Is it just me or are scandals becoming all too prevalent? Is anyone else noticing that almost daily we read or hear about some famous person being caught in a web of improprieties, peccadilloes, or actual criminal activity?
It is happening everywhere from politics and commerce, to professional athletics and the worlds of education, medicine and technology. But what is most disheartening to me is that unethical behavior and disgrace have become particularly rampant in my world of all things church and clergy. Pastors around the country are being exposed for their roles in scandals ranging from child abuse, moral perversion and fraud, to adultery, embezzlement and even murder.
And while some attribute the steady stream of failure porn to the ascendancy of social media, I have another explanation. I think our society’s integrity quotient has eroded significantly over the past couple decades. I think we are seeing a precipitous escalation in moral failure because we are too often ready to shave the edges off our integrity to take advantage of certain opportunities.
I may be wrong but I do believe most everyone has price. That is, at some point, if the selfish desires are strong enough, and the potential reward is big enough, I think most people will cut some corners, tell some lies, take undue advantage, and look the other way to do the deed, make the deal and reap the benefits.
If that is true, or mostly true, or even slightly true, then we all need to ask ourselves: What’s my integrity quotient? What would it take for me to reprogram my conscience, adopt a more “progressive” ethic and feel good about acting badly?
Here’s my view. We all think of ourselves as good people. We know right from wrong, especially when someone else is watching. But we also know we have the ability to rationalize wrong as not being all that bad, especially if we’re fairly sure no one will know. Lastly, we all think we have a line that we’d never cross. We may engage in small indiscretions, but at a certain point we believe we can say “no” and remain within the confines of our ethical, moral belief system.
So again, if that is true, or mostly true, then how do we explain the fact that good people seem to shatter their ethical boundaries at an alarming rate even as they acknowledge when caught that they never intended to let it go that far?
Here’s my answer: When the allure of a pleasurable or profitable opportunity becomes stronger than the commitment to personal integrity, the result will be ethical failure. It almost always progresses incrementally. Small concessions set the precedent for greater indiscretions that sear the conscience, allowing for greater, more harmful ethical erosion.
Then another disastrous element enters the equation. The idea that some enterprise is “too big to fail” will often stifle the voices of those who know about the small ethical lapses that have occurred lest a great business or prestigious ministry be brought down. After all, look at all the good they’re doing!
What then, should we do? First of all, we must look to ourselves and be constantly strengthening our ethical beliefs and moral behavior. Lock them down, and rehearse the benefit of integrity above all. Then, order your life so that, should a great opportunity present itself, you’ll be able to push it through your integrity grid before you fantasize about the reward.
I thoroughly believe wrong is wrong, regardless of the promised pot of gold at the end of unethical behavior. At the end of the day, it is better to lay your head on your pillow with your integrity both up to date and intact than to know you’re now living with a person who, if the price is right, will join the ranks of the ethically unreliable.
Local resident David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church. “Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays.