Acton Institute Powerblog

Being a Christian CEO Means Never Having to Fire Someone

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Does being a Christian in business mean you’ll never have to fire someone? Of course not. But that’s one of the many subtexts that is detectable in the recent attention being given to this story: “CEO of Christian Publishing Firm Fires 25 Employees after Anonymous Email.”

Now I don’t know any more details than what is contained in the Romenesko report, and it may well be that CEO Ryan Tate acted in an imprudent and incorrect fashion following his receipt of an anonymous email.

One of the things that’s interesting to me, however, is the implicit sense that because you pray with someone (“corporately,” in this case), you can’t fire them. Or at least not right afterward. That’s what the lede of the Romanesko report seems to convey, at least implicitly. Or it at least communicates the dissonance between prayer at an “all-hands meeting” and then going “ballistic” afterwards. In that case, it really might really be more about the particular actions of Tate than it is about broader conceptions of how prayer and work mix.

But is there a sense in which there’s some broader assumption that Christian businesspeople do things differently? I think so. Does it mean, however, that they don’t fire people? I don’t think so. But it may mean that they pray for (or even with) people before they fire them.

Again, being a Christian businessperson probably means you don’t fire people without appropriate cause. I don’t really want to debate the cause in this particular case. But it certainly doesn’t seem to mean that you don’t fire people ever.

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty. He is also a postdoctoral researcher in theology and economics at the VU University Amsterdam as part of the "What Good Markets Are Good For" project. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary.


  • Benedict Gnaniah

    I always faced this dilemma … not just firing Christians but with firing anyone for that matter.  Firing for not being able to perform and firing a person because of behavioral issues are two different things. Personally I believe Christian organizations must show the world that they work differently. We got to tell the world that the weak are strong indeed and that in their weakness they can yet perform because the one in them is greater.  Firing on behavioral grounds…i guess thats were forgiveness (70 times 7 types) comes in. 

  • Angela

    It’s not about the fact that he fired them. It’s about the fact that he prayed with them, then belittled them (called them idiots, stupid, and morons), threatened them (“do you know how a law suit works…I sue you and if you can’t pay it, it doesn’t just go away. I’ll take your house, your car, your wages. I can own you if I want to”), and lied to them (he told them five other former employees are currently being sued by him for 7.8 million dollars…he even said, “don’t you think their lives changed when they got that summons.” This was later proven to be false by several media outlets…he then admitted he had not sued, was just considering it. Do a google search for Tate publishing ogle. It will pull up the daily Ogle. There, you will find an audio clip of the meeting that took place containing everything I just told you about. And more. He compares himself to Jesus at one point.

  • Jonathan

    I think you are totally off base, or trying to create a spin on this that really doesn’t exist. The Romenesko report, to me, showed a man blaming everyone else for problems he himself was apparently unwilling to address. It was just anecdotal that he led them in prayer moments before he started yelling at them, insulting them, and blaming them for his firing the 25 who lost their jobs. He told them point blank – if you believe the audio recording of his rant – that one of them authored an anonymous criticism of his management skills, so all of them were to blame. And he fired them.
    I think the cynical part of the whole meeting was the prayer. I doubt the manager in question truly was having Christian thoughts as he prayed. I think he was seeking cover, in some awkward fashion, because he couldn’t face his own failures. I imagine some – if not all – of the employees joined the prayer thinking that was what it was. But I don’t think the boss was in any sort of Christian mindset.

    • Rev-Esq

      Exactly right, Jonathan.  This is not about prayer, Christianity, or anything else besides shockingly poor, mean and selfish leadership.

    • Well, perhaps, but I don’t see how the prayer can be both simply “anecdotal” and therefore seemingly irrelevant to the narrative, and yet also be the truly “cynical part of the whole meeting” and “cover,” however awkward and insincere. It seems to me at least part of the dynamic here is that there was a prayer followed by a firing. The rest of the behavior certainly makes the situation more dramatic and perhaps compelling for some, but I’m more interested in exploring whether there’s any hypocrisy in praying with or for someone before you fire them, irrespective of the sordid details of this particular case.

  • Benedict Gnaniah

    Honestly sitting out here in India I really dont know what this is. But going by what Johnathan and Angela says obviously this is Machiavellian not Christian. The man has evoked the name of God for the sake of whatever he claims to safeguard

  • Perhaps I didn’t make myself clear. My reference to Tate was less as an “illustration” than as an “occasion” to talk about the question of how and when a Christian might fire someone that is different than how a secular executive, manager, or proprietor might. I’m less interested (not really interested at all, actually) in Tate’s specific actions. There are plenty of places where people are discussing how horrible of a leader he is/was/will ever be and what a bad example he is.

    • Rev-Esq

      Using Tate’s rather extreme and emotionally provocative situation overshadows your main idea.  All I will remember from your article and the underlying sources is that this guy is a terrible boss who hurts people…His situation might be a good illustration of a disparity between faith and practice or even a concrete illustration of your website’s title page idea that power corrupts…it is likely that this guy’s power and privilege mis-shaped his Christian identity.  Unfortunately, by mentioning Tate, readers will be less interested in your important question of the difference between Christian and secular executives.  Make sense?

      • What if I put it like this, then: The Tate case is an example of how not to do it, on a number of levels. How and when then should Christian CEOs fire people?

        • Rev-Esq

          I think that makes sense.

  • Stan

    What’s the point of saying you’re a Christian business person if you don’t do anything differently than a nonChristian business person?

  • Stan

    And I’ll take it a step further-
    In order to be successful in business, what characteristics does a Christian business person have that a nonChristian business person doesn’t have? Doesn’t any business person need to come across as honest and fair in order to be successful (in the long run)?

    And just for the record – in my long history of both corporate and entrepreneurial business dealings, I’m watchful of anyone who tells me they’re “Christian” or a  “Christian business person”. After all, why would they be telling me that…to emphasize that they’re honest? I’m already going to assume (or rather hope) that when I sit down with them.

  • Pingback: Wong and Rae on How and When to Fire Someone | @ActonInstitute PowerBlog | @ActonInstitute PowerBlog()

  • Blue-13

    Now I didn’t bother reading any further than the phrase, “Now I don’t know any more details than what is contained in the Romenesko report,” but I think maybe you should have found a copy of the audio recording and looked at the other related news stories.

    • You are right; I should have done that if my interest was in discussing the details of the Tate case. But as you would have found out if you had continued reading, I wasn’t really interested in that. More here:

  • I suppose it’s starting to dawn on me. Thanks for being so patient and putting up with my shortcomings.

    But as to your “sarcastic irony,” I didn’t say I hadn’t read all of Romanesko’s piece; I just said that’s all that I had read of substance.