Church And Corruption: Soliciting A Christian Response
A Dialogue with Pastors and Church Leaders
On 29 October 2010, NECF Malaysia hosted a round-table dialogue with pastors, elders and leaders from various churches and denominations on the subject of the church and corruption. The dialogue was occasioned by the disturbing trend of corruption that is affecting all sectors of society-a scourge undermining the institutions that are in place so much so that society and people on the street find it difficult to function or live in an environment that is "totally free" of corruption.
The aim of this dialogue was to discuss and to grasp the biblical-theological understanding of corruption, how it is to be distinguished from bribery, and what ought the Christian response be. The fruit of the discussion will then be referred for planning in the upcoming Global Day of Prayer (GDOP) Conference on Corruption with the theme "Unashamedly Ethical".
At the dialogue, panelist Dr Mark Lovatt, Director of Marketplace Ministry Studies at Malaysian Bible Seminary (MBS) gave us a biblical understanding and definition of corruption. Panelist Datuk Paul Low, Chairman of Transparency International (Malaysia) spoke on the manifestations and consequences of corruption in society from a Malaysian trajectory. The dialogue was moderated by Bro Eugene Yapp, Research Executive Secretary at NECF. The session culminated in a lively and interesting discussion on the quest for transparency and integrity both within the church and towards the wider society.
For keen observers and readers of Berita, the nagging question in all our minds is no doubt this: "Is this possible?" To cynics, this question is a mere rhetoric. To idealists, all things are indeed possible!
But to Christians and the Church, we are neither cynics nor idealists. We are the people of God. Our goal and therefore aspirations are grounded in the kingdom of God - the reign of God instituted on this earth by the "Christ-event" i.e. the defining moment in history where God intervened decisively upon human affairs.
That intervention alters the complexion of human affairs and of history, and it shapes the journey on which mankind is to go. It offers the hope of "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done"-that though it remains to be brought to completion, yet it will find its finest hour when God puts all things in subjection under Christ.
This then offers to Christians and the church the moral recourse and motivation to soldier on and to battle forth, albeit a very difficult one, against this social reality and phenomenon that is plaguing all of our society.
Although the government had announced various initiatives to address corruption, there have been problems with implementation and lack of confidencebuilding improvements. In short, there appears to be a lack of political will to rid of corruption in toto. This may be one cause for the decline in the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index from 4.5 to 4.4 for 2010, with the country ranking remaining at 56 out of 178. Governance and transparency are therefore mainstream issues for both the churches and the nation as a whole.
What then is the source of corruption? Lovatt gives an interesting account. Both the Old and the New Testaments testify that out of the human heart comes evil. The heart is the centre, the life force of our being and due to human sin, the heart is constantly in a state of anxiety and insecurity. This is not incidental as the Scripture makes clear that sin has distorted and perverted our being. Corruption is thus a perversion of power and authority which seeks to allay the insecurities and anxieties in the human heart and mind.
In practical terms, corruption is therefore an abuse of entrusted power for personal gains and benefits. It manifests itself in the various forms of manipulation to favour a particular person, group of persons or company at the expense of other people. It comes in different shapes and sizes and is generic, pervading all manner and spheres of society.
What can Christians and the Church do? If, as we have argued, that corruption stems from the heart, then the remedy must surely be the transforming power of God through the gospel of Jesus Christ in the hearts and minds of men and women. Corruption must not be regarded as merely a "phenomenon" - a sort of a secondary reality. It goes primarily to the very root and inner recesses of man. In effect, corruption presents itself as a crisis of morality which Christians as messengers of the gospel must desire to keep in check. Some practical suggestions coming forth from the dialogue are:
- Get our "own house" in order-having guidelines on church governance, disclosure of personal interests to avoid conflict of interest, internal audit for accountability, peer accountability -no 'yes man' in leadership etc.
- To educate and look into a framework for effective governance - going back to Scriptures. In this respect, seminaries, Bible schools and churches ought to consider having such courses within their curriculum.
- Launch anti-corruption awareness within churches to instill a self-awareness to say "NO" to bribery and corruption; at the same time inculcating a culture of transparency.
- Guidelines for financial governance.
- Familarising oneself with provisions of local laws.
- Willingness to be a whistleblower for all sorts of bribery and corruption.
- Working with NGOs within the civil society movement to counter practices of bribery and corruption. This also serves as a platform to develop and instill a "check and balance" within the systems and institutions of society to ensure the practice of transparency.
Now that we are aware of what corruption is and some ways in which one can battle corruption, the challenge calls for the Church and Christians to act. This entails re-looking at our Christian identity and calling. It seeks a reflection of how serious we are in bringing the transformational message of Jesus Christ and the missionary encounter of the gospel to bear on this social ill that is tearing the very social fabric of our society apart.
If we declare ourselves serious, the Church must willingly release her best for the witness and benefit of public life and wider society. How far is the church prepared to go along with this line of action?
In addition, efforts made must be multi-pronged, involving all facets of life and should cut across denominational lines and affiliations. A further perspective would be to work together with non Christians who share the same values and goals, striving towards social justice and the common good together. Christians will need to learn to collaborate in this respect but keeping to our distinct identity as the holy people of God.
Shall we then start with this simple commitment undergirded with prayer towards godly action?