God wants us to love him and love others. Selfishness is the opposite of what God wants. Selfishness is putting our own desires before our love for God and others. Selfishness is sin. Sin is selfishness.
What is corruption? According to my dictionary, corruption is “acting dishonestly in return for money or personal gain”. Most people have some interest in money and personal gain, because money and personal gain are very attractive things. We live in an imperfect world and, inevitably, some people may be prepared to act dishonestly to get these attractive things. So, all human organizations will experience corruption at some time. Businesses, political parties, government departments, schools, universities, police, armed services and, of course, churches, will all experience corruption at some time.
Despite corruption being inevitable, it is generally regarded as shameful or criminal. Unfortunately, when corruption is discovered, the first reaction of people inside an organisation is often to try to conceal it. The rationale for concealing it, usually, is that if the corruption becomes known people will lose confidence in the organization. But, when the corruption and its concealment become known, the concealment will make it more likely that people will lose confidence in the organization. In the 21st century, we know that all organizations experience corruption at some time, so people won’t be surprised to hear that corruption has happened, and they may be interested to hear how the organization manages corruption when it happens.
What we need is a culture in which we recognize that, when corruption happens, it is in everyone’s best interest to ensure that it is not concealed but managed in the best interests of all people who have an interest in the organisation – as far as that is possible.
Instituting such a culture will reduce corruption. If any member of an organization is thinking about acting dishonestly, they are far more likely to give in to temptation if they think that they will be protected, if they are found out. They will think much more carefully if they are reasonably sure that their dishonesty will not be concealed by others.
Selfishness, corruption, abuse and violence in Churches
Christian organizations are certainly not immune from corruption, and it’s important to remember that corruption is not just about money – corruption is acting dishonestly in return for money or personal gain. Personal gain includes acting to gain power over others. It includes trying to get your own way, against the wishes of others. It includes all forms of abuse including sexual abuse, domestic violence, emotional abuse and bullying. These things are selfishness. These things are sin.
What should we Christians do when these things happen in our communities? Well, what did Jesus say we should do?
“If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” (Matthew 18:15-17)
Jesus said that if you have a problem with a brother or sister in the church, the very first thing you should do is talk to that person, and that person alone. This is treating your sister or brother with respect and love. This is treating them the way you would like to be treated yourself. If they won’t listen to you, you should take one or two others with you and talk to them again. If they still won’t listen to you, you take the matter to the whole church community. This is what Jesus tells his followers to do. The conduct required by Jesus is so different to what usually happens when we feel that we have a problem with someone else. So often, our first reaction is to look for sympathy and support from others – so we talk to people who, we hope, will see things the way we do. This is how conflict starts in a community. This is how factions form. Talking to others is the opposite to what Jesus tells us to do when we have a problem with a sister or brother.
Experts disagree on what the reference to “a gentile and a tax collector” means. We can’t be sure what Jesus meant by that last line – it doesn’t provide clear guidance for us, his followers, in 21st Century Christian communities. But the first three steps we are to follow when someone sins against us are very clear. First, we talk to them. If they don’t listen, we talk to one or two others (no more than one or two) and ask them to go with us to talk to the abuser. If the abuser still won’t listen, we take the matter to the whole church.
I know this sounds difficult. I know it can be very difficult for the victim of abuse to talk to their abuser about the abuse. I know how difficult this is from personal experience. But this is what Jesus tells us, his followers, to do. Imagine what Christian communities would be like if we all adopted this as our way of handling abuse and conflict. Imagine how non-Christians would react if it was widely known that this is how Christians handle abuse and conflict.
We must do it because Jesus tells us to do it. We must encourage each other to do it and we must support each other as we do it.
Jesus is Lord.