HILE I CURRENTLY LIVE IN THE U.S.A., I ENJOY KEEPING UP WITH news from around the world. I try to read (now and again) German, Argentinean, South African, Peruvian, and Philippine news Web sites. I notice that news and how it is reported changes from country to country. What is big news in Washington, D.C., (or in Berlin or Manila) may not even make the front page of an Argentinean news outlet.
February 24, 2010, was an eventful day in German news. Lutheran bishop and head of the German bishops’ conference Margot Käßmann spoke six minutes with the press after days of uproar about a DUI incident.1 She publicly apologized for her unacceptable behavior and, recognizing the damage this incident had done to her office as the highest official of the German Lutheran church, renounced her position as the head of the German bishops’ conference as well as her ecclesiastic leadership position in the Hanover region. She finished her emotional statement by reminding her audience that one can never fall lower—than into God’s hands.
I confess that I was moved by her honesty and its consequence, which made me reflect about an issue we speak too seldom about—integrity.2 In a world where impunity and a diminishing memory (“sorry, I can’t remember this!”) seem to characterize our public discourse, small doses of public integrity are welcome and (unfortunately) surprising. No doubt, Käßmann’s driving under the influence of alcohol (or another person’s infidelity or financial mismanagement) is unacceptable and—especially in the public square—sends the wrong message. However, her courage not to just “sit out” her problems but to face the consequences of her misguided decisions causes me to applaud.
How do we handle inappropriate behavior in our own ranks? How do we manage the balance between the public scrutiny of a growing worldwide church family (and the larger world around us looking on) and the promise of grace that Käßmann hinted at in the final sentence of her
Do people around me, outside of our faith community, see integrity in my words and (more important) deeds? Is integrity only an important discussion point in our Bible studies or sermons but difficult to discern when we interact with the people around us?
One definition of integrity is “the quality of having strong moral principles.” I like this definition, but it seems to be lacking something. Principles are important, but action—growing out of a principle—speaks even louder.
Scripture includes many references to integrity—sometimes in surprising contexts (see 1 Kings 9:4, for example). Job’s story is about integrity, as the dialogue between Satan and God early on in the narrative suggests (Job 2:3, 9; 27:5; 31:6). Yes, Job’s performance is part and parcel of a much bigger drama of cosmic dimensions. But Job’s life is not just about his integrity—it is about God’s integrity (including His justice), something that theologians have called theodicy.
I wonder if it would change my actions if I really knew (with every fiber of my heart) that my acts reflect back on the character of my heavenly Father. Would it make a difference in the long run? Do I, as a member of the church, living at the end of time, recognize the importance of integrity in the larger context of the biblical concept of the remnant? “Here is the patience of the saints; here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus” (Rev. 14:12, NKJV).* They stand out. They live what they say. They stick close to Jesus.
*Texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright ” 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
2I applaud the candid interview with Jan Paulsen in Adventist World about this important topic: “Integrity = Openness + Trust,” Adventist World, June 2009.
Gerald A. Klingbeil is an associate editor of the Adventist Review. This article was published April 15, 2010.