Beware the Quiet Call of Corruption
[This was originally posted in March 2019]
In the Biblical book of Proverbs, two odd sayings, almost identical, appear just a few verses apart: “Diverse weights and diverse measures are both alike an abomination to the Lord” (20:10); and “Differing weights are an abomination to the Lord, and false scales are not good” (20:23).
Why is God getting upset about kilograms and centimetres?
Quick translation: God hates there being one standard for the rich and another for the poor. God hates unfair systems. And corruption wrecks good systems.
Canada’s first major corruption scandal erupted early in the life of the young country. To join the young Dominion of Canada in 1871, British Columbia insisted that a railway that would link that province with the east be constructed within 10 years. Shortly after the election of 1872, in which Sir John A. Macdonald’s Conservatives retained power, a contract for construction of such a railway was awarded to a syndicate headed by Sir Hugh Allan, a Canadian shipowner and financier.
Allan had been a heavy contributor to the Conservative campaign in the 1872 election, and the opposition Liberals accused Macdonald and his associates of having awarded the contract in return for this financial support (April 1873). The charges fell close enough to the mark—the Liberals produced incriminating letters—that the Macdonald government resigned. The contract was cancelled. And in the subsequent election of January 1874, the Conservatives were badly beaten.
As the SNC-Lavalin corruption scandal has rocked Canadian politics today, we see again the nexus of large corporations, campaign donations, and political power corrupting the very sinews of the country, whether a national railway or the national laws.
That’s what corruption does. It alters the system that, if working properly, benefits everyone—everyone gets the same shot at each opportunity. It alters the system that, if working properly, benefits everyone—every person is treated equally under the law.
Corruption always benefits only some: those who can pay and the wicked who collaborate with them. And it always hurts the poor the most: those whose hope rests only on getting a fair chance at success.
At Easter, Christians remember that their Lord met his death in a conspiracy between Roman officials—proud of their heritage of defending classical law and order—and Jewish officials—proud of their heritage of defending God’s own Law and Order. If such paragons of justice can’t be trusted to do the right thing, who among us can be?
Indeed, corruption isn’t confined to high places. In my occupation, there is constant pressure to be corrupt: to give this student a higher grade, or even whole classes higher grades, because…well, there’s always a “good” reason. And no matter how plausible the excuse or extreme the situation, it always amounts to corruption that hurts others.
How does it hurt others? Because the rest of the university, and the rest of society, trusts teachers to tell the truth about how competent our students are. And awarding a first-class designation to second-class performance, or passing a student whose work really doesn’t measure up, makes it harder for other students and job applicants (who legitimately earned their grades and whose success is now diminished by comparison) and harder for prospective employers (who rely on universities to maintain good standards).
It also finally hurts the student himself or herself, since getting into positions you don’t deserve and cannot handle will eventually come back on you—the Proverbs are pretty clear about that dynamic, too.
Another round of exams looms. There’s always another tax season to deal with. The boss, or a vendor, or a client, or a customer suggests a clever way “around” an inconvenient law or regulation. And a dozen other ways of “finessing the system” (= cheating and lying) arise on every hand.
Sir John A. Macdonald doubtless thought he was achieving a good end through unhappily compromised means. Our current government doubtless thought the same thing about obliging SNC-Lavalin. Don’t we all think we’re doing the right thing, if sometimes by the wrong way?
Let’s take Lent seriously and repent of our easily rationalized shortcuts. Let’s ask the Crucified One to forgive us our sins, big and little, public and private. Let’s ask the Risen One who is the Way, Truth, and Life to give us a greater hunger and thirst for righteousness to keep us in the way of truth and life.
And let us hear these ancient words and receive the gospel they bring:
“If we say that we have fellowship with God while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:6-9).