Monday, May 7, 2012

The Gospel Call to Integrity and Honesty

The John Banks—Kim Dotcom affair has got me thinking. The question is, has John Banks been truthful over receipt of donations in the 2010 Auckland mayoral campaign? Actually, it is not just this issue, but a whole range of situations which have featured in the news later whether it is John Key, Sky City and the Pokies; Peter Slipper in Australia; the funding of the US election; and so on. The question all these situations raise is, what is the place of honesty and integrity in public life? Now, I am not going to judge John Banks or the others, there’s enough of that going on. The question that does interest me is the issue of integrity and honesty from a Christian point of view.

As I read the Scriptures, it is immediately apparent that the ideal of honesty and integrity should characterise Christian believers 24/7. Lying is not endorsed in the NT. Paul in Eph 4:25 writes, “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.” The “therefore” refers back to his appeal to take off sin and “put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness,” i.e. we are to take off dishonesty and deceit and put on truth. Essential to Christian living is honesty. Although the emphasis here is relationships among Christians, as we know from Jesus’ teaching, our neighbor cannot be limited to other believers, friends and family (Luke 10:25–37). At a general degree, honesty should mark Christians in all situations, whether church, work, home, or play.
I remember facing this as a batsman in Auckland club cricket, and when I became a Christian resolving always to walk whenever I nicked one to the wicket keeper—as one quite often did when one opened the batting. It got to the point where umpires trusted me enough not to bother giving me out or not, they left me to make the decision. I kind of had to cause my nickname was “the Rev!” I once walked accidentally when I didn’t nick one in a final—I kept walking, but was heavily fined later!

John describes the Devil as “a liar, and the father of all lies” (John 8:44). This sources dishonesty at the heart of evil and reinforces that we should seek honesty (cf. 2 Thess 2:9). Paul is at pains to stress his honesty at a number of points (Rom 9:1; 2 Cor 11:31; Gal 1:20; 1 Tim 2:7). On the hand, “truth” is one of the key themes of the bible and NT. Jesus is described as “the truth” (John 14:6). Paul dared to challenge Peter in public when he was not acting consistently with the truth of the gospel (Gal 2:14).
Believers are to be consistent in terms of their claims to honesty and their actions, e.g., 1 John 4:20: “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother or sister, that person is a liar; for they who does not love their brother and sister whom they have seen cannot love God whom they have not seen.” There is nothing worse in Scripture than a hypocrite whose words and actions do not add up. Of course, we are all guilty of wrong-doing, so we shouldn’t make too many claims in this regard, and simply seek to live consistent authentic lives and admit our weaknesses. As Jesus said, we should let our yes be a yes, and our no be a no. Christians are guilty of preaching and claiming honesty, and falling short of it. Honesty begins with real self-assessment and holding oneself accountable.

Of course, there is a time to lie, to withhold the truth or some part of it, and be wise about dispensing it. The call to honesty stands under the “greater law” of love and requires wisdom. In the Weekend Herald May 5, 2012 is the story of Peter Goering, the brother of one of Hitler’s key henchman Hermann (Goering’s Brother Saved Dozens). Peter Goering, unlike his notorious brother, despised Nazi’s and helped Jews, prepared to lie to save them. He was a Schindler-like figure but received little recognition, sadly dying in obscurity and poverty because of his despised name. Such a situation tells us that there is a time to lie to thwart evil and save lives. We also know that there is a time to withhold truth or “massage” it for a greater good. For example, does a politician tell people of a coming tsunami when it will set off a riot and congested roads and potentially increasing the number dead? Does a parent tell their child the full truth when it will cause them great anxiety, say when diagnosed with a terminal disease? These situations are governed by a utilitarianism and the greater law of love, a situational ethic.
Yet, even though there are exceptions, the ideal of integrity and honesty is clear in Scripture and believers should be consistently seeking to live lives of transparent honesty and integrity.  There is no space for a double-ethic, where we live authentically among friends, family and fellow-believers but do not do so in business, sport or life. We are to be 24/7 Christians. In this way we are the salt of the earth, the light of the world.

This is particularly important in a world in which the media (including social media) is ever-present to expose hypocrisy and integrity-failure. Christians who have a role of significance in church or public are especially accountable to maintain their honesty and integrity. When a person is shepherding others, the expectation is that the leader will set the tone, and it is rare that a leader survives acts of dishonesty and integrity—that is because trust is violated, and trust is essential for the pastoral relationship. It is essential to the church’s witness that its people are consistent, authentic, honest and show integrity. The same applies to those serving in the political sphere where they come under continuous scrutiny. Those of us in these sort of positions, in church or wider society, need to be honest first of all with ourselves, and keep short accounts, and deal with things before they escalate. Lying tends to beget lying and before you know it, you are in a pickle and the stakes get greater and greater (e.g. a sexual issue that becomes critical; a gambling problem etc). And it needs to begin at home with our spouse and family!
That said, it can’t be easy when one is in the public eye all the time and I feel for those who find themselves in the public spotlight, the public and church are harsh task-masters! Still, the challenge won’t go away and we must face it. So, let’s be 24/7 Christians of integrity and honesty. 

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