What does it look like to walk in integrity as a Caucasian follower of Christ? (I’m focusing on white folks because that’s my heritage and because I believe we need to up our game in the integrity department.)
A contemporary definition of integrity reads “to consistently adhere to moral and ethical principles.” To have integrity means that we’re not double-minded. We’re the same person when we’re home alone as we are when we’re at church, work, or out with friends on Friday night.
But simply being consistent does not mean that we have integrity. Integrity comes from the Latin adjective integer, meaning whole or complete. If I’m consistently rude, impatient, greedy, or hateful, I actually lack integrity.
To be a whole, complete Christian who consistently adheres to moral and ethical principles begs the question which or whose principles are we adhering to? Our own? The governments’? Christ’s?
Human beings have a tendency toward self-protection and self-righteousness. We often defend our views, perspectives, and preferences without really bothering to evaluate them against Scripture. Because we live in America, which we believe was founded on biblical principles, we assume our citizenship automatically aligns us with Christianity.
In fact, one could argue that the founding fathers did quite a bit of compromising and leaning away from true Christianity. Despite the fact that the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are bold, innovative documents, they fall catastrophically short of Christian principles. By refusing to acknowledge that African men (and all women) were made in the image of God and therefore worthy of being treated as equals and worthy of being given full rights, the founding fathers not only lacked integrity but institutionalized systemic racism and sexism in the United States.
Fast forward to November 2018 and a quick reading of headlines (here, here, and here) clearly demonstrates that our so-called Christian nation and its leaders continue to lack integrity with regard to many biblical principles.
Theoretically, men and women who follow Christ should have integrity. We have clear mandates for how to live: the law, summed up by the Ten Commandments, the teachings of Jesus, which call us to obey the law (John 14:15) and to love sacrificially (John 15:13), and the call to holiness (Heb. 10:10).
For whatever reason, far too many women and men who claim allegiance to Jesus exhibit behavior that is inconsistent with the Bible. Perhaps they assume how they live Monday through Saturday makes no difference. If that was true, Scripture would not include stories like the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37) or the chilling account of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5).
While it’s true that Jesus will forgive us of our sins, He will also hold us to account for everything we’ve ever said or done (Matthew 16:27). He’s an innocent lamb, but also a fierce warrior with a two-edged sword emerging from his mouth (Rev. 19:11-16).
So back to my initial question: what does it mean for white Christians to have integrity in 2018? A few thoughts from my own limited perspective.
- Become biblically literate. As in read the Bible. All of it. Even the parts that are beguiling or frustrating. Then read some commentaries written by non-whites. Because of our implicit biases, it’s not enough to read it through western eyes. We have to do the hard work of reconciling what it actually says with any and all of the places where our thoughts and behaviors don’t align. So if you think it’s justifiable for us to close the southern border to those who are legally seeking asylum, you might want to meditate on James 1:27, Matthew 25:43, and Lev. 19:33-34.
- Repent of the ways that your thoughts or behaviors deviate from what Jesus is asking of us. I’ve been musing on the story of the Good Samaritan lately. It’s easy for me to assume that I would never walk past someone who was bleeding by the side of the road. But if that someone was a middle age white man wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with a Confederate flag and a hat that read Make America Great Again, I might pause. That’s a problem. As a white person, who do you deem less than? Who do you assume deserves the circumstances of their life? Have you wrestled with those feelings before God?
- Develop empathy. We have become incredibly polarized, fragmented, and segregated. We can unfriend with a single click (guilty) and never have to press into the anger or hatred festering in our hearts. (Sometimes unfriending—virtually or otherwise—is more about preserving our mental health, especially for People of Color.) Empathy requires that we lean in, close the gap, and attempt to feel what someone else feels. If you honestly think that the current administration has made the best choice by closing the border on the migrant caravan, put yourself in the place of the young mother whose husband was brutally killed and who fears that if she remains in her homeland, the same fate may befall her children. Imagine walking more than 1,000 miles with your kids, wearing flip-flops, without any clarity about what’s going to happen if you actually reach the U.S. border. As a white, American Christian, we have the luxury of turning away and refusing to engage. Can we support that choice biblically?
- Pray. If nothing else, those of us who claim to be followers of Christ should be praying. A lot. I confess that currently, prayer seems woefully inadequate. I have serious doubts that my prayers could possibly have any effect on systemic racism, or the rights of potential immigrants, or the degradation of our environment. I do know that Scripture calls us to pray. Because I have fear of the Lord, I pray.
- Sacrifice your time and your money. This article offers many excellent options.
Matthew 7:13 reads: “You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.”
Integrity is not a character trait like extroversion or introversion which means we can develop it if we so choose. It’s not a one time choice but a life-time of confessing our sins, giving up our rights to comfort and ease, and valuing the lives of others who are not like us. This road is indeed difficult to traverse. If we want to be people of integrity, it’s the only road we should be traveling.
Photo by Dorothy Greco, Zion National Park