It’s Friday afternoon and the weather forecast seems to say that a real Michigan winter storm is on its way for our weekend. I hope all of you, dear friends, will be safe and warm. I made the mistake of venturing out the grocery store not thinking that there might be a crowd. Boy, was I surprised!!
Now that I am back and the groceries are unpacked, I think it’s a good time to consider the blog post for this week. Since we are in the midst of both an election season and an impeachment trial, I thought this resolution might be timely:
Resolved, That the 79th General Convention recognizes that corruption – including bribery, collusion, fraud, coercion, and obstruction – inhibits the transparent and proper functioning of institutions to serve their constituencies, limits public confidence and undermines trust, and can negatively impact education, health, security and human rights; and be it further
Resolved, That 79th General Convention urge Episcopal clergy, laypeople, and institutions to advocate for transparency in the public, private, and non-profit sectors, recognizing the unique voice religious institutions have in addressing this societal ill, and ensuring transparent finances in all of its institutions; and be it further
Resolved, That 79th General Convention urge all local, state, and national governments in the jurisdictions in which The Episcopal Church exists to address their role in contributing to domestic and international corruption, including by ending facilitation of shell companies that can enable money laundering and illicit financial flows, while also partnering with foreign governments, multilateral institutions, and multinational corporations to minimize corruption and encourage transparency.
I thought that reading the explanation submitted by the proposer might give a little more insight and found that the proposer of this resolutions was our own the Rt. Rev. Wendell Gibbs. Please remember that the wording of the explanation is not part of the final resolution as passed by Convention.
EXPLANATION: Corruption in government, private industry, and religious and non-governmental institutions erodes public trust and damages the ability of these institutions to carry out their work. Transparency International defines corruption as “the abuse of entrusted power for private gain.” In government contexts, corruption can include the bribery of public officials, tax evasion, and misuse and misappropriation of taxpayer funds. In private industry, corruption breaks down systems of financial accountability to stakeholders, shareholders, and investors by obstructing transparent financial reporting and management. In religious institutional settings, corruption, often expressed through the mishandling and mismanagement of charitably donated resources, undermines donor confidence in the mission of the religious institution.
Corruption undermines public trust in institutions, especially when corruption results in human rights abuses, the failure of health systems, and the inability for citizens to take care of daily business without extensive bribery and additional resources.
Instituting financial accountability and anti-corruption measures help to uplift and protect the church’s mission to bring about God’s kingdom on earth, and serve to enshrine trust in a religious institution. Anti-corruption measures, and in particular independent governance oversight, robust third-party accounting practices, and public disclosure of financial activity discourage waste, fraud and abuse of funds intended to support and sustain the work of the church.
The Church can have a unique voice in fighting corruption – in terms of the moral authority and the pressure we can put on governments to become more accountable and transparent. We can also ensure that our own financial practices are transparent and accountable, and that we root out corruption in our own institutions.
Additional resources: Chayes, Sarah, Thieves of State: Why Corruption Threatens Global Security, New York: W.W. Norton& Company, 2015Fisman, Ray and Edward Migel, Economic Gangsters: Corruption, Violence, and the Poverty of Nations, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008.
Role of faith leaders in fighting corruption:
I saw an appropriate meme on Facebook this morning that seems to speak to our responsibility and while it seems very simple at first, I found it a good reminder:
Your beliefs don’t make you a better person, your behavior does.
Maybe that idea isn’t new for you but, for me, it was a reminder that I can have a strong belief system yet if I don’t act on it with my voice and my behavior, I am not living my dearly held beliefs. When we become aware of corruption, dishonesty, fraud, etc., and don’t speak out to call it what it is, we are complicit. If Jesus is our model as we profess, we must advocate for transparency, honesty, and integrity from those that represent us both in the Church and in our government. Abraham Lincoln once spoke some appropriate wise words: “Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.” That change in perspective is important if we are going to live our lives on “God’s side.”
Let us pray –
Loving and Just God, we pray that corruption and dishonesty be revealed among all leaders and authorities in government, business, and in the church so that complete integrity and transparency would be the hallmark of your people. We ask that you give us the strength and conviction to speak out when necessary and to model justice and integrity in our own lives. We pray that your Holy Spirit convict and guide all leaders to be honest before you that they might be transformed to pursue righteousness. We also pray for all people who suffer from corruption, that they may experience your love and mercy. Let our lives reflect your character to those around us. We ask all these things In the name of your Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ, AMEN
~ The Rev. Judith Schellhammer, chair, Resolution Review Committee, Diocesan Council