PSR alum calls for Christians to "make corruption history"

November 23, 2009

Daryl Balia, who earned his certificate of advanced professional studies from PSR in 1988, wrote Make Corruption History not only from a theoretical and theological perspective but also from one grounded in experience. The South African worked within Nelson Mandela’s government promoting national ethics, transparency, and integrity for seven years before writing his recently published book. He sees the problem of corruption—so often viewed as a secular breakdown of rule of law—as one that faith communities are especially positioned to combat.

“It's not a foregone conclusion that religion will have an impact on corrupt behavior, but it's worth a try as churches have not attempted it before,” Balia says. “Case studies and international best practices have shown that moral education can play a vital role in social transformation and in reducing corruption, and churches are uniquely placed to engage in such ‘soulcraft.’”

Balia sees corruption not as a white collar, victimless crime, but as a pervasive force behind many other social ills. After all, he explains, corruption fuels poverty and violates human rights—wrongs many religious communities already oppose. Balia says that through education, political involvement, and public demonstration, people of faith can make a difference where governments often fail.

“Now is an appropriate time for Christians to revisit their own role in helping to prevent or promote corrupt practices,” he says. “It's amazing how inquiring about accountability and transparency in our public institutions and among our public officials inevitably raises the bar about our observance of those very values in our sacred institutions.”

Below is an excerpt from Make Corruption History (SPCK Publishing, 2009), reprinted here with permission from the publisher.

 

The recognition by the Vatican in 2007 that only in the last 15 years has awareness of corruption grown at the international level is welcome but also disturbing. With this has come ‘the growing awareness of the need to fight it,’ and such a bold assertion offers hope that churches may become more responsive in the future to the anticorruption struggle being waged around the world. The lack of a solid research base among Christian academics about the potential role of churches in combating and preventing corruption is clearly something that requires attention if we wish to supplement our growing awareness. Corruption anywhere in the world cannot be willed or wished away, not least by Christians or any faith community. This is not to suggest that the power of prayer has no relevance to the struggle; meditative recollection, demonstrated in public, of a pervasive and debilitating practice common among all cultures is itself a way of raising awareness. Prayer vigils held to focus attention on the corrupt conduct of political leaders like Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, who remain in office despite electoral defeat, are an effective way to unite spiritually and act collectively. If any impact is to be made by people of faith working with others, however, Christians will have to seriously think about growing their awareness of the changing nature of how corruption is manifested in society and what responses might best work. The first task is not to develop a specifically Christian contribution to a common struggle, which is what fighting corruption is, as for the sake of efficacy we have to work together with civil society organizations (like Transparency International) who have already distinguished themselves on the global stage. To join a struggle presupposes that we have adequate information about it at our disposal, and from a Christian theological perspective, this is unfortunately not the case.

Of course, it must be a cause for celebration that religion has been put back into the public square and that those who wear its badge cannot any longer watch from the sidelines. The point of this book, the like of which is unlikely to have been written two decades ago when the word corruption was used only with restraint, is that Christian faith has serious practical implications for the reform of society. Christians, by engaging or immersing themselves in a struggle against corruption, will by implication be rejecting a political doctrine that excludes religion from the conduct of public affairs. The public square has been and continues to be quite ‘naked,’ bereft of faith-based initiatives which give voice with moral authority to the need for greater transparency and accountability from our leaders. Ours is a time for the ‘deprivatization’ of religion, where civic life can once again recapture its vocal verve by setting the public agenda, lest the public have it made up by the media’s flashy tabloids or ‘spun’ by vote-seeking politicians. Amid the ‘noise of solemn assemblies’ about their own decline, it might appear far-fetched to imagine churches being involved with other formations, let alone being in the forefront of a global struggle which has to compete with other legitimate, sometimes more urgent, campaigns and civil society initiatives. It is possible that our fatalistic or inert disposition to the disease we call corruption was in the past nurtured mostly by our lack of knowledge of it, partly by our limited capacity to work towards its elimination, and in some cases by our own complicity, or simply because it was the way things got done or was the way of life as we saw it. That time is now thankfully past.