Good preaching engages both the Word and the world. It is about being faithful to a content, but also to a context. In our Langham training I like to develop this in an interactive way. Participants reflect on the big issues in personal/family life, local church life - and then life in their wider society. When we reach that last one, without exception - throughout Asia, in every single country - the C-word will be on the tip of tongues, waiting to be expressed...

Again I say, corruption.
Again and again I say it, corruption.

Transparency International is at the forefront of the fight against corruption around the world. While it is a fun website to navigate, the message is sobering. Their annual Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) attracts increasing amounts of global attention. It is a 'perceptions' index, ranking countries 'based on how corrupt their public sector is perceived to be'. It does throw up some anomalies. For example, people I know would be aghast at how 'clean' countries like Rwanda (score-53; 50th), Malaysia (score-49; 54th) and Sri Lanka (score-40; 79th) are perceived to be. I guess it suggests the ability of leaders to deceive onlookers (which only deepens the corruption)!

With the CPI 176 countries are given a score out of 100 - where 0 is 'highly corrupt' and 100 is 'very clean'. 123 countries (two-thirds of the nations listed) have a score lower than 50 which translates into them having a 'serious corruption problem'. I visit regularly the countries ranked 79, 80, 88, 94, 105, 118, 139, 157, and 172 - each one having a 'serious corruption problem'. But here is the sting in the tale. I live in New Zealand which over the last five years has been ranked:
1st= (2012)
1st (2011)
1st= (2010)
1st (2009)
1st= (2008)
This does not mean that NZ is corruption-free, but just that its public sector is consistently perceived to be the least corrupt in the world.

For the sake of the people struggling within highly corrupt societies, please take time to browse the site. Start with the 2-minute introductory video (below). Check out the Index for 2012. There is a helpful glossary on the key words. There is a facebook page to 'like'. It is possible to sign-up for a 'daily corruption news'. There is a collection of true stories. The 6 minute message from the chairperson, given at the release of the 2012 Corruptions Perception Index, is interesting.

In a previous post, I reflected on some implications of living in NZ, but working in Asia - and the conversation it sets off in my head and heart. This topic of corruption is so similar. Here are some of the realities and ironies of what I see and hear...

five realities
Corruption thrives in settings where there is 'conflict and poverty'. This is why those living in settings of relative peace and greater wealth struggle to understand corruption - but struggle we must.

People from 'clean' countries who travel in countries with 'a serious corruption problem' need to be more patient and live more at the pace of the elephant, the camel, and the buffalo! The issues are complex. Show a solidarity (and an admiration) that lifts up the oppressed. Work through groups like Transparency International to bring down the oppressor.

In corrupt societies a helplessness and a hopelessness keeps people stuck in their place. Snookered. They have so few choices. There is so little they can change. In listening to discussions on corruption, I've been surprised how often it can lead to a chuckling, almost giggly, laughter. It appears to me to be part of a coping mechanism.

Never, ever underestimate the disproportionate number of Christians among those who suffer most from corruption. The media will never tell us this. But these people are my brothers and sisters in the Lord - every bit as much as those with whom I enjoy the Sunday singalong. And never ever underestimate the dent that the best Christian missionaries are making in this corruption. Maybe indirectly. Maybe not as sexy as Amnesty International. And usually far from the headlines, by necessity. Support them. Cherish them.

I grew up with my father's words ringing in my ears, 'I want you to be a man of integrity'. With God's help, I am trying. For us, 'integrity' is a word that has us make a beeline for our inner worlds and the secrets we'd rather others not know. For people in corrupt societies, the inner challenge is still there, but it is so much harder because there is this outer challenge where they become like fish swimming in corruption. It can be the only reality they know.

five ironies
In NZ 'CPI' refers to a Consumer Price Index, rather than a Corruption Perceptions Index. It identifies this little obsession we have with microscopic changes in the cost of living, quarter by quarter. And as we fuss about our tax rates, corruption elsewhere is like a 'dirty tax' that makes the cost of living far too high for far too many people in far more ways than mere finances, decade by decade.

In our churches we love to teach from the Gospels, the book of Acts, the Epistles - and maybe the odd Psalm here and there. Last week I taught a Master's course (on preaching) and I prioritised two biblical genre - Old Testament prophecy and New Testament apocalyptic. I wonder why?! We need to develop a full biblical theology of corruption that journeys its way all the way through the biblical story - and then on into these corruption stories.

When I was younger, the implication of the Fall was all about the exceeding sinfulness of sin, personal sin. The epicenter of evil is the individual human heart. I still believe it. I still feel it. But as I've grown older I have discovered that there is more to see. There is an evil 'out there' alongside the sin 'in here'. Cancer. Tsunamis. Dictators. Earthquakes. Depression. Evil enters the equation. And since I've started with Langham? Sin. Evil. And now - corruption. Yes. Systemic, endemic corruption is its own sinister cancer in country after country.

NZers like to go on about being 'godzone'. I guess the CPI (x2!) provides some evidence for this. However you still won't catch me minimising the corruption issues here in NZ - but please, please relativise them. Don't take them from your heart - just grow a bigger heart that carries some of the weightier matters facing 'God's own' around the world.

The environmental crisis is occupying the public domain - finally. The best minds, the deepest hearts and the most skilled hands are applying themselves to the challenge. Global corruption needs a similar priority. I am grateful to google for readily revealing 8 TED talks on corruption. I suspect that they will be my next port-of-call. But I also expect that some readers who have got this far with this blog may well need to change the direction and focus of their lives. That is my prayer and that is why I write.

nice chatting



binksie said…
Thanks Paul - great insight and comment. Gateway News in South Africa has on article on Unashamedly Ethical,

Great to see this taking place.
gerard peter said…
Thanks Paul - In Sri Lanka we have to start activity against corruption in our local church level.

Gerard Peter
Paul said…
Thanks, Binksie - interesting article.

And yes, Gerard, I hear what you are saying. Just as there is a corruption in our own hearts that needs addressing, there can also be a corruption within the people of God. This needs to be a point of difference with the world, if we are to get anywhere at all. Very, very difficult. May God strengthen you for such a life!

stu houghton said…
Hi Paul, Check out the metaphors of corruption article at BBC News. Maybe you will discover some new metaphors in your travels.

Greetings to Barby,
Stuart Houghton

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