When I was in high school, there was a teacher who spoke of the integrity of the founding fathers for their steadfast adherence to moral standards in the framing of the nation. He taught about the integrity of the democratic system when an ethical citizenship is willing to participate fully and completely. He inspired students to pursue participation in an election process of campaigning and lobbying and educating themselves about the topics of the day. He motivated students to read tomes of political thought and philosophy and challenged students to be grounded in their beliefs, to be firm in their foundations and to fight for what was right and just. His students, including myself, described him as a man of integrity.
This same teacher also molested his female students. And when caught and confronted, his defense was that he had grown up in an abusive, alcoholic home, ruled by a tyrannical father. He wept buckets of tears, remorseful, so sorry he was caught buckets of tears. Not one sentence spoken ever contained a true confession or admission or of personal responsibility. His greatest fear was exposure. He said he had personal integrity and a good name to protect.
Integrity is defined as a wholeness of consistent values and beliefs or as the quality of sound moral principles. Apparently this definition was open to interpretation at the self-serving table he set and from which he dined. Integrity was his cliche, but perversity was his practice.
The only steadfast adherence to a moral or ethical code that he followed was the one that served his purposes and desires. Integrity did not define him. Idolatry of self did.
I once heard integrity defined as who you are and what you do when no one is looking. Who you are in the closet and not just who you claim to be in public.
As such, life experience has taught me to investigate more thoroughly those who simply proclaim personal integrity. Particularly when the proclamation is loud and flowery and accompanied by chest beating, desk banging, book thumping declarations that descend into a great list of pietistic actions.
To which I say, show me your closet. And even if you do not, the inevitability remains that what is in there will come out for all to see. It is the inevitability of truth.
Integrity, true integrity, that rules one’s thoughts, heart and behavior will not require loud proclamation and will certainly not require legalistic defense. True integrity is lived out in the kitchen, in the grocery store, in the boardroom, in the class room, in fellowship with others, and in the closet.
My dad tells a story about a newcomer to the United States who was hungry for fried chicken. Thinking that he could get some fried chicken at the grocery store, he went into one and bought a container with a picture of crispy fried chicken on the front. When he got home and opened it, the container was full of lard.
True character when opened and tested will reveal integrity. Proclamations alone will never make what is a container of lard a bucket of fried chicken.