An Unlikely Marriage

It was an unlikely marriage. They were polar opposites. One was all about honor. The other was all about greed. The honorable one married the greedy one so that she would continue to matter in a patriarchal world.

The unlikely wedding about which I speak? A Klingon marrying a Ferengi in Deep Space Nine’s episode “The House of Quark.” The Klingon’s husband had died; thus, she would lose her house’s holdings without a male head. In essence, she, as a female, did not matter, and so in order to maintain her voice and to be seen and heard, she married a Ferengi, who is the opposite of an honorable Klingon warrior. While a fanciful story of make-believe, “The House of Quark” illustrates how a core need of all of us, the need to matter, may cause us to surrender our own integrity.

Before I progress any further, perhaps it would be helpful to discuss this word, “integrity.”

Consider the word “integer.” Remember that word from grade school arithmetic? And here you thought you left the vocabulary of mathematics behind you! What is an integer? It is a whole number, like 1 or 1,000,000,001. It is not a fraction like ¼. What does math have to do it? Integrity comes from the Latin word for integer which means “wholeness, perfect condition.”[1] Thus, rather than simply having good morals or values, which is included in its meaning, integrity carries an understanding of being whole. That is, our actions and our beliefs line up completely. Our whole being does not compromise or surrender to be less than we were intended to be.

Granted, there is not one single human who can say that he walks with complete integrity. Nevertheless, a high standard remains.

  • Fifty-four percent of 3600 high school students surveyed in New England agreed that cheating is morally wrong, yet 95% of that same 3600 reported to having cheated.[2] While other studies demonstrate there is a belief that it is necessary to cheat to succeed, there is an underlying cultural understanding that remains: cheating is wrong.

I was reminded of the need for integrity while participating in a course about online teaching, in which my colleagues and I wrestled with the problem of cheating. Cheating is an issue.

  • A report by Kessler International that was published in early 2017 notes that in a survey of 300 college students, nine out of ten (86%) said they cheated, be it in an online or a seated class. This same article also reports that students spoke of faculty who accepted bribes and sexual favors as well as pressured students to buy books they had authored in exchange for giving higher grades.[3]

Neither is cheating any longer just for students who struggle academically.

  • This is the thrust of a NY Times article in 2012 called “Studies Find More Students Cheating, With High Achievers No Exception.” It reveals that students cheat because they are experiencing added pressure and more competition; this is accompanied by culture’s decreased emphasis on honoring authority and increased weight on “material success.”

In other words, once again this implicit need to matter appears, in the seeking to succeed by rising above others.[4]

This causes me to wonder how this happened. How have we become a culture that cheats?

David Callahan, author of The Cheating Culture: Why More Americans are Doing Wrong to Get Ahead, speaks of a cyclical pattern that transpires in a culture: as cheating increases, it becomes more accepted. Then, since cheating is increasingly accepted, more people cheat.[5] Donald L. McCabe, co-author of Cheating in College: Why Students Do It and What Educators Can Do About It, seems to agree when he states:

As long as they think others are cheating, students feel they have no choice but to cheat as well.[6]

So, it seems that cheating, or a lack of integrity, has become a new normal.

Consider for a moment a popular TV series called Suits. Its theme? A brilliant, young man who becomes a law associate while never having passed the bar exam. For over five seasons, the show centers on maintaining this secret and his avoiding being caught.

Entertainment has not always championed a lack of integrity. Think about the classic Frank Capra 1939 film, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” starring Jean Arthur and Jimmy Stewart. A politically naïve Boy Rangers leader is asked to fill the remaining term of a deceased congressman. Why? Because the powers-that-be believe he can be manipulated. Amidst Stewart’s character being slandered, he discovers corruption in government, the lack of integrity, particularly in the life of the much-admired Congressman Paine. We see how integrity wins the day when during a filibuster, Mr. Smith’s stand for integrity turns the tide. Capra, the director of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” another Stewart movie, is known for films that make a statement about culture and humanity, and this one is no different. It is a reminder for us to cling to honor, respect, and integrity even when society has turned against us.

Unfortunately, we see it not just in make-believe television and movies, but we also see a lack of integrity in real life.

Consider the realm of politics. Granted, the lack of integrity has been present in this arena since . . . well . . . forever . . . I mean, why else would Capra generate such a film? Still, I wonder if there has been a shift in my lifetime.

Reflect with me on the 1988 presidential race in which Gary Hart was forced out by public outcry over his extramarital affair. Then in the era of former President Bill Clinton, he was impeached over private failings but was allowed to remain in office. Now, today, I hear that one’s private life is nobody’s business. I watch as politicians, who say one thing but later deny what they said, remain unchallenged by supporters and seemingly avoid any consequences. Instead, other politicians announce their full support of those who demonstrate material, temporal success while blatantly falling short in the areas of integrity, honor, and respect. Again, I wonder, “What need are we trying to meet by placing success over integrity? Is it a need to matter?”

As a Christ-follower, I notice that the church is not immune to this shift.

True, the church has always been accused of hypocrisy. After all, Jesus Christ himself calls out the hypocrisy of several churches in the Book of Revelation (chapters 2 and 3). But I have watched as the church who decried Bill Clinton’s immorality remain silent or supportive of our current President’s apparent faltering in this area. I experience this as a curious thing, generating wonder, “Is it in part because of our need to matter in a culture that has relegated Christ-followers to irrelevance?”

I find it challenging to develop a theology of integrity. I mean, how does one formulate said theology while staying away from the riverbanks of grace as a license to sin and its opposite shore of legalism? It is a challenge, to be sure. My own tradition has historically waded close to the shore of legalism and earning salvation while other traditions, fearing any appearance of being saved through works, closely hug the other bank. Both of these extremes are in Scripture—one extreme is seen in the religious scribes (and Luther may have included the book of James) and the other in Romans 6. Let’s face it: it is hard to swim down the middle, holding both in tension. While I will attempt to do this, I recognize that for some on one bank I may appear to be on the opposing shore, while those on the opposing shore may perceive me to be on the first bank. But here goes . . .

For me, a theology of integrity begins with the concept that doing flows from being.

Jesus states in Matthew 15:18-19: But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these things defile a person. For out of the heart come evil ideas, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. It would seem, according to Jesus, we cannot separate private and public, being and doing.

This lack of integrity does not exist in God, but humans have not a little trouble in this regard. This is why God sends Jesus Christ: we are incapable of being whole on our own; thus, Jesus becomes humanity’s response to God while at the same time being God’s response to humanity. Jesus is whole, complete as a human (integrity) while remaining whole, complete as divine. As Christ-followers, we believe that in Jesus Christ we are now in the divine life, our life is hidden in Christ (Col 3:1-4). At the same time, because of this new life and nature, Colossians 3:5 reminds us to put to death the old nature. So, because of our being in Christ, the result is a different way of doing.

But how? I think there are some things that can help us in this regard.

Some studies point out that religiosity, not spirituality, influences a student’s higher level of academic integrity.[7] Religiosity references those who embrace a religion’s symbols, rituals, and beliefs whereas spirituality includes the finding of meaning, purpose, and connection in an effort towards self-transcendence apart from a religious foundation. Of course, one can still have religiosity but mirror Jesus words in Matthew 15: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me’ (v.8). But I would like to think that if we are sincere with a longing for integrity and more conscientious about allowing religiosity to impact our being, the result would be movement toward less and less dichotomy between being and doing—an increase in integrity.

One way to challenge our lack of integrity is to ask: What need am I attempting to meet by this action? I believe that all we do, each act, is striving to meet a need. If I cheat, it is a strategy to meet a need, maybe to matter (notice how the need is universal; the action, the strategy, is specific). If I see I am attempting to meet a need to matter, for instance, I may ask myself, “Is there another way to meet this need that maintains my integrity?

As I reflect on the incongruity of humanity, I wonder if in some ways we could say we are like the Ferengi, greedy and in it for ourselves? Yet, we have been invited to be wed to One who embodies integrity, who is complete and whole. Through this marriage, we are invited to participate in the Spirit’s ministry in us who is moving to restore us and all of creation to be whole by saying, “Come and see. Come and participate in what I am doing in you, making you whole . . . you matter to me.”

 

[1] See “integrity” in the Online Etymology Dictionary, accessed June 14, 2017.

[2] See David Wangaard and Jason Stephens, “Academic Integrity: A Critical Challenge for Schools,” in Excellence & Ethics, (LaFayette, NY), Winter 2011, http://www2.cortland.edu/dotAsset/317302.pdf.

[3] See Audri Taylors, “College Students Admit To Cheating, Instructors Are Prone To Do The Same, Survey Shows,” University Herald Reporter (New York, NY), February 27, 2017, https://www.universityherald.com/articles/66716/20170227/college-students-admit-cheating-instructors-prone-same-survey-shows.htm.

[4] See Richard Pérez-Peña, “Studies Find More Students Cheating, With High Achievers No Exception,” NY Times (New York), Sept 7, 2012, https://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/08/education/studies-show-more-students-cheat-even-high-achievers.html.

[5] David Callahan, “Changing Culture to Promote Integrity,” in “Research,” Plagiarism, video, accessed June 14, 2017, http://www.plagiarism.org/plagiarism-research

[6] See Maria Blackburn, “Why College Students Cheat,” John Hopkins University Gazette (Baltimore, MD), January 2013, https://hub.jhu.edu/gazette/2013/january/cheating-in-school-no-easy-answers/.

[7] See Millicent F. Nelson, Matrecia S. L. James, Angela Miles, Daniel L. Morrell, & Sally Sledge, “Academic Integrity of Millennials: The Impact of Religion and Spirituality, Ethics & Behavior,” Ethics & Behavior, March (2016), DOI: 10.1080/10508422.2016.1158653; see also Linda Williams, “Academic Integrity: A Correlational Study of Private Christian College Students’ Religiosity and the Propensity to Cheat,” EdD diss., Liberty University, Lynchburg, 2018, accessed June 14, 2017, http://digitalcommons.liberty.edu/doctoral/1732/

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