Working with a contractor for the U.S. government, professional ethics are an essential part of every action we take. Both government employees and their contractors are regularly trained in what constitutes a violation of ethics. Specific rules are in place, and those rules are not to be violated. As a contractor, I am not allowed to bring in free doughnuts, free coffee, or provide a meal. Government employees are to always pay their own way. The system actually works quite well. Although we occasionally read in the news of a corrupt government official and contractor, the news is actually very rare. Overall, the system of ethics works very well, and is essential to the functioning of a large taxpayer funded bureaucracy.
For some reason I do not understand, Christians are very bad at ethics. Just a few examples
– At one time, it was considered unethical for a pastor to leave a church and start another church in the same community. Yet, in my town it happens routinely.
– Pastors routinely provide private counsel and confession for individuals, then place those same individuals in key places of financial and committee leadership within the church.
– Pastors have a key financial interest in seeing their congregations numbers increase, tempting them with money to change the historical message of the gospel
– I have seen more than one pastor try to get the bookkeeper to play “shuffle games” with bookkeeping accounts to try to overcome cash flow problems
– I have seen many Christians try to use the church checking account to get a tax deduction for a designated gift to an individual. This practice is extremely widespread, yet clearly against IRS regulations. I know of no case of the IRS prosecuting it, yet it is still clearly against the law.
The non-denominational churches have the biggest of problems with this violation of ethics. Since a pastor does not have any safety net if he loses his job, the financial stability of his family is dependent on getting the numbers up. Consciously, or unconsciously, his decisions are based on the needs of his family.
I often wonder why those who profess the Christian faith not only violate ethics, but turn a blind eye to those who do. For example, Dave Ramsey’s not only sells high price products using churches as marketers, he also widely provides product endorsement (http://www.daveramsey.com/recommends/dave-recommends). For a financial adviser to endorse a product is widely considered unethical, yet no one seems to hold him accountable, and churches continue to provide free marketing for his high price products. Through this free marketing and his unethical product endorsements, churches have made Ramsey an exceedingly rich man.
Both seminaries and churches have completely abandoned the teaching of ethics. The assumption of the pastor in the role as CEO of the church corporation has made this problem exceedingly worse, breaking down centuries of ethical barriers. Both in pastor training, and in church training, the issue of ethics sorely needs to be addressed.