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Posted by George Crowder, 3 May 2021

George Crowder considers the contemporary obsession with corruption.

We are very exercised by corruption.  We are concerned about it, angry about it, fascinated with it, and obsessed with it.  As ‘other news’ starts to take more of the headlines, revelations about political foul play beat a well-worn, almost weary path into the light of public scrutiny.  Questions rage about taking advantages and abusing privileges, about fraud and cronyism. 
When we are not exasperated by corruption, we are entertained by it.  The BBC’s Line of Duty series has us all on the edge of our seats with the dramatic turns of the plot.  Then we are wracking our brains to work out the identity of the shadowy puppet-master behind the spidery network of corrupt officers in the police force. 

Our obsession with corruption is a positive obsession.  We hate it; we want the perpetrators rooted out and punished.  It offends something deep inside us, a sense of fairness and rightness.  Being anti-corruption is something that reflects our creator.  As Christians we relish that; it’s a seam that runs through the Bible, our faith and our lives.

It’s a down-to-earth, practical aspect of godliness.  In Proverbs we find a strong line on anti-corruption in amongst maxims on every part of life.  “Honest scales and balances are from the LORD; all the weights in the bag are of his making.” (Proverbs 16:11)  “Acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent—the LORD detests them both.” (Proverbs 17:15) “If you say, ‘But we knew nothing about this,’ does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who guards your life know it? Will he not repay each person according to what he has done?” (Proverbs 24:12)

Corruption has its roots in rebellion against God.  Samuel’s sons were corrupt because they turned against Samuel’s God.  They “did not walk in his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice.” (1 Samuel 8:3)  We do not need to dig very deeply to find rebellion against God is ingrained into our hearts too.  “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)

Though we long to escape the obnoxious manifestation of corruption, we find it a persistent stain on our very humanity.  Indeed, our obsession with the extremes of corruption may be explained by the desire to salve our consciences by relativising our own lapses and failures.  But could we do better in a position of power, privilege or opportunity?  A better question is whether anyone should be in such a position without plurality and accountability.  There will always be corruption, we can be certain of it, it is simply a case of finding it.

Judas – a disciple of Christ himself – accepted a bribe to betray him.  Ananias and Saphira – members of the church founded by Peter – made out to be giving all of their proceeds, when they kept some back for themselves.  We are more than naïve if we think our churches today don’t need to be in a constant state of vigilance about corruption.

The good news is that Jesus came to a corrupt world to bring an end to corruption.  His encounter with Zacchaeus the tax collector plays this out beautifully.  Here was a known sinner, a man who had sold out and extorted his own people.  Yet, when Jesus called him down from the tree, he stood up and said, “Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” (Luke 19:8)  “Today,” Jesus responded, “salvation has come to this house.” 

If we are looking for an end to corruption, we need to realise that it starts and ends with Jesus and us.  It starts with admitting the corruption within us and submitting to Jesus’ rule in our hearts.  It ends with Jesus’ just and benevolent rule in the new heavens and the new earth.

This article was previously published in the Church of England Newspaper

George Crowder is a Regional Director of Church Society and a regular contributor to the Church of England Newspaper.

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