Only Hypocrites Have Integrity

Integrity was the virtue of an opaque generation.

It's only been in recent years that I haven't gotten a crick in my neck every time someone walked by me while I was on a computer. All of those years of pornography addiction left me so paranoid that ALT+TAB became a reflex (macs suck) and whiplash was second nature. But when it finally sunk in that I no longer had anything to hide, surfing the web finally became fun again.

Secrets are heavy. David once wrote, "When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long." That's exactly how I felt: empty. I was so consumed with the guilt of my dirty, little secret that I began to feel like a shell of my former self. Being both physical and spiritual creatures, it's a bit like breaking up the metaphysical band. Keeping the two connected is just as important to our overall health as is the health of the individual components.

One way to do this is through integrity. As a word, it simply means "intact," but as a virtue, it's commonly defined as "doing the right thing when nobody's watching." Thus, the person with integrity isn't duplicitous but rather the same in public as they are in private. Or simply, the key to not bearing the weight of secrets is to not have the need for any.

For the past few generations, this has largely been the church's method of avoiding scandals. But at the root of this virtue is a problematic equation: the key to not bearing the weight of sin is to not sin. As logical and desirable as that is, it negates the need for a savior. And if the news lately has been any indication, the need for a savior is significant.

But instead of admitting this and forging a different path, the church maintained its posture and continued to promote integrity despite its own hypocrisy. In an article for The Daily Beast on Josh Duggar, Jay Michaelson rightly observes that:
Each failure of a religious leader to live up to his repressive and judgmental sexual ethic is, in fact, a validation of the need for such an ethic. See, we are all sinners! All the more reason to repress, prevaricate, and judge. By failing to live up to a preposterous and entirely novel sexual ethic, these sad, twisted men end up reinforcing it.
Thus, integrity is self-defeating because the only way for Christians to have it is to pretend that they do.

I suppose the argument went that so long as no one knew the church's dirty, little secret, they could set a higher standard to combat complacency and encourage sanctification (oh, synergism). But not only are secrets impossible to avoid, they're impossible to keep--just ask Josh. For two years, he hid his unfaithfulness to his wife before a bunch of hackers leaked personal information from the cheating site, Ashley Madison.

Like Josh, most of us are pretty stupid Christians. We do things that we think are done in secret even though we know that God sees us. Then we act shocked and outraged when his word rings true and our sin catches up with us

Rather than whine about hackers and our disappearing privacy, we should recognize that, before God, we never had any. Thankfully, our culture today is only making that truth easier to accept. As the line between public and private blurs and the curtain dividing the physical and the spiritual falls, a wild, new frontier is being created that Christians should have braved long ago: transparency.

Unlike integrity, transparency isn't about trying to match up your public and private lives; it's about living a life that doesn't even attempt such compartmentalization. The uncomfortable part is that a person can't be transparent without being vulnerable. It means owning your flaws (like anger, narcissism or cynicism) and exposing them to the world.

Some will say that this embarrasses the church before a gleeful world, and that we needn't open up the bride of Christ to unnecessary scorn. But it's from bad theology that we avoid an opportunity to
glory in our weaknesses. Our flaws don't shame Christ, they glorify him. And the only thing that a transparent life exposes is the fact that all of us are selfish, evil nothings who need Jesus. It's impossible to spread the gospel if none of us look like we need it.

Secrets used to make me feel sick inside and I think they've done the same to the church. Moral standards are a disease that have infected our witness with the stink of human failure, not the aroma of divine redemption. That's the real embarrassment. Integrity only increases hypocrisy, but transparency can reduce it. And the last thing the world needs to see less of is Christ's work in our lives.

photo credit: Chasm via photopin (license)