INTEGRITY IN SCHOLARSHIP
Spirituality can be interpreted very widely, and refer to:
First, it is understood as any kind of positive mental self-talk, such as is common within the counseling industry; second, it is viewed as a kind of pietism that is divorced from everyday life; the kind that does not want to engage with what is happening in the outside world; and third, there is the reformed understanding of spirituality which is something that is earthed in a particular way of living everyday life. Reformed spirituality is how we live our lives. This is its link with integrity.
What do we mean by ‘integrity’?
Honesty & wholeness in approach to life and work.
Truthfulness in all you do, irrespective of circumstances.
Being reliable and trustworthy in what you do – this is guaranteed only by what you are!
Attitude of respect – to the data you’re working with, and to other authors. If you disagree with them, fine; just say so, and give reasons. But do not put a ‘spin’ on their work in order to arrive at a predetermined result.
Integrity is about respecting other people and their efforts. E.g, when the big petrochemical companies fund research into its effects on the environment, they will ensure that only those data are used that support their stated policies and presuppositions. Or, when Pharmaceutical companies commission research into the effects of the drugs they are developing, they will come up with appropriate findings for them, findings that endorse their new product. Sadly, this modus operandi is not confined to the multinationals – you will find the same modus operandi being employed in theological research and activity. When some theologians undertake theological and/or historical research, they tend to agree beforehand what they want the results to be, and then go looking for data to support their presuppositions and agenda.
Doing your work to the best of your ability – not in a slovenly way, but carefully and accurately.
Dealing fairly with material, resources, data – to illustrate this, let me tell you of a young former colleague of mine, in his undergraduate days, was conducting a scientific experiment. His supervisor told him to ignore any data that do not accord with what you expect the result to be. Or again, I have just completed a review of a school textbook for GCSE History and which dealt with the Struggle for Peace in Northern Ireland. This book plays fast and loose with well-documented historical data. There is a clear republican agenda throughout this textbook, demonstrated by the choice of data that was used and the use to which this was put, a practice wholly unworthy of an academic historian. Data being skewed to say what researchers or their academic supervisors or their funders or the people who commission the research want to prove is not just unworthy, but is wholly unacceptable. Such a practice is agenda-driven, not data-driven. BUT, and sadly, this also happens wholescale within reformed evangelicalism. Theologians all too often fly in the face of the facts, data. Their attitude? Why allow the facts to get in the way of a good story! Integrity is about reading material with an attitude of ‘judgment day honesty.’ Especially is this the case when dealing with the Scriptures.
Integrity is also about dealing fairly with the authors of those resources. Character or idea assassination is most serious, because it is bearing false witness against your neighbour, Ex.20:16 . It is law-breaking.
Integrity demands that we to not mis-represent what others have done or written just to make a point – point here is about accurate ethics!
Why be bothered by this subject? Because of the absence of genuine integrity within academic circles. This surprised me, thinking, as I did, that academia, at least, was an honest broker. It is not! A friend of mine who lectured in one of our universities was told not to write as he did about terrorism in NI, because his big boss did not want to jeopardize getting his knighthood! He got the knighthood, and my friend had to leave his post! Integrity?
In my recent research into reconciliation, I was told that if I wanted to get a good mark, I’d be advised to change the content of my submissions so that it would please my external examiner! I refused, had a rather hot argument with my lecturer, continued to refuse after being ‘threatened,’ and received my highest mark of all my work. The piece was on the Atonement. God said, “Those who honour Me, I will honour.”
These principles of truth and honesty are recognized as fundamental to any community of scholars, teachers and learners. Researchers, and their supervisors and assessors, must encourage adherence to the principles of truth and honesty, because many supervisors appear to be agenda-driven.
Integrity of scholarship is essential for an academic community, but more so for the Christian church. The theory is that Universities expect that both faculty and students will honour these principles and in so doing protect the validity of University intellectual work.
To help clarify the issue further, let me draw your attention to the opposite of integrity:
It is having a divided mind, or the absence of wholeness. Such a man is “unstable in all his ways.”
Deceitfulness – having the same characteristic as sin. The Bible talks about ‘sin’s deceitfulness.’
Fraudulence – we have the serious fraud office (SFO) within government; perhaps we need something similar within the church. This is about mis-appropriating what God has revealed in His word, and using it for an altogether different purpose to the one He had intended. It is about devaluing truth.
Lying – being false in what you say about other people, and in how you interpret their words. It is about the deliberate mis-representation of the views and/or words of others, and of their character!
Corruption – to corrupt something is to alter its original form into something completely different. To change the meaning of what someone has written into something that is more pleasing to the writer, is to corrupt that person’s words! E.g, to say that in Jn.3:16, when John talked about God loving the world, it is to corrupt this text to make it say that it means that God loved the world of the elect! If John has intended to say that, he would have done so! He was an intelligent man! It is also to impugn his character as the apostle of Christ – a serious sin to commit. Or, because God says He hates “the workers of iniquity,” that in no way implies that he does not show love to all men! If He did not, no one would be saved! This is to put a ‘spin’ on to God’s precious truth, and change its essential nature. And that is corruption.
Treachery – is about betrayal. To betray someone is to be disloyal to them, unfaithful. Very painful experience! I’ve had this in the church, and many who followed Ian Paisley feel enormously betrayed by him in NI. Remember, you can only be betrayed by those you trusted! Betrayal is an attack on faith and trust.
Duplicity – consider the way politics operates in the UK, especially in NI where DUPlicity is reaping its rewards even as I speak. They might think they’ll get away with it, but not; come back to bite them!
Cheating – is to act or work in an unethical manner. It is to be immoral in the truest sense of that word, and is a very low form of behaviour, which causes enormous hurt, and smashes trust, which is the glue that gives society its cohesion.
At the end of the day, integrity – at all levels - is a deeply personal characteristic, and one that has to do, not with our relationship with men primarily, but with our relationship with God. It’s about doing our work as under the watchful eye of our heavenly Father. I referred earlier to ‘judgment day honesty;’ integrity is about living our lives with an eye on that great and terrible day of the Lord, when all the books will be opened, and God’s gracious rewards given out. Integrity is about living to please God in all things, however imperfectly we might do that. In Christian work, it is about not just acknowledging Scripture as our highest authority, but demonstrating this principle in our life and work. It’s about keeping our eye on the ball continually, and remaining focused on pleasing Christ at all times.
We are called to live and act with integrity as Christian believers, and the challenge for us today is to make sure that we present our work, not just to men, but to God, with a clear and good conscience.
Temptations will come, pressures will be applied to us, enticements will be held out to us; but our Christian duty and Christian privilege is to put Christ and His word first in our lives, and not be seduced by such plaudits.
As I close, let me say this to those who might be considering post-graduate study; if you do not have a reliable external mentor, do not undertake such study until you have many years of life-experience behind you. Why? Because if you do this without trustworthy external support and life-experience, the temptation will be to get your Master’s or Doctorate at any cost, and capitulate to the academic whims of your supervisor. Only undertake such study if you have the support structures in place that are external to the institution in which you are studying.
In academic work, integrity is everything. Compromise on this, and you will never be able to claim more than partial integrity, whatever that monstrosity might be! You serve Christ, you love Christ; He loves you and died for you. Yes, you will make mistakes and you will fail and fall; but don’t knowingly betray your Saviour for anything! For “he who honours Me, I will honour,” says our LORD. None of us can afford to be less than this! And God will be pleased with us, and our work.