Christian Worldview

A Crisis of Character

Harvard Business School recently invited me to give a lecture on ethics. It was a very liberal gesture on their part, in view of the fact that I had written a number of articles that Harvard might consider quite impertinent. In them I had argued that it's impossible to teach ethics at Harvard.   But I accepted the invitation. And, because this subject is so critical, over the next two weeks I'll will be sharing with you some of the things I told those students at Harvard.   The faculty at Harvard University is concerned about a decline of ethics in the professional world. And rightly so.   Just look at a few of the scandals that have hit the front pages over the past years: Wall Street insider deals that shook the nation's financial markets; the Savings and Loans fiasco, with executives squandering depositors' money on high-flying deals and then leaving taxpayers to pick up the bill; the scandal at the Housing and Urban Development, where political wheeler dealers ripped off government funds earmarked for the poor; the Keating Five and other senators called before the ethics panel; Congressman Barney Frank, whose homosexual lover ran a gay prostitution service; the former mayor of Washington, D.C., videotaped using cocaine.   Just last year the Department of Justice announced that it had convicted 1150 public officials, the highest number in history. The Justice Department boasted about it. I find it tragic.   Even academia is infected. A Georgetown University professor filed a fraudulent application for a federal grant. The president of prestigious Stanford University used federal grant money on personal expenses, including seven thousand dollars for customized bed linens.   And among athletes, role models for millions of kids, it's the same story. Baseball legend Pete Rose, addicted to gambling. Boxer Sugar Ray Leonard, addicted to drugs. Third baseman Wayne Boggs, addicted, in his words, to sex.   And street crime is on the increase. America has more of its population in prison than any other nation. When Prison Fellowship began fifteen years ago, the United States was number 3 in the world in the rate of incarceration, trailing only the Soviet Union and South Africa. Today we are number 1.   What about religious leaders? Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart were just the most notorious examples of those who have violated the most sacred trust of all: to speak for God and to serve people in spiritual need.   Why this massive breakdown in ethical standards?   Is it simply a matter of isolated individuals slipping up? Or does the infection of just about every institution in our society indicate a widespread and dangerous trend?   What we are witnessing is a general pattern in American life. When Harvard University asked me to lecture on ethics, the suggested topic was "Why Good People Do Bad Things." I told Harvard that a better topic would be "Why Bad People Do Good Things." Our ethical crisis today is not a matter of some good people making mistakes. It's an illustration of the Christian truth that human nature is corrupted--and that when people lose something bigger than themselves to guide their behavior, society has no restraints to keep evil in check.   Sin becomes epidemic.   In this series on ethics, I'll be explaining how we got into the mess we're in--and how we can get out.   Oh, and also, why Harvard can't teach ethics. This is the first in an 11-part series on Christian Ethics  


Chuck Colson



  • Facebook Icon in Gold
  • Twitter Icon in Gold
  • LinkedIn Icon in Gold

Sign up for the Daily Commentary