principles upon which her counsel rested.
Principles and Values
1. Human beings, though corrupted by sin, still carry the likeness of God (Gen 1:26, 27). Thus all are to be treated with respect and justice. The freedom to exercise moral and ethical judgment is an essential ingredient in the dignity of personhood.
2. For a Christian, the Lordship of Jesus Christ permeates the whole of life; its attitudes, actions, and relationships. (Isa 8:13; Matt 6:24; Acts 5:29, Col 3:23, 24) Other authority sources in life are subordinate to Christ’s authority and, unless complementary to it, are neither safe nor reliable.
“The world is not to be our criterion. Let the Lord work, let the Lord’s voice be heard.”–TM 463
“‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself.’ These words sum up the whole duty of man. They mean the consecration of the whole being, body, soul, and spirit, to God’s service. How can men obey these words, and at the same time pledge themselves to support that which deprives their neighbors of freedom of action? And how can men obey these words, and form combinations that rob the poorer classes of the advantages which justly belong to them, preventing them from buying or selling, except under certain conditions!”–Ellen G White, Letter 26, 1903
3. The workplace environment should be characterized by an atmosphere of mutual service and mutual respect. Adversarial relationships between employer and employees, born of suspicion, self-interest, and rivalry deny dignity to persons and ignore the larger interests and needs of society. (James 5:1-6)
4. The workplace should not dehumanize people. Employees should have access to a process of consultation and genuine discussion in matters affecting their labor and the conduct of the business or industry that employs their talents and skills. (1 Kings 12:6,7; Mark 10:42-45; Phil 2:3-8)
5. Christians should refrain from violence, coercion, or any method incompatible with Christian ideals as instruments in the attainment of social or economic goals. Nor should Christians lend their support to organizations or employers that resort to such actions. (2 Cor 6:14-18; 10:3)
6. Seventh-day Adventist employers should support and demonstrate liberty of conscience, fair wages and working conditions, equality of opportunity, justice, and fairness for all (Luke 10:27).
7. Spiritual autonomy and integrity for church entities include freedom to uphold and maintain basic religious tenets and practices, such as Sabbath observance, freedom to establish operating policies in harmony with church objectives, and freedom to employ only those who support church teachings and objectives.
8. In order to fulfill its divine mission the Seventh-day Adventist Church refrains from alignment with or endorsement of political organizations. Church members are urged to preserve and protect their own liberty and independence from alliances that may compromise Christian values and witness.
“We are now to use all our entrusted capabilities in giving the last warning message to the world. In this work we are to preserve our individuality. We are not to unite with secret societies or with trade-unions. We are to stand free in God, looking constantly to Christ for instruction. All our movements are to be made with a realization of the importance of the work to be accomplished for God.”–7T 84
9. Seventh-day Adventists recognize the need for governments and therefore seek to be citizens who support law and order. Social and legal situations vary greatly in different parts of the world. Civil and religious liberties do not exist in equal measure throughout the world. For these reasons divisions of the General Conference may approve more specific working policies, reflecting the spiritual principles stated here, in light of legal, political or cultural realities and practices in their areas. All are encouraged to counsel widely so as to maintain principle-based decisions that preserve the integrity of the Church’s witness and mission. (Current examples of division-approved statements include the North American Division Working Policy HR 30 and the South Pacific Division Executive Committee Statement on “Seventh-day Adventists and Trade Unions,” May 22, 2003.)
This statement was voted during the Annual Council of the General Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church on October 14, 2003 in Silver Spring, Maryland.