Integrity. It is a word that speaks to us a character of a person, someone who does what is right even when all the pressures seem to be to push to do something else. Someone who is honest even when there is much to be gained by dishonesty. If you were to imagine a person of integrity, you would
However, this picture can be a bit misleading meaning: a person of integrity will be a person who will generally found
Rather, we can see that integrity is more about who someone is rather than simply what they do. A person of integrity is honest in the right way and trustworthy for the right reasons. Integrity exists at a deeper level of a person’s character that determines more than what people do, but how and when they do it. A person of integrity does not readily speak their mind to a person on the emotional
Consequently, people of integrity may be seen as lacking integrity by the people who seek to control them for their own purposes if the motives of the powerful
Thus, integrity is less about public reputation derived from the perception of a person’s actions but is a more personal, inner characteristic. Consequently, integrity is not manufactured by doing the things people of integrity do; trying to obtain integrity by mimicking behaviors will leave you only playing the puppet to other people’s perceptions. Trying to be a person of integrity by trying to satisfy other people’s expectations will leave you a jumbled mess, as what is considered right and good by one person may be considered wrong by another. In the midst of the conflicting messages one will pick up from others about what it means to be good, one will selectively choose the messages that most appeal to one’s own inner desires. If not careful, this pathway of pursuing integrity may form you into a ‘moral’ narcissist, whose actions are determined by the deemed praiseworthiness they will receive.
The true pathway to integrity is different. This pathway is hinted at by the deeper meaning behind the world: the word integrity conveys a sense of wholeness, of being complete. There is a deeper degree of inner consistency that doesn’t rest on the surface level of behavior.
But all these words of wholeness, completeness, and consistency are to some degrees analogies and metaphors to the personal traits that allow a person to be a person of integrity. Consequently, it is easy to project onto these terms personally or cultured favored definitions.
One such definition of wholeness is emotional wholeness, where we feel like our life is all brought together; this is often associated with therapeutic healing and integration. But, insofar as unfairness and injustice exist in the world and people of integrity face hurt for changing in the face of the awareness of such, people of integrity will not have complete emotional wholeness. Their hearts will be tugged and pulled at from various directions. If all is truly well, the person of integrity will grow to heal and be truly well; in fact, I would suggest a person of integrity heals as they live in a healing environment in a way that people who lack integrity would not. But if not all is well, neither will the person of integrity be so. To be emotionally ‘whole’ will entail sacrificing being faithful to the truth as it is found to be so that we are not alarmed, taken aback, bruised, etc. This is not to say that therapeutic healing and integration has no place the life of a person of integrity, but only to state that becoming a person of integrity is not found in therapeutic healing.
Another definition may be connected with a sense of cognitive consistency. It might be imagined a person of integrity believes what they believe and does change or deviate from it. This seems sensible on the surface, except life is incredibly complex, people are diverse, and circumstances are constantly changing. To always be consistent at a cognitive level will be to sacrifice the truth of what is to maintain the cognitive status-quo: it is to resolve cognitive dissonance by dismissing and minimizing what is perceived in favor of what we imagine and wish to be true. Now, there are many aspects of reality that do not deviate; in which case, a person of integrity will be cognitively consistent about what is unchanging, whereas a person without integrity might vacillate regarding that as it suits their personal interests. Thus, a person of integrity retains cognitive consistency about which is consistently true, but will also be cognitively adaptive and flexible to that which is consistently changing.
Thus, while integrity is connected to the inner nature of a person, it is not to be found in emotional, cognitive, or behavioral motivations, even if people of integrity will have a different emotional, cognitive, and motivational life than other people will. But if the pathway to integrity isn’t through emotional wholeness, cognitive stability, or behavioral consistency, how then one does become a person of integrity?
The pathway can be boiled down to one basic idea that permeates the Scriptures through words and progress such as “deny yourself and take up the cross” (Matthew 16.24) and “present your bodies as a living sacrifice.” (Romans 12.1)
What distinguishes the person of integrity from a different person is the relationship of personal desire. Our desires, our goals, our dreams, our ambitions present a powerful force that determines how we make sense of life and the world. We are constantly evaluating people, objects, circumstances, etc. in terms
IF this sounds egocentric, it is. And here is a further bit of information about this: there is no turning this psychological reality off; if you are alive and conscious, you are evaluating everything in your life in terms of how they match your desires and purposes of the moment. Everything you seek is something you yourself personally value. There is no escaping the reality of egocentricity.
What can differ, however, is what specific desires and purposes you allow to give voice in your own heart. Firstly, we can choose between one goal and another, between one desire and another. For instance, when faced with a person who is helpless, I can choose to respond out of an inner desire to show compassion rather than an inner desire to establish my dominance over them. Or, secondly, we can choose to find vicarious joy in another and becoming other-seeking rather than simply seeking to find joy in one’s own life circumstances, being self-seeking. Our own desires are not inherently connected to our own, most immediate and personal experiences. In addition, thirdly, we can choose to let go of personal well-being in the short run for the sake of
Consequently, it is the way we deny ourselves by shifting the values that direct our actions, by reducing the importance our own immediate experience has in comparison to other people’s experience, by discounting the immediate present for the sake of the long run that makes the difference for people of true integrity. We can distance ourselves from the most physiologically relevant values and goals of the present moment. Once we learn this, which we can call self-regulation, we begin to internalize a way of seeing life and the world that is not controlled by our strongest desires and our most salient perceptions. As a consequence, we can begin to approach seeing ourselves in the same way that we see others, and as people of integrity, adjust our own behaviors in accordance to the standards and expectations we would hold others to; our own self-perception is not enslaved to the lusts of eye and the heart, causing us to construe everything in a more positive light for ourselves rather than others. It can lead us to recognize even when our integrity was not perfect, where we did something we find to be deeply inconsistent with who we are, and coming to a place of
However, here is a painful lesson in the midst of this: integrity will never be learned so far as doing what a person of integrity does benefits oneself. For instance, if by valuing compassion over dominance you attain status, then you may not have let dominance go but may be instrumentalizing compassion for the end goal of dominance. If by taking joy in the life of another you immediately receive benefits from that person, you haven’t truly extricated yourself from the other. If by seeking the best
Integrity, true integrity can only be learned when one not only denies themselves but endures the cross amidst their self denial so that there is no “having your cake and eating it too.” Only in denying yourself as you endure the cross can you learn to be a person of integrity even when you are seen to be the opposite. Hence, it is why after mentioning the blessed status of peacemakers, Jesus then mentions the blessed status of being persecuted (Matthew 5.9-10); only in persecution will a peacemaker truly discover their place in God’s kingdom, to be agents of salt and light for God’s heavenly descending kingdom and purposes rather than a seeking a kingdom of their own.
I mention this is a word for this new year, and for a reason. We are faced with a social crisis in the life of Western society. Numerous stories of sexual abuse have repeatedly come out since 2017. While it is hard to reductively describe all the causes to one singular factor, it largely stems from the cultural revolution of the 60s that unlocked the Pandora’s box of human sex. And this was a whirlwind of universal devastation, like EF-5 tornado, blasting everything within its zone of influence, impacting even the churches that were reputed to stand against it. If the various twitter hashtags are any indication, sexual harassment and abuse is cultural pandemic, being transmitted to church congregations and leadership.
However, many of the churches themselves have not responded effectively to it. There has been a slow recognition that the way sex was taught to youths in churches in response to the cultural whirlwind did not address the deeper problems, but only tried to maintain behavioral conformity to the ‘pristine’ sexuality of “family values.” In the name of maintaining the pristine reputations of churches and religious organizations as being sexually pure, many of these stories of sexual abuse would be swept under the rug and/or denied as happening. Then, as churches failed alongside the rest of the nation to take seriously the increasing amount of inappropriate and even predatory sexual behaviors, there was a concomitant naivete overlooking one of the best places to hide these behaviors is as one who was reputed to be against them while being free from accountability due to one’s reputed status. Meanwhile, maintaining a patriarchal bias towards men in the church left many female victims statusless to break through the gender stereotypes that protected men and dismissed women. The truth of the matter is, the predominantly evangelical culture of our churches did reinforce many of the problems rather than address them.
Here is why integrity is important in this. Firstly, a person of integrity is a person who retains a respect for other people as sexual creatures. While people of integrity are not necessarily perfect, crossed boundaries are relatively minor and are repented of.
However, the importance of integrity extends beyond just not personally contributing to the problems. The Church needs more than people who will do no sexual harm, but people who also do good as it comes to the harm that has been done. Integrity is essential and necessary to address the throngs of pain and trauma that has been committed under the umbrella of the church, along with respond with the deep anger that is thrown against churches as a consequence. It will take people of integrity who can endure this rising tide of hostility rather than engaged in a defensive dismissal of it out of a desire for self-preservation. If churches in America and the rest of the West are to respond to this social crisis as healing agents that become beacons of light rather covers of darkness, it will take followers of Christ in their integrity wading through the deep pain, seeking to discern how to heal and protect in the future, all the meanwhile not giving in wholesale to the sexual progressivism that uses the realities of abuse as an opportunity to misleadingly treat their cultural values as superior, overlooking the way their brand of sexuality is a large driver of the problem. If there is no integrity that can look at Christian churches without a self-defensive style for self-preservation in the immediate moment, we will only see a battle of culture wars, of embittered people while recognizing the problems in word more so than with our actual deeds. It is through the integrity form by self-denying and bearing our crosses that Christian leaders, ministers, teachers, etc. can wade into the social and sexual chaos and whirlwind that is and be the peacemakers God calls us to be as His children.
So, I offer this word of integrity as a word for this new year. May we who follow Christ grow in our integrity so that we can bring peace and healing where there is pain and mistrust as we courageously face the powers of those who would seek to dominate and dismiss us.