(Note: This article was published on the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics blog.)
I was asked to review some recent changes to U.S. Army policy on pregnant soldiers which addressed some of the unique challenges that females (which make up 18% of our force) and their families face.
The challenges pregnant soldiers experience are in many cases more complex than what civilians have. When their unit gets orders to deploy or when they have to go to away to a required school for several months they may need to execute a family care plan. They may have to buy new uniforms to fit their ever-changing bodies during and after pregnancy. They must be able to maintain their physical fitness.
The proposed changes included a wide range of things such as maternity leave (some of which is authorized for their spouse also, if dual military), uniform wear, height and weight standards, schooling, and deployments. They will improve female Soldiers’ quality of life and enable them to advance in their careers as they expand their families.
A female officer I highly respect was impressed. She stated, “This makes me want to stay in the Army.”
This policy got me to thinking about how important it is for any organization with female employees who may become pregnant to ensure there are standards and benefits in writing that are reasonable, compassionate, and appropriate to provide a healthy work environment that does not hinder assignment and promotion opportunities, encourages wellness, and clarifies expectations for all concerned.
Why should we be interested about such matters? Is it my duty to care for those who have special needs in my workplace? What can an ordinary employee do if these kinds of policies are not in place?
Let me offer some ideas from a biblical and theological perspective as to how we can meet the needs of individuals as well as work towards fair and appropriate policies that will benefit all in the long term.
Being the Good Samaritan
It should be fairly obvious that we have the opportunity every day to fulfill both of the two greatest commandments that Jesus clearly spelled out in our workspaces every day. We can love God as we work for His glory with the strength and wisdom He provides and we can love our neighbor.
Like the Good Samaritan, if we focus on being employees in our organizations who are actively concerned with meeting the practical needs (i.e., physical, emotional, mental, financial, and spiritual) of our coworkers who are facing unique challenges, this is what biblical love of neighbor truly looks like.
Building unity amidst diversity
I found a statement in a memo from the Secretary of Defense in November of 2020 that appears to be the focus in driving these changes: “The women who serve in the U.S. military are vital to the readiness and lethality of our Armed Forces, making important contributions every day to protect our Nation.”
The Apostle Paul wrote something similar about the value of each member of the Body of Christ in 1 Cor. 12:12-26. Paul’s main point was that all team members have value, purpose and function. He emphasized that every individual brings something unique to the table. Everyone contributes. No one is unnecessary. All workers are needed. All should treat one another with honor, respect, and concern.
If these kinds of attitudes are appropriate for diverse members in the church, they can certainly help to build teamwork in any organization. Perhaps God has a plan for you to ensure that employees with unique needs are cared for in practical ways so that they will want to continue to be part of your team.
Bringing Shalom to your space
In Jer. 29:7, Yahweh tells the Israelites who are exiled in Babylon, “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” Just like the Israelites who were in captivity, God sends each of us to an organization as an employee to be His agents of redemption. We must shine the light of Christ in dark places and become part of His work to bring common grace to all who are made in His image. (See also Prov. 11:10.)
Hugh Whelchel, in How Then Should We Work? ties this passage to the cultural mandate in Gen. 1:28. He points out the connection between the command to Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and multiply” with the command to the Babylonian exiles to “build houses and settle down” and “marry and have sons and daughters” (Jer. 29:5-6). He sees that as they “seek the peace and prosperity of the city” (Jer. 29:7), they are also exercising “subduing” and “ruling” functions. By doing so, they are “reweaving Shalom.”
Whelchel continues, offering an application for us, “God meant them to be a blessing to the world even while they lived in Babylon. God intends the same for us. We are called to work for the shalom of the city, whatever or wherever that city is, where God has put us. We are to be a blessing in our time and place. This is possible only because we have found our identity in Christ, the Prince of Shalom.”
So let me return to my question, regarding what an ordinary employee can do. There are countless ways that the average worker, who does not own a company, is not a manager or supervisor, or does not work in human resources can help to ensure there are benefits for pregnant workers and young mothers.
Some ideas include: plan a baby shower; provide meals the first few weeks after delivery; extend grace if they have to leave early or arrive late due to emergencies; ensure there is a private and clean space for nursing mothers to pump throughout the work day; ensure that motherhood is not the sole basis for decision-making when the employee is up for a promotion, reassignment, or special project; just listen.
Christians are called to be salt and light wherever God sends us (Matt. 5:13-14). If changes are long overdue, perhaps God can use us to influence organizational leaders to provide better support systems for women who need it. If positive reforms happen due to God’s presence in us, it brings glory to God.
About the author:
Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 41 years, father of three, grandfather of five, and author of Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. Russ received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth minister. He served 20 years on active duty. Russ works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Since 2015, he has written 170 articles on faith and work topics. Eighty of these have been published over 150 times on several Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, and The Gospel Coalition. (See published articles on Linktree.)