On September 15, 2008, Lehman Brothers, one of the world’s largest investment banks, filed for bankruptcy protection after the biggest financial collapse in history. Investors swarmed like bees, stock values dropped sharply, assets shrank.
Two years later, on August 19 of this year, 60 Minutes, revisited the crisis. Anton Valukas, federal bankruptcy lawyer, had been appointed by the court as an investigator. He labeled Lehman Brother’s actions leading to the collapse as equal to a “shell game,” and declared the wrongdoing a case for legal action. He spoke for integrity in the business world. Apparently the courts have not yet acted. Will they opt for integrity?
The same 60 Minutes also reviewed a scandal in the Catholic church in Ireland which involved boys as young as eight who had been violated by priests. The sexual abuse had apparently gone on unchecked for decades. Finally, an archbishop came on the scene who had empathy for the victims and appeared penitent on behalf of the church. He was ready to deal justly with wrongdoers and to make amends with the victims — insofar as possible.
At one point 60 Minutes showed the archbishop tearing up as he reflected on the lifelong damage to eight-year-old boys who had been repeatedly abused.
On the day I watched 60 Minutes I also had a phone conversation with a woman across the continent. She asked if I had heard about the recent allegations of sexual abuse at Prairie Bible Institute, dating back several decades. PBI is a respected Bible college in Alberta, Canada, and my telephone correspondent is an alumna who attended in the 1950’s. She wondered aloud: Is her alma mater opting for integrity?
The evidence appears that the wrongdoing is being addressed in every way possible and insofar as possible. Victims are being counseled and supported. They have been given aid in tracking down their abusers. Those seeking to right the wrongs are paying a great price in time and energy.
In all three situations — a trusted secular financial institution, a worldwide denomination, and a respected Bible College — the persons given responsibility to act must surely have been tempted to avoid getting involved or to address the issues lightly. But instead they appear to have taken sides with truth and have been committed to do their duty. With regard to the secular institution the results are not yet final.
With Christian institutions especially it is important for leaders to see with clarity and courage that, however it is covered, moral infestations damage the functioning or reputation of the institution. As is often said, they must do not only that which is right but that which appears to be right. This is the price to be paid to retain the integrity of any institution.
I have often pondered a story that appears in the fifth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. The New Testament church is thriving. Converts are multiplying by the thousands. Miraculous healings are taking place. The Gospel is going forth in all directions. The picture could scarcely be brighter.
But a couple come into the picture — named Ananias and Sapphira — who have sold a field for a certain sum of money. They come before the Apostle Peter having agreed between themselves to give a portion of it to the church pretending that they are giving the whole of it. They are intentionally deceptive.
But the Holy Spirit gives Peter insight and he rebukes Ananias for lying to the Holy Spirit. Ananias dies on the spot and is carried out to be buried. Three hours later Sapphira turns up to affirm the same lie. She too is stricken, falls down dead, and is carried out to be buried beside her husband.
When things are going so well for the young church otherwise, why such severity of divine judgment? Why wasn’t the lie of the two just set lightly aside or overlooked during the flush of general success?
Because the Lord wanted to teach the young church that unaddressed moral evil will settle into the innards of the young body as moral corruption — if not duly rebuked.
Many years later the same Peter continued to call all believers to rid themselves “of all malice and all deceit, hypocricy, and slander of every kind” (1 Peter 2:1). When cells of Christ’s church take such exhortations seriously integrity is valued and protected.
In the testing times now coming on the Christian cause on this continent, it is good to pray earnestly that God will give to every Christian institution the kind of leaders who have sharp moral insight and, when necessary, the courage to act.