The Scourge of Corruption

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The Scourge of Corruption

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Thousands of employees and investors saw the bulk of their retirement funds wiped out when Enron, the giant energy company, imploded in December in the largest-ever corporate bankruptcy in the United States. The ugly scenario was repeated the next month when Global Crossing, a huge telecommunications company, became the fourth-largest bankruptcy.

True to form, the bankruptcies of these two corporate giants bore the earmarks of major money scandals. Enron's included the shredding of potentially incriminating documents, ruined lives and the suicide of a high company official. Investigations of Global Crossing revealed that the chairman of the Democratic National Committee had pocketed almost $18 million on an investment of $100,000.

The collateral damage from the Enron debacle has already spread to the company's auditors, the multinational accounting firm Arthur Andersen. With employees admitting shredding documents, that company is under federal indictment and faces its own struggle for survival. Enron's long shadow also appears to have reached across the Atlantic to Britain, where some government officials allegedly took cash from Enron and free advice from Arthur Andersen in exchange for changes in some government regulations.

Campaign finance reformed?

Ironically, as fallout from these giant failures spread through the economy, Congress debated and passed campaign-finance-reform legislation that, in the opinion of some observers, has the primary effect of creating major hurdles for future political challengers. Some even cynically dubbed it the Incumbency Protection Act of 2002.

Revealing was that the new campaign-finance laws will not go into effect until after the next round of elections late this year. Equally revealing was the spectacle of hundreds of politicians of both parties fanning out from Washington to attend fundraisers, scooping up donations of the sort that would be banned under the legislation they had just passed.

It's no wonder cynicism about political and corporate power is growing. Sound business and governmental ethics, not to mention basic honesty and accountability, are fundamental to the long-term success of any nation. In the long run the greed-is-good philosophy will damage any nation.

Does sin win?

The "Book of the Week" column in Britain's Feb. 24 Sunday Times featured a new work by Marc Lewis curiously titled Sin to Win. Mr. Lewis, a successful entrepreneur, sold his Internet company,Web Marketing, for some $30 million, then wrote his book, apparently promoted as a key to business success. In brief, "Sin to Win promotes the idea that the seven deadly sins—pride, lust, covetousness, envy, gluttony, anger and sloth—are, to varying degrees, necessary attributes for success in the commercial world" (emphasis added throughout).

Overall, the Times reviewer gave the book poor marks. But, to be fair to Mr. Lewis, he simply articulates and advocates the practices of far too many in the multinational, corporate world. As much as we decry such ungodly practices, at least he was honest about how these dubious business methods characterize some individuals and companies in our world of global commerce.

But do fraudulent dishonesty and sin win? If they didn't, temporarily, few would practice them. Moses wisely forsook "the passing pleasures of sin" in Egypt (Hebrews 11:25 Hebrews 11:25Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season;
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). Solomon tells us evil thrives when "the sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily" (Ecclesiastes 8:11 Ecclesiastes 8:11Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.
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). Psalm 73 describes how the wicked prosper —at least for a short time.

The inevitable consequence is often delayed, but it is as sure as tomorrow's sunrise. In the long term, corruption does not pay.

The roots of greed and fraudulence

The apostle John defined sin as "the transgression of the law" (1 John 3:4 1 John 3:4Whoever commits sin transgresses also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.
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, King James Version). The Ten Commandments constitute the supreme law against harmful activities. The Eighth Commandment reads, "You shall not steal." But, since thought usually precedes action, we then are told by No. 10 that "you shall not covet . . . anything that is your neighbor's."

The prophet Micah explained that the evil conceive their actions in their thinking.

"Woe to those who devise iniquity and work out evil on their beds! At morning light they practice it, because it is in the power of their hands. They covet fields and take them by violence, also houses, and seize them, so they oppress a man and his house, a man and his inheritance" (Micah 2:1-3 Micah 2:1-3 [1] Woe to them that devise iniquity, and work evil on their beds! when the morning is light, they practice it, because it is in the power of their hand. [2] And they covet fields, and take them by violence; and houses, and take them away: so they oppress a man and his house, even a man and his heritage. [3] Therefore thus said the LORD; Behold, against this family do I devise an evil, from which you shall not remove your necks; neither shall you go haughtily: for this time is evil.
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).

There are always innocent victims when people pursue what isn't theirs. What about the Enron employees who lost their jobs because of the nefarious activities of a few?

What about those at Global Crossing and Arthur Andersen who knew nothing of wrongdoing? They are already suffering. In principle this is what Micah describes.

Our individual, private transgressions do quite enough damage not only to ourselves but to a circle of family and friends who rely on our good behavior. But the effects of fraudulent behavior by government and business leaders can be colossal, bringing disgrace to nations and multinational corporations alike, throwing thousands out of their jobs, depriving citizens, employees and stockholders of their due reward for their labor and threatening them with poverty.

Leaders and covetousness

Certain people possess enormous power, and sometimes they use it in ways that bring devastation to many others. "He who is greedy of gain troubles his own house," wrote King Solomon (Proverbs 15:27 Proverbs 15:27He that is greedy of gain troubles his own house; but he that hates gifts shall live.
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).

In ancient Israel, Moses'father-in-law advised him to "select from all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them . . ." (Exodus 18:21 Exodus 18:21Moreover you shall provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them, to be rulers of thousands, and rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens:
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). Roughly 1,500 years later the apostle Paul told Timothy that a chief consideration in the ordination of church leaders was that they not be greedy for money (1 Timothy 3:3 1 Timothy 3:3Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous;
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, 8). Paul knew that "those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition" (1 Timothy 6:9 1 Timothy 6:9But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition.
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).

Is this not also an apt description of what happens to government and business leaders when they lack these basic qualities? Solomon adds: "A ruler who lacks understanding is a great oppressor, but he who hates covetousness will prolong his days" (Proverbs 28:16 Proverbs 28:16The prince that wants understanding is also a great oppressor: but he that hates covetousness shall prolong his days.
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The teachings of Christ are clear. "Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses," He said (Luke 12:15 Luke 12:15And he said to them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man's life consists not in the abundance of the things which he possesses.
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). Christ's basic spiritual teachings go against the grain of our human nature and our secular value systems. Humanly, money and materialism are supremely important in our way of thinking. Of course,money and possessions themselves are not the real problem.

Right approach to wealth and power

The Ten Commandments assume and sanction the private ownership of property.

On the other hand, they condemn coveting —enviously desiring what belongs to someone else. Christ's parables of the pounds and talents advocate godly careeradvancement goals and the wise investment of funds. The Bible teaches that "the laborer is worthy of his wages" (Luke 10:7 Luke 10:7And in the same house remain, eating and drinking such things as they give: for the laborer is worthy of his hire. Go not from house to house.
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). Again, money is not wrong in and of itself—it's the love of money that entraps us in evil.

Hear King David's wise advice: "If riches increase, do not set your heart on them" (Psalms 62:10 Psalms 62:10Trust not in oppression, and become not vain in robbery: if riches increase, set not your heart on them.
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).

Paul advocated generous giving not onlyto the poor but for the needs of preaching the gospel of the Kingdom. Yet he sought no gain for himself. As he wrote to one congregation, "I do not seek yours, but you" (2 Corinthians 12:14 2 Corinthians 12:14Behold, the third time I am ready to come to you; and I will not be burdensome to you: for I seek not your's but you: for the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children.
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). Paul wanted those whom he was reaching with the gospel to receive everlasting life in the Kingdom of God. His motivation was to serve, to give.

He added that Jesus Christ Himself had taught that it is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35 Acts 20:35I have showed you all things, how that so laboring you ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.
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). Paul told the Ephesians: "Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need" (Ephesians 4:28 Ephesians 4:28Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needs.
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). Giving, wrote Paul, is the antidote to covetousness and blatant dishonesty.

Notice Jesus'explanation of the kind of attitude He expects from anyone in a leadership position: "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:25-28 Matthew 20:25-28 [25] But Jesus called them to him, and said, You know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority on them. [26] But it shall not be so among you: but whoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; [27] And whoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: [28] Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered to, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.
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This is the attitude God will instill in leaders of government and business in the transformed society Christ will build in the world to come. Only then will the scourge of corruption forever be a thing of the past. GN

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