Confusing Transparency and Integrity

Transparency is highly valued. People hate hypocrisy. They despise people being phony. They would rather known what someone or something is really all about than something being presented falsely. But there is a difference between transparency and integrity. The two should never be confused. Transparency is seeing something for what it really is. If it is junk, it appears to be junk. If it is valuable that shows up as well. Integrity is impossible without transparency but not the other way around. It is entirely possible to be transparent about your lack of integrity. That is called audacity.

Because transparency is so highly valued some Christians have fallen into the trap of thinking evil can be alright as long as they are being honest with themselves and others about it. This is confessional complacency at its best and it results in transparency being a rationalization for sin rather than a means to integrity. The race away from hypocrisy has led many to integrityless transparency rather than using our shortcomings to help our faith and integrity grow.

It is important that we are people of integrity. One of the first steps toward getting there is transparency, that we are real with ourselves and others about our shortcomings. For integrity to grow from there it is going to take more than a complacent acknowledgment of problems. We have to let that knowledge and experience refine our lives into a more holy existence. That can only be done in partnership with God and a community of faith.

Erwin McManus on Integrity and Authenticity

Erwin McManus shares some thought provoking thoughts on character, integrity, and authenticity that we all should digest in his book Stand Against the Wind: Fuel for the Revolution of Your Soul. You can purchase this book for a couple bucks and it is well worth it. This quote speaks as much to the culture of our day than anything I have read in a long time. The dangers to Christians and their faith are monumental as we hear more and more people who think sin is alright as long as you are upfront about it. I can’t help but think this is the backlash of people who don’t want to be hypocritical and so they put their sin out front and center. This grows into a justification for sin…as long as I am authentic about what I have done then my integrity can suffer. Here is the quote:

“You can’t say two different things at the same time and expect to be trusted. A person of integrity cannot say one thing and do another.

Integrity is the context from which courage is formed. Integrity, like wholeness, is a byproduct of our spiritual integration. ‘Integrity’ comes from the root word ‘integer,’ which means to be complete, indivisible – in other words, to be whole.

In our culture we have put an increasing value on authenticity and a decreasing focus on integrity. We have disdain for the pretentious and we long for anything that is real. But we mustn’t romanticize authenticity. When calling for authenticity, we need to take seriously the brokenness of the human heart. If we’re not careful, authentic can be the new word for arrogance. As long as you’re true to yourself how can anyone fault you, right? Authenticity can establish a self-righteousness that justifies abuse.

If we are committed to being the genuine article, first we’d better look closely as what we’re made of. Authenticity without integrity is lethal.”

10 Dangers of Authenticity

There is a great desire today for people to be real. People want to be told like it is…no hypocrisy, no glossing over and certainly no “holier than thou” approaches. What we have seen has been refreshing for the most part – a real desire for authenticity among Christian leaders, teachers, and preachers. This is a good thing for the most part. It is good to realize that we are all sinners. It is good to realize that we don’t try to put ourselves above people who have problems when, in fact, our problems may be worse than those we try to “one up” spiritually speaking. But authenticity can have some drawbacks and pitfalls. Here are ten to consider:

  1. The first is the danger of the illusion of transparency. We let people in on bits and pieces that are convenient to say at the time. We confess certain things, while other things we hold tight to our chest. All the while, we tout our authenticity but we still have our secrets that we wouldn’t dare let someone else in on!
  2. The danger of authenticity for the sake of expediency. This is where authenticity is used as a means to an end. We aren’t authentic to be authentic. We are authentic in order to accomplish an alternative agenda (to appear to be a better speaker, teacher, preacher or just to get someone else to open up about their own lives quicker). Authenticity becomes a tool rather than a quality.
  3. To be cool. Believe it or not, some people preach about their faults in order to sound cool. They want young people to know they can relate and connect. Ironically, authenticity itself can become a facade.
  4. The easy way out – we get in an accountability discussion and instead of really being authentic, we pick one of those “little sins” to confess to the group. People give us praise for being willing to share something like that…but if only they knew what we weren’t telling them! The more compliments we get, the more we might actually believe we are genuinely authentic.
  5. Authenticity to elicit compliments. Here we aren’t so concerned about being real as we are about getting praise from others.
  6. Authenticity for the sake of shock value. You don’t see this one as much although it does exist. This can be used to make the point “see how far I have come” or it can just be an attention grabber. Either way, if the focus is on self rather than God working in you then it becomes pointless.
  7. To think authenticity can happen in a room with between 15 and 1000 people in it. It just can’t. In churches we have to provide more means for people to meet together in smaller groups and away from the church building.
  8. To think authenticity is not important. You know how it goes…you ask someone how they are doing, they answer you honestly, and you wish you never had asked!
  9. Thinking honesty about sin might make a weak brother more likely to stumble. There is a fear among some that if you start getting honest about sin in our lives that it might make more people stumble if they knew we did this or that ourselves. We do have to be honest about our shortcomings and honest about just how devastating the effects are in our relationship with God. We can never make sin seem appealing, acceptable, or beneficial.
  10. To think it is okay to do as long as you are honest about it. This one is a real biggie. You see this all the time…someone does something heinous and their rationale was “at least I was honest about it.” As if that makes it alright! Authenticity does not mean something loses its shame or is no longer destructive. In fact, I believe sin can be even more destructive once we fool ourselves into thinking its not.

What would you add?

Authenticity Revisited

Fill in the blanks with your best guess in this passage from Ezekiel 21:2-3:

“Son of man, set your face against ____________ and preach against the _________. Prophesy against the land of ______ and say to her: ‘This is what the Lord says: I am against you…”

You might expect the blanks to be filled with nations like Babylon, Assyria, Moab, or Egypt because those are the nations that we typically think about God being against in scripture because of their oppression of God’s people and of the innocent. But that is not what these verses in Ezekiel say. Here is what they say, “Son of man, set your face against Jerusalem and preach against the sanctuary. Prophesy against the land of Israel and say to her: ‘This is what the LORD says: I am against you. I will draw my sword from its scabbard and cut off from you both the righteous and the wicked.” It is not just the nations that can be unjust and unrighteous. Sometimes we see in scripture and even today that God’s people turn to wickedness, oppression of the innocent, and disobedience.

I don’t typically do negative posts about church or Christians as a whole because I think there is enough of that to go around without me piling on. I also think it is normally more beneficial to offer a positive voice to the online conversation that brings encouragement rather than bringing discouragement. At the same time we cannot always paint a smile on our faces and overlook things that should instead bring tears to our eyes. So my question is, what have we seen the modern church at large, ministers, individual Christians, etc do in our day that migh evoke a similar response to God as the rebellion in Ezekiel’s day brought about righteous judgment from God? Now that you have thought about all of those guys who are making Christianity a mockery and giving God a bad name, ask yourself this question – “In what way or ways have I ever played a role in the things I just listed?” How you answer the second question plays a key role in how honest and authentic we are being with ourselves.

Abusing Authenticity

There is little doubt that authenticity appeals to people. We don’t see as much of the people who speak from on high delivering holy decree after holy decree as if the messenger was half as holy as the words he spoke. One of the reasons authors like Donald Miller are so popular is that there is a sense of transparency as you read a book like Blue Like Jazz. What results is refreshing and drawing even if you don’t agree with everything be written at least you know it is honest. Authenticity is a must in the church but let’s not fool ourselves into think that authenticity cannot be abused.

There are a few dangers that come, not from authenticity itself, but from how someone approaches just how authentic they are and why they chose to be so. Authenticity can lead us into telling a story that should be about how God forgave us for something but the focus ends up being on self instead. So someone tells the story of a place in their life where they compromised their values and fell into sin. Instead of telling the story of reconciliation that came through God’s grace in dealing with the situation the story with the authenticity spin becomes more like – “See, I have done far more and far worse things than you ever thought.” The main story, the God-centered one, gets pushed behind the curtain and the self-centered one…the one that says “have a look at me and see how far I have come,” makes its way to center stage. What results can quickly turn into flaunting sin and a message of go ahead and sin as long as you are honest with yourself and others about it. Just don’t be a hypocrite and everything will be fine. Because authenticity connects so well with audiences there can be a real temptation to make decisions that will allow someone to relate to the world just that much more.

In Paul’s letter to the Romans there is a verse that follows two of the most famous (and most blogged) verses in the New Testament – “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.” – Rom 12:3

Bottom line – we have to be authentic. We cannot see ourselves as “holier than thou” but we also have to remember that we are not the star of the show and that sin does not elevate us or add to our resume. I think the missing ingredient in all of this is shame. It is hard to be arrogantly authentic when we are actually ashamed for having to say what we have done in a true tone of confession rather than a foolish display of self aggrandizement.

Can You Script Authentic?

I have been previewing curriculum, video series, and small group materials for some upcoming quarters and I have noticed a common thread in most of the videos I have seen. There is a move that has taken place from talking at the viewer to talking to the viewer. Two of the presenters I have seen in past weeks are Rob Bell in his Nooma videos and Erwin McManus in some BlueFish TV small group videos. This move toward a conversational approach to preaching and teaching is wonderful. I think it is necessary. I think it is the voice that is going to reach the generation of tomorrow.

When you watch Rob Bell and Erwin McManus I get the feeling that I am watching the same person only one a little older and who talks a little faster than the other. They both have the same cadence, the same pauses, the same looking down or away, the same inflections. I am sure these video series are somewhat scripted and yet there is an attempt to make it seem like the speaker is searching for words or the next thought. I feel torn because I don’t want someone who is dry or reading from a sheet of paper. I like thoughtful. I like creative. I like authentic. I am making some assumptions when I ask what I am about to ask but I really need to know how you feel about this. As someone who typically preaches from detailed notes I want to hear from you. Here are my two questions,

1 – Can or does it still come across as authentic if it is scripted to appear authentic?

2 – Can a preacher working from a detailed outline still come across as authentic and genuine?

I have my own opinions on the answers to those two questions but I am really curious what you think about it. Any thoughts?

John Alan Turner on Authenticity

It doesn’t get much more authentic than Adam and Eve naked in the garden. What can we learn from that? See his post to find out. Also keep them in your prayers as his family deals with a loss.