Growing as a Christian in the Heart of Wall Street

By Jeffrey Hoff

I have been a practicing Orthodox Christian for my entire life.  Since graduating college five years ago, I have maintained a job in the “working world,” a place where my colleagues and peers are not necessarily Christian, and where I’ve worked for and with organizations that have no Christian mission or affiliation.  This, by definition I think, makes me a “Christian in the workplace,” with “workplace” being defined as an ordinary work environment without a specific religious or charitable mission.

After four years in undergraduate, and several internships in financial services and technology/media, I worked at a software consulting firm where my clients ranged from global, Fortune 100 companies to smaller organizations in the US and Canada.  Since switching jobs two years ago, I’ve worked in an industry that is the object of scorn and criticism.  I am employed by a hedge fund, which most know of by way of the mainstream media’s coverage of the current financial crisis impacting our global economy.

In this article I won’t discuss why I believe most negative impressions of the finance industry are misplaced, but suffice it to say that hedge funds are in many ways like people:  some hedge funds take questionable action and behave out of compliance with industry standards, while others act with integrity, stringently following rules and staying away from the ”˜gray areas.’  The particular firm for which I work happens to fall into the latter group, which keeps my conscience and heart at ease.

Still, my employer obviously wasn’t founded for the purpose of conducting charitable deeds, advancing Christianity among our American population, or praying on behalf of those who cannot pray for themselves (obviously!).  My colleagues and our vendors’ employees hold all sorts of ideological beliefs and affiliations (ranging from graduates of rabbinical school to agnostics and atheists).  It’s certainly not an environment where I am nurtured and encouraged by like-minded believers and followers in Christ to grow in my faith.

Instead, the goals of our company is to reduce financial risk and increase financial gain; in other words, to take a sum of money and then make more of it.  The camel passing through the eye of a needle is sounding more and more realistic, don’t you think?

Take money and make more money with it

Add to the mix that the industry that employs me is represented by a large bronze bull (commandment number two, anyone?), and that I work in Manhattan (SoHo) where everything but the true God is worshiped (high-end retail, electronics, gold, arts, financial markets, cupcakes), and one might as well assume that I’ve relegated my existence to that of a non-believer, or even worshiper of evil.  Well, I don’t believe that’s so.

To be a Christian in the workforce, I have learned that my faith must inform my work, and not vice versa.  This means choosing what is right over what is appealing or tempting.  This means following rules, no matter how small or insignificant.  This also means doing thorough, honest work (for after all, isn’t that what I am being paid to do?  Not doing so would be stealing!) — and this is what I mean by integrity.

Every last action that I complete is done with thorough care and attention.  I don’t pass off sloppy work to my manager at 5 PM in an email so that he can clean up my mess.  I don’t submit carelessly-compiled reports and summaries that people can’t read or decipher.  And I don’t take credit where credit is not due (or even when it is due, often). Take credit for nothing, and responsibility for everything. Am I tempted to do be lazy?  Yes, of course.  It would make my life a whole lot less stressful and more carefree to just get things in a “good enough” place.  But, being a Christian in the work place means that I must be dedicated to the quality of what I produce because I am being paid to do it, and falling short would be swindling my company.  It also means that I must be dedicated to supporting my colleagues and peers, because not doing so would be not aligned with the absolute command to “love thy neighbor as thyself.”  With all of the stressful moving parts of my daily work effort, it would be so easy to half bake so many things, but for the Christian worker, this is simply not an option.
Part of being a Christian in a non-Christian workplace means upholding my religious values among those that might condemn them.  I realized quickly that my coworkers don’t share the similar views on contemporary ideological and religious topics, and this fact disappoints me.  Even more than it disappoints me, though, it brings out the worst in me!  It causes me to judge my colleagues, to criticize their choices and their behavior, and to attribute their actions to the fact that they are “non-believers.”

Shame on me!

This judgment, of course, is only done within my own thoughts, which are not made known to those around me.  Still, one of my first lessons learned about being a Christian in the work place is not judge those around me, but to rather look at my own faults and treat my neighbor with patience, acceptance, and love.  The ordinary day-to-day grind of my workplace has grown my patience, acceptance, and love for those around me when they do even the most annoying or inappropriate things.  Furthermore, learning from these experiences, I am able to better reflect and pray on how I wish to conduct myself in a way that does reflect in the image of how Christ would act.

Each of us has been given talents by God, and we have been charged by Him to use them (to share them with others) in the best and fullest way we can.  You will note that I am not a gifted writer, and you can trust me as I tell you that I have few other gifts!  It is probably true that my greatest skill, and what I can offer most to others and for the glory of God, are my analytical skills, which I hone in the workplace, but also share for the Glory of God in other capacities outside of the work environment.

Many of us know the lawyer who helped negotiate a contract, the health care professional that finds pro-bono medical services for the poor, the musician who helps lead the choir, and the cook that makes a successful pirogi sale.  I like to think of myself as the finance and technology guy who keeps the books and finds the bargains.  And I have my “workplace” to thank for helping me to use and grow my talents so that I can continue to contribute my greatest talent with integrity in the workplace, and with love for our Lord and His Church in all parts of my life.

2nd Commandment?