Conversations continued…..”Relational Integrity”

The whole conversation thing seems to continue for me, and lately, everything has been about leadership. The big buzz topic at Luther Seminary these days is leadership: “How do we shape, form, and provide leaders for Christian communities/churches/congregations?” Everyone’s got their ideas on what’s essential to be a Christian public leader in today’s world.

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I attended the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD for my undergraduate education. The Naval Academy’s mission, culture, and curriculum is built around its Honor Concept. The Naval Academy expresses this rather simply:

“Midshipmen are persons of integrity: they stand for that which is right. These Naval Academy ‘words to live by’ are based on respect for human dignity, respect for honesty and respect for the property of others.”

I call it “relational integrity.” It is doing the right thing always, considering the dignity, worth, and respect of the other. Integrity is the most important thing…if you lose it, compromise it, or never have it in the first place, you will essentially fail as a leader. What it boils down to is trust. Persons of integrity can be trusted. They will make mistakes, say the wrong thing at times, but persons of integrity will always take full accountability for their words and actions, and the subsequent consequences. They do the right thing simply, because it’s the right thing to do, and they do the right thing in all situations. It means doing the hard thing, making the tough decision, even if it is painful; even at personal cost to you, whether it be loss of job, title, privilege, or even relationships.

Let me clarify that last one: relationships. That can be a tricky thing to navigate – as leaders in ministry, everything we do is relational, or for the sake of relationship, in one way or another. One has to be very careful not to sacrifice another’s human worth and dignity for the sake of preserving one’s ideologies. Integrity is always balanced by relationships….however, it is a relationship of mutuality.

I remember during a lecture during my time at the Naval Academy, the Commandant of the Marine Corps (highest ranking officer in the Marine Corps) came and spoke. He spoke of integrity, and gave this example: “When I was a student here, as seniors, we had the privilege to go out in town, but had to be back by midnight. They checked to make sure everyone had made curfew. As the watch officer came to take roll, I knew my roommate was still out in town. When asked where my roommate was, I could’ve simply said I don’t know…I wouldn’t have been lying. But I knew where he was, so I told the watch officer he was still out in town. It was the right thing to do.”

I struggled with this example (perhaps you did too). There’s the moral/ethical dimension to this: loyalty to person or to ideology? The Commandant went on to say the consequence was he lost that friendship. I would go on to say he probably lost trust as well, and that proves my point about the relational aspect of integrity: one considers the dignity and worth of another, but if it is a true relationship, one has to acknowledge the same for you. The Commandant’s roommate compromised his integrity by placing him in that position. However, was there another way to maintain his integrity while maintaining the relationship as well? That may not always be possible, but the challenge is: how do we live with integrity in relationship with others?

All this holds true for Christian public leaders as well: how do I live with integrity while leading others relationally? How do I garner a true sense of trust, for the sake of preserving the integrity of the Gospel? And that last question is important too, because one’s compromise and loss of integrity and trust as a leader doesn’t just affect them, it affects the integrity of the Church and the Gospel as well.

In my life, I’ve had both good friends as Navy and Marine Corps officers – good, intelligent people – sacrifice their integrity, and they never regained the same trust. And, they couldn’t lead effectively anymore. It wasn’t that they couldn’t reconcile, move on and weren’t good people, but the loss of trust meant they could never hold that privilege to lead again. And, I’ve also known pastors and other leaders in the church as well. You likely can recall a situation where integrity was compromised, and trust was lost. And, you can probably recall a situation where trust was lost because relationships were sacrificed at the alter of personal ideology as well.

Here’s my thing: relational integrity isn’t just a skill leaders in the church should simply acknowledge with lukewarm feelings. It IS the essential thing of leadership. Is it hard and complex? Yes. Will it cost you something? Definitely.

Here’s the thing: most leadership skills and concepts can be learned: from a book, lectures, discussions, etc. However, character is formed and developed only through a culture…..it has to be a way of life. However, as one considers the challenges facing the church in this day an age, can we afford not to be about this? And as future leaders are trained for service and work in the church, can we afford not to form a learning community that values a culture of character development above all else, especially in light of so many breaches of integrity and trust in the whole Church?

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11 Comments

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11 responses to “Conversations continued…..”Relational Integrity”

  1. There is no honour or integrity defending and preaching a lie.
    If you consider your form of Christianity is more worthy than that of a fundamentalist you are mistaken; they just preach more lies and more misconceptions.
    Your brand of Christianity has just evolved more, that’s all. And there is heaps of irony in that statement.
    If a fundamentalist teaches a child the earth is around six thousand years old, you would hotly dispute this and rush off to find a scientist to demonstrate why this belief is false.
    Yet if the same scientist questioned your belief in the Resurrection or your conviction that someone called Jesus walked on water you would have to consider his expert opinion that this was impossible as wrong or irrelevant.

    How would you then be expected to be trusted by the child whose belief in a young earth you had just trashed?
    Would you trust you?

    There are no degrees of lies. It is ether the truth or not….
    You must decide if lying is honorable.

    • In your system, it is honorable to degrade others and dehumanize them in the name of defending an ideology, moral absolute.

      So, Hitler was justified in exterminating Jews, Stalin was justified in the suffering of a whole nation, apartheid was justifiable in South Africa.

      And, Germans who lied to Nazis about hiding Jews were immoral and unjustified in their decision.

      Throw out religion. I hope you are not that extreme in your ideology, as you’ve demonstrated in your comment.

      • Apologies for not getting back sooner. I was internetless throughout May, due to cable failure after a burst water main. I did post.
        Things take time to get sorted in South Africa…
        Let me re read your post and digest it thoroughly before replying.
        Give me a few minutes to grab a coffee.

  2. ‘In your system, it is honorable to degrade others and dehumanize them in the name of defending an ideology, moral absolute.

    So, Hitler was justified in exterminating Jews, Stalin was justified in the suffering of a whole nation, apartheid was justifiable in South Africa.

    And, Germans who lied to Nazis about hiding Jews were immoral and unjustified in their decision.

    Throw out religion. I hope you are not that extreme in your ideology, as you’ve demonstrated in your comment.”

    I will not even dignify this with a response other than to say that you are unfortunately a sad individual.

    • You’re the one who said it is never honorable to lie under any circumstance.

      If you can’t at least acknowledge the mistake in making such a rigid claim, I think that makes you the sad one. It is clear your ideology is more important than anything, even treating people different from you with human decency.

      • ”There is no honour or integrity defending and preaching a lie.
        If you consider your form of Christianity is more worthy than that of a fundamentalist you are mistaken; they just preach more lies and more misconceptions.”

        If you re examine the initial statement it was in direct reference to religion; which is by and large all lies.

      • My post was more about leadership and living authentically and consistent with their beliefs, than pushing the existence of God. But folk read what they want to see…..yourself included.

      • Immediately you introduce a religious element the scenario is changed.
        One does not need religion to be a good leader.
        One does not need religion for anything.

      • Then we are at an impasse then. Fair enough.

        One thought though: you simply because I made the shift in the post to faith, that makes any point I made in the post useless and invalid in your mind? Or am I projecting?

  3. The object of the post from the reader’s perspective was to lead up to the paragraph that began: ”All this holds true for Christian public leaders as well:”
    And i venture that this was uppermost in your mind as well. This is a religious based blog after all.
    It was an interesting read until this point and was immediately sullied because you wished to introduce the element of religion.
    It is this lack of integrity in religion that triggered my initial comment.
    Religion is false doctrine.

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