Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Liar, Liar, Conscience on Fire

I want to share my January submission to "River Region's Journey" magazine, along with a related audio clip and commentary at the end.

A couple of months ago, I made mention of a Christian virtue that we in society would like to see expressed with greater regularity…civility. It came to my attention recently that there is another virtue, which could have devastating effects if it is not practiced. That virtue is honesty.

The Josephson Institute recently released the results of a survey of almost 30,000 high school students in the U.S. As the Institute press release stated, “The results paint a troubling picture of our future politicians and parents, cops and corporate executives, and journalists and generals.”

According to the Institute's 2008 Report Card on the Ethics of American Youth, there were three major areas – stealing, lying, and cheating – in which there were causes for concern.

Stealing. 35 percent of the boys and 26 percent of the girls – a total of 30 percent overall — admitted to stealing from a store in the past year. This is up from the 2006 rate of 28 percent. Honors students, student leaders, and those involved in service organizations were less likely to steal, but still more than one in five were involved in theft. Overall, the thievery included stealing from a parent or other relative (23 percent) or from a friend (20 percent). Boys were nearly twice as likely to steal from a friend as girls (26 percent to 14 percent).
Lying. 42 percent of those surveyed said they sometimes lie to save money – 49 percent of males, 36 percent of females. This represents a 3-percentage-point overall rise from 2006. More than eight in ten students (83 percent) from public schools and religious private schools confessed they lied to a parent about something significant, while the number was 78 percent of students attending non-religious independent schools.
Cheating. Almost two-thirds of respondents (64 percent) said they cheated on a test in the past year, with 38 percent doing so two or more times. This is up from 60 percent and 35 percent, respectively, in 2006. Alarmingly, 63 percent of students from religious schools cheated, while students attending non-religious independent schools reported a cheating rate of 47 percent. 36 percent said they used the Internet to plagiarize an assignment, up from 33 percent in 2006.
Interestingly enough, 26 percent confessed they lied on at least one or two questions on the survey.
But, do they know that these behaviors are wrong? Believe it or not, 93 percent said they were satisfied with their personal ethics and character and 77 percent said that when it comes to doing what is right, I am better than most people I know.
So…what do you make out of these figures?
1 – We have de-emphasized the expectation of telling the truth. 1st Timothy 4:2 (NKJV), says that in the last days people will be deceived, and they will speak, “lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron…” So while many of us were brought up with the belief that telling the truth is morally correct and the “right thing to do”, the next generation is clearly not getting the message. And, young people who are taught to tell the truth, lacking good positive examples in their fellow students, may encounter pressure to succumb to the strong wave that would lead a student away from being totally honest.
2 – Shades of gray are trumping black and white. A bit of fudging on an expense account…a denial of responsibility for an error…shifting the blame to someone who was not involved in a certain situation. These are examples of the way that we shade the truth for our own personal gain. Sometimes we think no one will ever find out, and maybe even periodically enjoy the thrill of being one step ahead or beating the system. But true character is how we behave when no one is looking, and for the Christian, we know that God sees, and our attempts to hide questionable actions are not acceptable in the sight of God.
3 – Integrity is not measured by degrees. You don’t champion personal integrity by just simply being better than the next person. Our integrity is measured by the plumb line of Scripture, and truth is truth in all circumstances. So we can’t delight in exceeding another’s level of deception, because even the slightest amount of impropriety does not meet God’s standard.
4 – We have become conditioned to cheat. Bend the rules a little here, be careless with the facts a little there, and before you know it, we become desensitized to what is right and what is wrong. Sharpening our discernment skills requires study and meditation of the Scriptures, so that we can earn the trust of others.
The world is becoming more and more “gray”, challenging Christians to follow God’s call of proclaiming and living in a “black and white” way.

That's the story from "Journey"...following the release of that Josephson Institute study, I had a chance to talk with Larry Fowler, Executive Director of Global Training for Awana, and author of the book, "Raising a Modern-Day Joseph: A Timeless Strategy for Growing Great Kids". He brought some good thoughts about the responsibility of Christian parents to train their children, and here's a portion of that conversation.


The Awana website is found at www.awana.org.