by Chaden Hani
In light of the current state of our country Lebanon, which lies under the yoke of a pervasive corruption touching upon most all areas of our daily lives, we have seen that it is our duty as an evangelical community to support the recent process of change advocated by the Lebanese state. For this reason, the Institute of Middle East Studies at the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary convened its sixth gathering of the Forum for Current Affairs, through which we bring together evangelical church leaders and representatives of various ministries to discuss and discover together the Church’s prophetic role in responding to our political, economic and social realities.
The latest Forum for Current Affairs gathering was held on 22 May 2019 to explore aspects of corruption and its effects on our daily lives. Mr. Julian Courson, Executive Director of the Lebanese Transparency Association, the local chapter of international NGO Transparency International, presented a definition of corruption and explained to us the key elements needed to reduce and contain it.
According to Courson, corruption is defined as the placing of personal interest over and above public interest and the exploitation of one’s power, title or position for the purposes of personal gain and illegal benefit. Corruption is not limited to the act of theft only, but includes lying, fraud, and bribery, as well as methods sometimes employed by ordinary citizens to meet their basic needs. Corruption is rooted in our society and we must therefore develop a new education strategy for younger generations based on virtuous living and morally straight values.
The three main factors that help control and contain corruption include:
Any shortcoming in one of these factors results in corruption. Harmony should exist between public and private institutions. It is also essential for the people to take the first step: simply identifying and responding to the topic. Responsibility lies not only with those in authority, who may very well be corrupt, but the citizen is also part of the problem. However, this means that the citizen is also part of the solution and therefore has the opportunity to make a decision when confronted with the opportunity to act in a corrupt manner. And, the decision-making process starts when we take steps to mitigate the damage caused by corruption in the first place and in defining the situations and causes that have resulted in corruption. Likewise, the adoption of transparency in our methods can also help to reduce its spread.
Work is under way at the level of the political authorities to combat corruption, but this requires fully integrated cooperation with civil society in all its forms, as well as with faith communities that are knowledgeable of scriptural and ethical values and have a moral responsibility to act faithfully before God and speak prophetically to society.
Transparency International is working with municipalities and training civil society organizations to better understand and apply the law. “We had made progress in Dhinniyah [a district in North Lebanon] by implementing a law enacted in 2017 that provides the right to every juridical person to access information for the purpose of establishing transparency,” Courson said. Companies, institutions and municipalities are required to publish budgetary, financial and other transactional information on their websites. This law is in force and according to recent statistics is being applied to approximately 56% of relevant entities. According to Courson,
“Self-leadership is a primary focus; if it is of high quality we can then function well as a group. We also work at the political and legislative levels to combat corruption and have also contributed to the development of the Petroleum Sector Transparency Act, which is available on the website of Lebanese Petroleum Admiration. We worked on the draft of a legal strategy against corruption, which was passed in 2011.”
During the event, ABTS President Elie Haddad spoke, from a missiological perspective, on the role of the Church in the process of curbing the spread of corruption. As believers, we must confront the teachings of the world, ensuring that they do not enter the Church by adhering to the ethics of the Kingdom. This challenges us to adopt behaviors different from the behaviors of the world around us that can negatively affect us in our own communities. The Bible is a factual and practical book, and its teachings serve as the paradigm for change that the world needs.
As followers of Christ, we have to be salt and the light. We are light when we become different from the dark world, and when we concern ourselves with keeping the salt from becoming spoiled. The Church no doubt wants and seeks to be the instrument of change, and this can only be achieved through education, guidance and the training of new generations to be at the forefront of raising our level of performance and of living according to the values and ethics of the Kingdom. Jesus entrusted us with the training of new generations for the Kingdom when he spoke to his disciples, saying,
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28: 18-20).
One of the most striking issues highlighted as a form of social corruption relates to the titles we use to address certain individuals with respect like “doctor” or “professor,” for instance when someone impersonates being one or is even incorrectly attributed such a title. Another example of the corruption afflicting our society, and even the church, is the use of unauthenticated or pirated software, often done in order to alleviate the material burden of such programs. This is very important because it portrays honesty, which must be reflected through our behavior. This helps us to obey the biblical teachings and become a model for resisting the dominant patterns of our society.
For those who interject saying that we have be raised to distinguish between things pertaining to faith and things pertaining to life, we can learn from the example of John Calvin who served in the fields of education, economics, and ecclesiastical relations, and served the poor with integrity. He tells us that we must not forget that our city is heavenly. But, we should be able to contribute to the progress of this world without abandoning the vision of the heavenly city. In fact, it is that heavenly vision which must give shape to our earthy realities. Our weakness is that we have a corrupt mentality. We are not gods, but we are corrupt in our sinful desires. Nevertheless, our motivations are religious and the world’s motives are human. The Church must have a voice in society, and we must speak against corruption, theft, favoritism and gossip. The church should not sit idly by; it must intervene.
In light of the above definitions of corruption, the factors needed to keep it in check, and the role of the Church in societies where corruption is rampant, we ask ourselves: what are the implications for us as citizens and followers of Christ and what is our response to corruption?
First, we must recognize and acknowledge the fact that corruption exists in every country in varying proportions and that there must be a system of state laws that establish accountability and transparency. These laws require a serious and consistent implementation mechanism, but in Lebanon, for example, we lack such a mechanism. Second, we much acknowledge that it is the responsibility of both the government and the citizen to make decisions and take initiatives to practically confront the issue. And, we must begin to reduce the damage done through the adoption of transparency, facilitating access to information. This work requires perseverance and optimism. We must persevere patiently and steadfastly to raise awareness and develop methods and laws that combat corruption and build on the positivity of the existing laws. Thirdly, as followers of Christ, we must be prepared to model our behavior in such a way as to influence society by finding freedom from the corruption surrounding us. By applying Kingdom ethics and living out biblical teachings with perseverance we can start modeling a new, ethical way of being in our churches, ministries, jobs, homes and various circles of influence.
As citizens both of this world and of the Kingdom, we must not resort to the ways of the world, such as lies, bribery, forgeries, fraud, etc., but we must be honest and hold ourselves to different standards. We must accept responsibility for holding our church leaders and political leaders accountable as well as allowing ourselves to be held to account. We can start this movement in the fight against corruption and launch it into the world around us, to be a light that shines in the middle of darkness and a salt that is preserved from corruption. When we see the mustard seed planted in our societies, let us water it so that it grows and produces fruit.