Wednesday, June 15, 2011


What should we think of politicians who cheat on their wives, people like Anthony Weiner, Newt Gingrich, Mark Sanford, orJohn Edwards?

Years ago I saw a quiz intended to measure people's attitudes toward some work issues and help them understand the importance of having the correct attitudes. One question asked, “If you found out that your boss was having an extramarital affair, would you think less of him as a boss?” The “right” answer was that no, that should not change how you regard him. Supposedly his personal life had nothing to do with his work life.

That “right” answer is nonsense.

To believe that a person can have high integrity at work while lacking integrity in personal life is to believe that the person is split into two different characters. It just doesn't happen. If someone cheats his spouse and not his employer there is a simple reason: at present he finds it attractive, convenient, and of acceptable risk to cheat on his spouse but not on his employer. What will happen when he finds it attractive, convenient, and of acceptable risk to cheat his employer? You don't have to be a rocket scientist to answer that question.

Integrity means honesty regardless of convenience or consequences. The person who is honest only when honesty is convenient or dishonesty dangerous lacks integrity. When the situation changes, he will cheat. That is true in family life, in business, and in government.

Anthony Weiner is only the latest congressman to get caught in a sexual scandal. However his power is being reduced by his own party. Of greater concern right now is Gingrich who wants to be president. Here is a man who cheated on two wives, divorcing both when they developed health problems. He made vows with those women, then flagrantly violated those vows. Can we trust him to keep any promise to the American people? What will he do when he finds it convenient or low risk to break promises to us?

Gingrich talks of Christian forgiveness. As a Christian I believe in repentance and forgiveness, but that is not the issue. In fact I am in no position to forgive him because he has not wronged me. His ex-wives and his children are the people who must deal with that. For me the issue is trust; and trust is not something we just give away; it must be earned. In fact while the scriptures repeatedly command us to forgive, I do not know of any scriptural admonition to trust the offender. Jesus instructed his disciples to be “wise as serpents.” Surely such wisdom would include care in whom we decide to trust.

Be it in our romantic lives, business or politics we must require that people be trustworthy. That integrity should be manifest by actions, not words. The husband or boyfriend who promises to change, then beats the woman in his life, lacks integrity and should be rejected. The politician who fails to demonstrate integrity by his actions should likewise be rejected.

How do we determine whom to trust? We have to start with small things and observe their actions. The man who demonstrates honesty and courtesy over months of dating will likely continue to show those characteristics in marriage. The politician who demonstrates integrity in personal life and while serving in local and state offices will likely continue to demonstrate integrity in higher office.

In all areas of life we should look for integrity in those we trust. That integrity should be demonstrated by actions over time.