The Leveson Inquiry and the scarcity of integrity
It's not only newspapers, politicians and police officers who can fall short
Published 03 May 2012 | Tony Ward
It was not often that the American TV drama series LA Law featured attitudes and values that most people would consider commendable, but I do remember one episode when Roxanne Melman confronts notorious divorce lawyer Arnold Becker concerning his shenanigans, saying to him, “Arnie, integrity isn’t something you can take off a shelf and use whenever it’s convenient. Either you’ve got it, or you don’t”.
Those words came to mind when following the twists and turns of the Leveson Inquiry examining the practices and ethics of the British press in the wake of the News International phone hacking scandal. It would not be beyond the imagination of many people to picture Arnold Becker or one of his colleagues having to answer questions about phone hacking or similar unethical practices in the course of their work.
Jesus, of course, was subjected to similar grilling by the legal and religious authorities of his day, in an era when breaking the Sabbath was perhaps considered as serious an offence as phone hacking would be today. With Jesus, however, it was recognised that he was “a man of integrity” (Matthew 22:16), and his answers invariably exposed the lack of integrity in the very people who were interrogating him.
Integrity is commonly understood to mean possessing a personal standard of morality and ethics that does not compromise or give in to expediency. And we are all well aware that politicians as much as media moguls are frequently slaves to expediency. There’s something bizarrely hypocritical about the government and the media each accusing the other of what they are most guilty of themselves.
But lest we stand on the sidelines and point fingers at both, we would do well to reflect on our own standards of integrity. It is not just politicians and tabloid journalists who are tempted to compromise in this area. It’s simply that their failures are more high profile and visible. We are all equally vulnerable in this area. I recall some years ago hearing a high ranking police officer say (when being challenged about some failures and improprieties in the police force) that the real difficulty lay in the fact that the police force’s only source for recruitment was the general public! It was a telling comment on the values and standards that have now become the norm in our society. Integrity is in increasingly short supply today.
The essence of integrity is to do what is right because it’s right, rather than because it’s fashionable or politically correct. The difficulty arises when society no longer has any absolutes when it comes to determining what constitutes right or wrong. The yardstick of biblical morality has gone, so that we no longer have right and wrong, good and evil, virtue or vice. We only have values, which are subjective and relative, based on prevailing customs and conventions.
As a consequence, we now fight shy of saying that someone’s behaviour is right or wrong, as their values may simply be different from ours. If their conduct fails to meet what is expected, we deem it to be “inappropriate” or “misguided”, rather than wrong or evil.
But unsurprisingly, the Bible teaches that there are timeless standards against which human behaviour can and should be measured. It is this that the psalm writer surely had in mind when he asked “O Lord, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill?” (Psalm 15:1). The answer is one that finds us all wanting: “He who walks with integrity, and works righteousness, and speaks truth in his heart. He does not slander with his tongue, nor does evil to his neighbour, nor takes up a reproach against his friend.” We easily forget that God takes issues of integrity very seriously. Christians especially need to covet the reputation that Jesus had, even amongst his enemies and detractors, of being “a man of integrity”. That in itself will be a powerful witness in a world where integrity has all but died.
Tony Ward is a Bible teacher and evangelist who was ordained in Zimbabwe. He currently lives and ministers in Bristol.
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