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Corruption and credibility

Mark Cook is the program coordinator for the Institute for Global Engagement, a partnership between Denison Forum and Dallas Baptist University. He is currently a Ph.D. candidate at Dallas Baptist University, and completed his Masters of Divinity at Beeson Divinity School and Truett Seminary. His ministry background is college ministry, and he has served both on a church staff as well as within campus ministries.

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FIFA President Sepp Blatter gestures as he attends a news conference after a meeting of the FIFA executive committee in Zurich in September 26, 2014 (Credit: Reuters/Arnd Wiegmann)

Corruption scandals are the ham and cheese sandwich of contemporary headlines. There they appear when we open our daily lunchbox of news, and we’re largely nonplussed. We just shrug our shoulders and move on to see if there is anything more interesting in the lunchbox.

Three powerful entities garnering recent attention all have corruption scandals associated with them: FIFA, the Clintons, and the IRS. FIFA is under investigation for rampant corruption including the puzzling awarding of the 2022 World Cup host site to Qatar. The Clintons face a two-pronged scandal involving their foundation’s connection to international politics as well as Mrs. Clinton’s use of her personal email account to conduct national security business. The IRS, meanwhile, has a new flashpoint, namely its leaky online security, (the exposure of 100,000 households’ worth of tax returns to thieves) to go along with its scandal from 2 years ago centered upon its harassment of certain conservative groups.

I want to examine these three stories in light of the leadership principle of credibility. Aristotle spoke of the three means of persuasion: logos (logic), pathos (emotional appeal), and ethos (credibility). Contemporary scholars have divided credibility into three core components: goodwill, competence and trustworthiness. Goodwill relates to how much or little people perceive you caring about them, while trustworthiness has to do with honesty, integrity and ethics, and finally competence is about your perceived intelligence and skill.

While all of the scandals relate to different components of credibility, they each focus specifically on one. First, the FIFA scandal reveals the importance of goodwill. FIFA has largely been assumed to be corrupt for many years, but one of the key sticking points in finally bringing officials to justice is the lack of care they have shown to construction workers at the Qatar site. The International Trade Union Confederation projected over 4,000 deaths to occur on the job before the final completion of work in 2022, and even that figure has been questioned for its conservative nature. The whole project reeks of bottom-line money-grabbing from FIFA, regardless of the human toll.

Second, the Clinton email and foundation scandals call into question the trustworthiness component of credibility. While the Clintons are not under attack for their lack of competence or their perceived goodwill, they are under attack for the perception that they have covered things up and been dishonest. Third, the IRS security leak relates to the third component of credibility: competence. This kind of dramatic security breach calls into question the credibility of the entire organization because of its lack of competence to keep data secure.

Credibility is essential to good leadership, but it can be eroded through any of these three avenues. What lessons can we learn from these examples, and how can we apply them to our lives?

First, we must understand that corruption lies within every human heart. Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick.”. We must realize that we are part of the problem, and ask for God’s grace to deliver us from our proclivities. “The true Christian’s nostril is to be continually attentive to the inner cesspool.” (C.S. Lewis)

Second, we must realize that while credibility cannot be gained in an instant, it can be lost in one. Credibility is accumulated through years of consistency in making good decisions. We must focus not so much on our external achievements but with the inner state of our soul. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn reminds us that “The meaning of earthly existence lies not, as we have grown used to thinking, in prospering but in the development of the soul.”

Are you seeking external achievements or the development of your heart to be more like Jesus? As leaders, we will never go farther than where we’ve been, and this is never truer than in our personal relationship with Jesus. He calls us out beyond the shallows to experience the depths with him. There we find the security, stability, and proper perspective to face life’s difficult circumstances.

A mark of a good leader is not that they do not make mistakes, but that they do not try to hide them when they do. A sustained attitude of humility cultivates a disposition of grace that keeps us sensitive to our own shortcomings and helps us show mercy to the shortcomings in others.

What tough decision is facing you? There is probably an easy way out, but remember that it is our choices that reveal our true heart. While we all have a similar inclination to corruption, it is ultimately our choices that make the difference. “Choose this day whom you will serve…but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15)