Integrity. It is scarce in our society, for sure. It is lacking in the Church, as well. We have allowed society and culture to affect us, rather than us having an effect on our society and culture. Instead of being salt and light, we have allowed ourselves to become leaky vessels making our congregations and the Church overall list like a ship taking on water. Integrity has had its definition reduced to mere honesty which, while a necessary virtue on its own, is really only one aspect by which we maintain true integrity.
There are two examples which, at least to me, give a good picture of integrity. One I learned in the Navy, known as Water Tight Integrity. On a ship, there are many steel doors and hatches which can be tightly shut. There are five conditions, each calling for certain doors to be shut. The most serious one would call for all the doors to be shut. When all the doors are shut, there are many sealed air-pockets, thus making it difficult if not nearly impossible to sink the ship. This was made a fine example of when (sadly) many years ago, the U.S.S. Kennedy ran into a smaller naval vessel, tearing it in half. Because of water tight integrity, half of that smaller ship sank, while the other half remained afloat and was able to be towed to port.
The second example is, simply, structural integrity. Architects and engineers painstakingly design structures that will not only be pleasing to the eye and hold all sorts of amenities, but every stud, I-beam, joist, nail, screw, board – each type of material, its thickness and directionality – these are details which must safely and soundly support the attractive and amenable structure. One thing left crooked, without enough nails, with the wrong mixture of cement or cement not properly applied…any one of these things could compromise that which it supports and in turn can further compromise the integrity of a portion or of the entire structure.
Integrity is about the attention to proper details. On board a ship, the wrong or not enough doors being closed can mean severe casualties if the ship is attacked. If a building has as little as one poorly installed support, it can ruin the structure and endanger any occupants. Personal integrity also includes attention to detail, being sure that areas of our life which affect other areas are safe and secure, free from hypocrisy, falsehood, secrets (of sin), emotional upheavals, etc.
Integritas, as the title says, is Latin for whole. Being honest is one part, being sexually pure is another…being punctual, peaceful, obedient, honorable, faithful…all parts of the structure that makes us. It is not about just one virtue, but all of them. Each one supports and balances another, reflecting our life to the world as well as protecting us from the barrage of stuff the world can throw at us.
We see the examples in the world of how integrity lacks. Major corporations either down-size or close and the top execs take a bonus and a raise. Fanny Mae and Freddy Mac were given a record-breaking government bailout and may ask for one again…meanwhile, top execs have taken some big bonuses. Some Republican candidates have been caught in serious double-talk, one has been accused by several women of past “indiscretions” and just about all of them show a lack of concern for the working middle class. But, the Church has shown little difference.
Within our own ranks, men lie, cheat and steal. In one local congregation, the pastor’s wife had an adulterous affair which people knew about, but did not confront her for too long a time. More than a few pastors have taken over the top salaries (one I recently read about takes a 6 figure salary, which happens to be 45% of the church’s budget), taken cash out of the offering, misappropriated funds, had extra-marital affairs and lived lavish lifestyles in the face of their struggling congregants. Some Christian businessmen are little different from any other when it comes to being thoughtless, greedy and selfish. There are many Christians who cheat on their taxes, ignore the poor, judge just about everybody, skirt laws and lie, to name a few anti-virtues. The Church’s light is growing dim and the salt is so diluted it has no distinguishable flavor.
We cannot be the salt and light we are called to be without integrity in our lives. This is not about perfection or legalism. This is about regularly asking the Lord to search our heart and reveal those things that damage our testimony. On a ship, the emergency conditions dictate the doors to be closed – the Lord will let us know what areas we are to “seal” in our lives. It is about putting away those things we know are wrong, as Paul reminded the Corinthian Church. Without integrity, we do not, “do all to the glory of God.” Without integrity, the “word of our testimony” becomes worthless. People need to see that a life in God can be lived successfully, in balance, in love and integrity.