Polite but effective response to workplace proselytizing?

I am the only obviously Jewish person in my workplace. Based on conversations with coworkers and observation of cubicle ornaments / desk decorations / clothing, it appears that everyone else in the office identifies as some manner of Christian (generally Catholic, Lutheran, or evangelical Protestant). They’ve all seen Jews before, and the exoticism has worn off. Aside from having to remind a couple of folks that I do not schedule non-emergency tasks Friday night through Saturday evening, we get along without any apparent difficulty. As a general rule, I don’t discuss religion at work, unless there’s a work-related issue (such as the aforementioned scheduling conflict).

One woman is an enthusiastically evangelical Christian, and she seems to be making some inappropriate assumptions about my opinions and interests: assuming that I’d like to go to a lecture on Intelligent Design (I wouldn’t), or that I need to be assured that real Christians don’t hate Jews (I’m pretty sure my aunt the deacon repects me as much today as she did last month). I’m genuinely touched by her concern, I’m satisfied that it comes from the heart, and I believe that it’s offered with the best of intentions. I can live with it.

I’ve recently learned that we’re going to be relocated into the same office space (as in we’re going to sit next to each other, share a coffee machine, and exchange flu strains). I am worried that her outreach is going to morph into full-scale witnessing / proselytizing once we’re in each other’s face all the time. Is there a graceful way to nip this in the bud if it does happen? I am NOT looking for 100 ways to say “f* off” - I AM looking for effective ways to say “No thank you, and please don’t raise the subject again.”

I am assuming that I won’t need to say anything. However, I think it’s better to have response thought out in advance than to be caught off guard and say something rude in my surprise.


I think you pretty much have the words to use - “No thank you, I’m not interested.” Doesn’t have to be said in a nasty tone or with an Angry Scowl, just politely and clearly. If your coworker persists then you can say (still politely but perhaps slightly more forcefully while looking right into her eyes) “Thank you but I said that I am not interested. Please do not ask me again.”

If you’ve had to do the latter, make a note of it with the time and date. Heaven forbid this becomes an Offical Matter With Human Resources but if it does you want to have a written record of what has happened.

If it keeps going then that’s where I would go right over to the coworker’s supervisor and/or HR, explain what is happening and that you’ve asked her to cut it out, and that you’d like someone higher up the ladder to tell the coworker to stop. Follow up with an email to whoever you talked to so that you have everything in writing.

In a lot of cases the person might not even realize that what they are doing offends you - thus the polite but clear request right up front.

I second Valgard’s advice. Would add only that if you do have to take it to HR, be sure to point out that

But that in the current situation you can no longer live with it. You don’t want to make problems for her in her worklife, you simply wish that she’d respect this particular boundary. That’s clear from your OP and I’m sure you’ll be able to make it clear to HR.

Hopefully, though, you won’t have to take it that far.

For some reason, because of the subject, this comment made me giggle.

It’s very thoughtful of you to consider her feelings and want to be prepared. If the occasion arises I would include some version of

in explaining your stand to her.

“No offense intended, I prefer to keep religious views personnal and out of the workplace” seems appropriate.

If all else fails, try “What part of ‘I’m not interested’ don’t you understand?”

My standard line:

“I’m sorry. I don’t discuss religion or politics at work.” If someone asks why, I say, “It’s not productive.” and change the subject. I have also on occasion said “You like me now, but if we discussed (politics/religion), you wouldn’t like me any more.”

I recommend the former response to the “why” category over the latter,