The life of evangelical churches and their spiritual leaders has been portrayed in some recent films and series. Can they help us start conversations?
How integrity can tame the beast of bribes and extortion.
Often, we use expressions or terms without having a clear understanding of their meaning or implications. A few years ago, I asked 50 individuals the meaning of ‘hope’. I received 50 different explanations.
In recent days I have asked more than a dozen individuals for their definition of the term ‘corruption’. Again, I received a great variety of answers.
The term is defined by the Webster dictionary as: ‘to bribe’, ‘to spoil’, ‘morally unsound’, ‘perverted’, ‘wicked’, ‘evil’. These are disturbing terms. Yet we have become immune to them because we hear almost daily in the media of scandals and financial scams involving government officials, businesses, and individuals.
Our tendency is to say, ‘So what?’
Corruption in Christian organizations
When we hear about corruption and scandals within Christian denominations, para-church organizations, or even local churches, we quickly look beyond the headlines for names we might recognize.
Even then the effect on us tends to be minimal. Martin Allaby, a leading figure in the Micah Challenge initiative, writes: ‘It has been estimated that USD 50 billion per annum may be stolen from money that Christians give to churches, para-church organizations, and secular organizations around the world.’i
We still accept this terrible situation as being wrong but consider it beyond our control. We do nothing and accept it.
However, there are some who have invested time, energy, and finances in doing something about it:ii
- In India, a few businessmen confronted the leadership of churches involved in major corruption and challenged them to change. Leaders of the main denominations were invited to a conference on ‘Truth and Honesty’.
They were shocked to hear the speaker say, ‘Dear Presidents, Bishops, Archbishops, Patriarchs, the evil is with you! You are involved in corruption, bribery, personal enrichment, evil!’ The Holy Spirit touched several of those present, and public confession and radical corrections took place. Arpit Waghmare leads Operation Nehemiah, the movement that grew out of this conference.iiiiv
- In Germany, a father and son team did research on corruption in government, businesses, churches, and involved individuals. They were shocked by what they discovered. Thomas Schirrmacher, a senior theologian, and his son David, a young businessman, published their findings in a book.v
- In Tanzania, a theological student selected for his dissertation the theme ‘Corruption Mocking at Justice’. Alfred Sebahene investigated the Anglican Church in his own country.vi
Gershon Mwiti also deals with corruption in Africa and how dignity with integrity can replace corruption.vii
- Bishop Hwa Yung (Malaysia), for many years a member of the Lausanne Committee, published a book, Bribery and Corruption: Biblical Reflections and Case Studies for the Marketplace in Asia, and invited several other Asian leaders to write a response and submit case studies from their own countries.xiii
- The faculty of Dallas Theological Seminary developed a workshop study guide on integrity, Examining How I Live. This book can be used by any group of academics, pastors, students, or laypeople desiring to examine their own lives.xiv
- The leadership of the Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization held in Cape Town in 2010 recognized the need to pay special attention to the issue of corruption and integrity.
A global network on ‘Integrity and Anti-Corruption’ has also been established. This is a joint effort of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) and Lausanne and is led by Efraim Tendero (Philippines), and Manfred Kohl (Canada). Membership is open to anyone interested in this important topic.
We, as followers of Christ, must not simply accept the reality of corruption in the world. We need to be concerned. We are called to be the light of the world (Matt 5:14), and there are many ways in which we can fight corruption.
However, there is another side of this issue: the need to examine ourselves. Corruption is simply the reflection of a lack of integrity.xvii
Integrity is another term we use often but without realizing its implications. It is defined as: ‘honest’,’uprightness’,’soundness’,’completeness’,’wholeness’,’incorruptible’.
Evangelist Billy Graham, co-founder of the Lausanne Movement in 1974, said, ‘When we speak of integrity as a moral value, it means that a person is the same on the outside as he is inside. There is no discrepancy between what he says and what he acts, between his talk and his walk.’xviii
Chris Wright, in his Cape Town presentation, said:
The overwhelming witness of the Bible is that the greatest problem for God in his redemptive mission for the world is his own people. What hurts God most, it seems, is not just the sin of the world, but the failure, disobedience and rebellion of those God has redeemed and called to be his people, his holy distinctive people. . . . We have to deal with:
The idols of power and pride,
The idols of popularity and success
The idols of wealth and greed.xix
Jesus himself was tempted in all three areas and resisted the temptation (Matt 4:1-11). With the help of our Lord Jesus Christ we can distance ourselves from all of these idols that tempt us, often on a daily basis.
In 2017 we celebrated the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation.xx The Lausanne leadership gathered in Wittenberg, Germany to celebrate.
The term ‘Reformation’ refers not only to the beginning of Protestantism; we should realize that it also means ‘re-formation’, to remove the false, the defects, the abuses; to refuse bribes; to end corruption and evil. This is a never-ending battle. Today we want to be people of an ongoing re-formation.
For Jerald Daffee, integrity is the integrating element that unifies character, conduct, and one’s composite lifestyle. For him a simple working definition is:
Integrity is playing by the rules.
Integrity is playing by the rules when no one else does.
Integrity is playing by the rules when one is playing alone.
The best examples are Job (Job 6:29; 27:5), Joseph (Gen 39), and David (Ps 25:21; 41:12).xxi
Everyone can list numerous examples of a lack of integrity in individuals. Consider these, which I have personally encountered:
- A good friend shared with me after a worship service that he had just landed his dream job, due to the efforts of a wealthy and influential family member, although there were many other applicants with better qualifications.
- A businessman turned down a lucrative government contract because he was unwilling to pay a large bribe. Another businessman, a member and elder of a church, received the contract because for him paying a bribe is part of doing business.
- A church women’s group spoke out vehemently against abortion. However, not one of the ladies distributes information about the realities of abortion or exposes politicians or organizations supporting abortion.
- More than once I have discovered that excellence is confused with success at any cost. Cheating, telling half-truths, and even stealing are accepted as normal as long as the person is successful.
- Travelling internationally, one constantly finds ‘culture’ cited as an excuse for the practice of corruption, even from committed Christians. For a Christian, the Word of God must be above culture.xxii
- My nephew is a policeman. I am tempted to tell him that he should overlook my traffic violations!
- To be very honest, we hear what we want to hear, see what we want to see, and do what we want to do, even if it is contrary to Scripture or if we hear God’s voice in our conscience. We need help.
To address corruption and integrity, one must begin with the condition of one’s own life. Do I strive to practice integrity, to be open to re-formation by God, to become more holy?
It is not enough to condemn big bribery scandals or power-seeking individuals. We also have to examine ourselves.
Robert Osburn, Jr. concludes his most recent book, Taming the Beast, with a paraphrase of the Beatitudes (Matt 5:2-11):
- ‘If you suffer poverty, corrupt wealth is utterly inferior to living under God’s eternal rule and reign (v. 3: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven).
- If you must suffer loss in your pursuit of an honest life, your sorrows will always be met by the comforting, encouraging friendship of those you have treated kindly and honestly (v. 4: Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted).
- Although you could manipulate people with your money, how much greater is the restrained use of your power (‘meek’) for others’ good; the result will be that people will demand that you become their leader (‘inherit the earth’) (v. 5: Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth).
- Whereas greed and corruption are never satisfied, the deep, passionate desire for justice and holiness always satisfies, day after day (v. 6: Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied).
- Rather than making demands for bribes, showing mercy and kindness to people makes them want to shower you with the same mercy and kindness (v. 7: Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy).
- Those who are not corrupt have nothing to hide and will not only never fear others but also never fear the face of God (v. 8: Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God).
- Those who help others to be reconciled with each other will be wealthy beyond imagination, for as God’s children they will inherit the wealth of his kingdom (v. 9: Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be call sons of God).
- If, in your pursuit of godliness, the corrupt make your life miserable, remember what the poor person knows so very well: nothing can compare with the glories of living under God’s rule and reign (v. 10: Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven).
- If you are mercilessly attacked for living a life of honesty and purity, take great joy in two facts: 1) The Old Testament prophets suffered similarly, and that means you are in good company; and 2) You will have a greater reward than the richest corrupt leader could ever imagine (vv. 11-12: Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you).’xxiii
The Integrity and Anti-Corruption Network of Lausanne and WEA would like individuals interested in the subject to join them. Please write to Manfred W. Kohl firstname.lastname@example.org.
There will be a major conference on Integrity and Anti-Corruption on 24 June 2019 in Manila, Philippines. It will be held near the location of the Global Workplace Forum. Everyone is invited to attend. Please write to Third Fermin email@example.com.
Manfred W. Kohl has served as pastor, professor, founder of World Vision West Africa and Central Europe, and as Vice-President and Ambassador of Overseas Council International. He has been with the Lausanne Movement since its beginning in 1974.
This article originally appeared in the May 2019 issue of the Lausanne Global Analysis and is published here with permission. Learn more about this flagship publication from the Lausanne Movement at www.lausanne.org/lga.
iMartin Allaby, Corruption and the Church – A Brief Introduction (Milton Keynes, UK: im:press an imprint of Micah Global, 2018), 20. Allaby also wrote Inequality, Corruption and the Church – Challenges and Opportunities in the Global Church, (Eugene, OR, USA: Wipf and Stock, 2013) and Corruption and the Church – Voices from the Global South (Oxford, UK: Regnum, 2018). See also Richard King, Confronting Corruption: Letting the Bible Speak (Oxford, UK: Regnum, n.d.).
ii Editor’s Note: See article by David Bennett, entitled, ‘Integrity, the Lausanne Movement, and a Malaysian Daniel’, in January 2015 issue of Lausanne Global Analysis https://www.lausanne.org/content/lga/2015-01/integrity-the-lausanne-movement-and-a-malaysian-daniel.
iii This movement helps denominations and ministries in India to deal with financial corruption. His presentation ‘Integrity and Anti-Corruption Case Study’ can be heard online. See http://www.lausanne.org/content/integrity-and-anti-corruption-case-study-lausanne-global-leadership-forum or firstname.lastname@example.org
iv Editor’s Note: See article by Arpit Waghmare, entitled, ‘Choosing to be Salt & Light’, in November 2012 issue of Lausanne Global Analysis https://www.lausanne.org/content/lga/2012-11/choosing-to-be-salt-light-can-the-church-in-india-become-a-model-in-the-fight-for-anti-corruption.
v Thomas Schirrmacher und David Schirrmacher, Korruption – Wenn Eigennutz vor Gemeinwohl steht (Holzgerlingen, Germany: SCM-Verlag, 2014). They were not afraid to report in detail, naming names, exposing evil. The book includes ten pages of excellent references.
vi Alfred Sebahene, Corruption Mocking at Justice: A Theological and Ethical Perspective on Public Life in Tanzania and Its Implications for the Anglican Church of Tanzania (Carlisle, UK: Langham, 2017). It would be a great advantage if many students would focus their research and dissertations on similar topics of integrity, bribery, and corruption.
vii Gershon Mwiti, The Incorruptible: Leading with Integrity and Dignity (Nairobi, Kenya: Nairobi Academic Press, 2016).
viii Editor’s Note: See article by Joel Edwards and Geoff Tunnicliffe, entitled, ‘Micah Challenge International’, in March 2015 issue of Lausanne Global Analysis https://www.lausanne.org/content/lga/2015-03/micah-challenge-international.
xiii Hwa Yung, Bribery and Corruption: Biblical Reflections and Case Studies for the Marketplace in Asia (Singapore: Graceworks, 2010).
xiv Center for Christian Leadership at Dallas Theological Seminary, Integrity: Examining How I Live (Colorado Springs, CO, USA: Navpress, 2004).
xv Christ Wright, ‘Calling the church back to Humility, Integrity, Simplicity’, in Julia E.M. Cameron (Ed.), Christ Our Reconciler: Gospel, Church, World. The Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization (Downers Grove, IL, USA: IVP, 2012), 149-58.
xvi Rose Dowsett, The Cape Town Commitment: Confession of Faith and Call to Action (Peabody, MA, USA: Hendrickson, 2012), Study edition, 119-31.
xvii Editor’s Note: See article by Kelly and Michèle O’Donnell, entitled, ‘A Summons to a Global Integrity Movement’, in March 2018 issue of Lausanne Global Analysis https://www.lausanne.org/content/lga/2018-03/summons-global-integrity-movement.
xviii Mwiti, 252.
xix Wright, 150-53.
xx Editor’s Note: See article by Thomas Albert Howard, entitled, ‘A Call to Christian Unity for the Sake of the Great Commission’, in November 2017 issue of Lausanne Global Analysis https://www.lausanne.org/content/lga/2017-11/call-christian-unity-sake-great-commission.
xxi Jerald Daffee, ‘Integrity: A Foundational Principle’ in Donald S. Aultman (Ed.), Leading With Integrity (Cleveland, TN, USA: Church of God, 2004), 77-8 (71-80).
xxii God’s Word is above cultural practices. Excellent material on this subject is given by Roberto Laver, ‘Systemic Corruption: Considering Its Cultural Drivers in Second-Generation Reforms’, Edmund J. Safra Center for Ethics Working Papers 45 (Cambridge, MA, USA: Harvard University, June 5, 2014) www.ethics.harvard.edu/lab All 45 working papers on corruption and integrity are available as electronic copies.
xxiii Robert Osburn Jr., Taming The Beast: Can We Bridle The Culture Of Corruption? (St. Paull, MN, USA: Wilberforce, 2016), 225-26.