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We need to be a people of integrity

Guest post continued by the Rev. Dr. Charles Kniker

How counter this description of integrity is to both ancient and modern ‘common wisdom’. Yes, there are some famous lines from world literature that one should always be true to oneself. Remember the famous quote from Hamlet, “To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou cans’t not then be false to any man.” Ironically, the character mouthing those words was a crafty soul who bent the truth to suit his selfish purposes. Today, we hear that we have to be Number One; that we have to watch out for ourselves, and forget others.

So if we are to be individuals or communities of faith, we must recognize that we are swimming against the current of rationalization. We are to have integrity, we will act upon what we believe is right and wrong. Just like the whistle blowers, who may get into trouble, to what extent are we willing to get involved?

Having integrity also means, you recall, speaking out, explaining why we believe some things are right. Carter ends his book with a section on evil. He says that there is nothing else to call it. There is evil in the world – such as the evil of genocide. He also talks about the evil that comes when minds are closed.

A more recent book I would recommend is Parker Palmer’s A Hidden Wholeness (2004). The subtitle speaks of living an undivided life. Isn’t that what integrity is? So many of us live a life of stereotypes – putting on the faces that others expect of us, but deep inside, we have conflicts. I can’t pretend to know the significant ethical decisions you must face each day at work and at home. I don’t know you well enough, individually, to know what inner strengths you have. Church folk like to speak of such virtues as faith, hope, love, trust and generosity. But we don’t often use the word integrity. I believe we need to emphasize it more.

We should live our lives so that they make a difference
The key is that, from the perspective of integrity, we have to ask how concerned we are for each other and our neighbors. Let our self-interest give way to interest in others.


The Rev. Dr. Charles Kniker graduated from Eden Theological Seminary near St. Louis and was ordained in 1962. Following ministry in several churches and completion of his doctorate, he taught at Iowa State University for 24 years. He served as president of Eden Seminary from 1993-1995. In 2002 Charles retired from his position as Associate Director of Academic Affairs for the Board of Regents, State of Iowa.

I am honored to count Charles as a friend. When he heard I wrote about civility, he offered sermons he had delivered on integrity and civility. This integrity post is excerpted from a sermon he delivered in fall 1996 at Faith United Church of Christ in Bryan, Texas, with some revisions he made for this guest post. His thoughts on civility will run the week of Dec. 9.