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How Honest Are Christians Today?

Last year, this question was posed as a survey element to Christians: “What is the biggest struggle currently facing Christianity?” One of the answers (from a man who identified himself as David Tuma of the US) was:  “Honesty. I see it more and more each year a lack of respect of your fellow man. How can you can you get dishonest people to become Christians. Christianity is about doing the right thing. Some of the people going regularly to church might be a little surprised with they get to the pearly gates to find them locked. It is difficult for some people to go to church because they know what the people inside the church do when they are outside of church. The world is a great place and life is so much fun but honesty in people is something very difficult to find.”

Of course this is not a problem unique to Christians.  A recent survey documented that: “More than two-thirds of people have stolen stationery from work, copied CDs for friends, or kept quiet when undercharged in shops, a study by British criminal lawyers shows. Meanwhile, significant numbers confessed they would make fraudulent insurance claims, deceive people online and plagiarize Internet articles for college assignments if the chance arose. Others said they would steal DVDs or use a colleague’s account to shop online.” (http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2009/sep/07/survey-lawyers-honesty-public-attitudes)

Christians, though, have the obligation to be honest in three ways: We are honest or dishonest with ourselves, we are honest or dishonest with each other (and with non-Christians), and we are honest (or dishonest) with God.

Most of us try to project the best image we can to others, no matter what is going on inside.  Certainly, professional confidence (“con”) artists are experts at projecting a false image of integrity and honor.  But I have often thought that those we find most easily fooled and most gullible are ourselves.  When we are not completely honest with ourselves, it is impossible to be completely honest with anyone else.  The New Life Translation of the Bible (a version I rarely use) renders Romans 12:3 this way: “Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us.”  I remember a painful conversation with a very dear family member some years ago, who insisted that after she accepted the Lord as her Savior, she never sinned.  When I pointed out that even small things like over-eating were sins, she literally burst into tears.  (Anyone who knows me knows that overeating is a sin I struggle with every day – I wasn’t trying to condemn this person at all, or sit in judgment.  My point was that all of us sin – even after we have become Christians.  Honesty – especially honesty with ourselves, is the foundation of a healthy self-image and a healthy relationship with God.  It is impossible to confess and repent of sins that we don’t even acknowledge to exist.

We are faced with honesty as a conundrum frequently in business.  It’s not even a case of deliberately trying to mislead someone; often it’s simply a case of not wanting to make a situation more complicated or drawn out than it needs to be.  For example, if I get a call at home from a telemarketer and I know it’s a telemarketer and she is asking whether my wife is home, I usually say “No”.  Is it dishonest?  Absolutely.  Does it save me from another 5 minutes of tedious sales-resisting conversation, either for myself or for my wife? Absolutely.  Sure, I could go through the entire: “Who’s calling please?”  This is Sally Jones calling.  “Who are you with, Sally?”  Well, I have some information for Linda.  “What kind of information would that be, Sally?”  and so on conversation.  This is a pretty benign example.  Let’s take one that is not so benign:

“You cannot say you are Sally’s supervisor.”

“Of course I am Sally’s supervisor.  I wrote Sally’s job description.  I interviewed Sally on the phone, and made the hiring decision.  I determine what Sally does as my Administrative Assistant every day.  I review her work and instruct her on corrections when they are needed.  I realize she is a contractor, but by any dictionary definition I am not only her supervisor, I am the only person whop supervises her and I do it all day every day.”

“You are not Sally’s supervisor.  The contract I wrote for Sally that she is working under is not a personal services contract – it is a professional services contract.  If you supervise Sally, you are in violation of our contract.  We could well be audited, and be found in violation of contract regulations.  I need you to write an e-mail to her contracting company telling them that you are NOT her supervisor.  Otherwise I will have to remove her immediately.”

“As I said in our telephone call, I will not state anything that is inaccurate or untrue.  I am Sally’s supervisor – I am the only person within a thousand miles who supervises Sally.  If you state that it is necessary for me to say something other than the truth, I will not comply.  It would be preferable to have you remove Sally.”

In this situation, being honest could do real damage to one’s career.   And I speak from experience when I say that it happens all the time.  Frankly, even if it was not a tenet of Christianity, it’s a moral code and a code of professional business ethics.  But for Christians, this is an especially painful and bitter experience because it goes to the core of who we are.  In John 4:6, Jesus said: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  No man comes to the Father except by Me.”  Jesus is the Truth.  And because we profess to be followers of Jesus Christ, He expects us to be truthful as well, representing Him in this present world.  Speaking for myself, I am not as consistent as I should be in this area; not even close.  I strongly suspect that other Christians suffer from the same condition.

Not long ago, I had made a promise to a colleague that I would send him a report from work my team had performed in central Afghanistan on a certain day.  When the day come around, we had been pummeled with competing priorities all day, and so I remained behind until about 10 PM to get it done and into his e-mail in-box.  Nothing really would have been different had it been a day later, but I would have known, and so would my colleague.  As I said in my e-mail when I sent it off that night: “I’ve been working on this since we got back, and so have not had a chance to allow it to “cool” and come back to it as I should have before sharing it.  However, I know you and the boss are eager to see what we found, and I’m just one of those ‘a promise is a promise’ guys.”  Perhaps it’s less about honesty than reliability in this case, but the fact is that when we don’t deliver on our promises, we make ourselves liars because we have promised things that turn out to be untrue.  Even if we had the best of intentions, it sends a clear message that we cannot be trusted.  This, of course, is why trial lawyers work so hard to prove any small element of a testimony to be untrue when the witness supports the opposition.  If the jury can be made to believe the witness has lied about any point, no matter how trivial, then they are likely to lose trust in the witness entirely, devaluing anything else that witness has to say.  In the same way, Satan does his best, I believe, to undermine the credibility of Christians by pressing on our natural human character flaws, destroying our credibility wherever he can.  To incriminate the Christian throws doubt on the Lord we follow.  God has emphasized the importance of truth throughout the Bible – Old Testament and New.  For example, Exodus 20:16 says “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor”.  Other passages include: Timothy 2:2, 1 Thessalonians 4:12, Romans 12:17, 2 Corinthians 8:21, and Acts 6:3.  When Christians lie, we defame God.

So what do we do – do we really ALWAYS have to tell the truth?  The Bible would indicate that we do.  However, in my own case – and I am, as I have said, FAR from a model to follow, this is a struggle.  I am frequently admonished for being a little TOO truthful in certain situations – but I suspect that what is meant in many of these cases is simply that I offer information (truthful information) when I wouldn’t be required to speak at all.  Sometimes the truth is painful to others, and that always makes things tricky.  Tact has never been my strong suit either; I guess that’s one more thing to pray for help with.

I’d be very interested to hear the thoughts of other Christians on this matter;  What do you think?

 

 

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