Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

Integrity (Ch. 12 in SWK manual)

Posted by Robert C. on June 13, 2007

(In response to Karen’s request in the previous thread for more MP/RS lesson posts, and in order to motivate myself to read the lesson before Sunday, here are some of my thoughts on Lesson 12. Apologies if your ward has already covered this lesson—I think our ward is in good company in planning to cover this lesson this Sunday, based on GospeLink which has Chapters 11 and 12 on their homepage. The lesson can be found online here.)

Pres. Kimball defines integrity as “the willingness and ability to live by our beliefs and commitments.” The main scriptural examples of integrity given are Peter’s declaration “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29), and the examples of Daniel and Shadrack, Meshack, and Abednego who “defied men and rulers, to be true to themselves and to keep faith with their faith.” I’m struck by this idea of integrity in terms of doing something against what we economists frequently refer to as “rational self-interest.”

I just started reading John D. Caputo’s On Religion, and he begins with a discussion of what a religious person is. In answering this question, he talks about love as being that which goes beyond rational self-interest. An example he gives of what I will call “economic love” is a woman who divorces a man because he doesn’t end up earning the salary she was hoping for or expecting. Real love, which a religious person must possess, acts without ulterior motives. (The problem is that we are promised a reward for obeying God, and although this reward can be a good motivator for us to do what is right, I think it can also serve as a distraction toward our obtaining real love, leaving us with only an economic love of God—BrianJ and Jim F. have both posted on this topic somewhat recently, links can be found here.)

There’s an entire section in the lesson entitled “We show integrity by keeping our covenants with honor.” The covenants that we make at baptism and in the temple seem to be geared toward helping us become religious in this sense of overcoming our own rational self-interest. With these covenants, we promise to act in certain ways that may be very inconvenient, as the examples in the Book of Daniel show. Covenants, then, seem to be a means by which we are to rise above a quid pro quo mentality—to honor our covenants and develop integrity, is to become a servant, to think and act in a way that transcends our own selfish interests.

SWK says, “No society can be healthy without honesty, trust, and self-restraint.” Elsewhere he says, “Integrity is a state or quality of being complete, undivided, or unbroken. It is wholeness unimpaired.” The implication, then, seems to be that integrity is necessary for health and wholeness at both the individual and the societal level.

Well, those are some of the thoughts I had while reading the lesson. What are your thoughts about the lesson, and thoughts about my thoughts?

16 Responses to “Integrity (Ch. 12 in SWK manual)”

  1. Cherylem said

    Thanks for starting this thread, Robert. I think your thoughts about overcoming self-interest are right-on.

    The question with the RS/PR lessons generally is how to make them come alive for the people in the classes. In our RS (which I don’t teach), I believe ALL the women are trying to live with integrity already. So what new can be said, in the context of the lesson provided? What can make that hour’s instruction worthwhile?

    For myself, I think a moment’s respite from everyday life even thinking about integrity would be very profitable, plus I think helping the women (including myself) recognize that they do possess this very important trait, and that this is a tremendous strength to them would be meaningful.

    Plus of course integrity is one of the young women’s values: “I will have the moral courage to make my actions consistent with my knowledge of right and wrong.”

  2. robf said

    I think having “the moral courage to make my actions consistent with my knowledge of right or wrong” is a major challenge. The list of things that I know are true or good, but which I am still struggling with, is very long indeed…as I was accutely aware during the SWK lesson we had in our ward last week on family preparedness. When it comes to a year supply of food, growing a garden, and getting out of debt, is it a lack of testimony or a lack of integrity that challenges us (me) most?

  3. JakeW said

    “It would be well if all of us would take frequent inventory to see if hidden away under the rugs and in the corners of our lives there might be some vestige of hypocrisy and ugliness or error. Or could there be hidden under the blankets of personal excuse and rationalization some small eccentricities and dishonesties? Are there any cobwebs in ceilings and corners which we think will not be noticed? Are we trying to cover up the small pettinesses and the small gratifications we secretly allow ourselves—rationalizing the while that they are insignificant and inconsequential? Are there areas in our thoughts and actions and attitudes which we would like to hide from those we respect most?”

    This SWK teaching about integrity seems to make it very clear to me that we are not to take the teaching of integrity lightly. Integrity is one of the most desirable traits to attain, akin to perhaps charity, and a such, we should think very seriously about it. One can’t just make the blanket statement that “I have integrity now,” or “obviously so and so over there does not.” Integrity needs to become an integral part of our very beings. Now, I don’t assume to know how to actually do that, but I think integrity is a very all-encompassing attribute.

  4. cherylem said

    I wonder how this lesson will be taught and discussed differently among men and women.

    I’d like to lay some things on the table regarding integrity, but I’ve started this post about four times now, and failing to find the right words to speak ambiguity regarding this issue, I’ve stopped and deleted. This time I think I’ll just give it a go, and see what, if anything, results.

    I was thinking about times in my life and the lives of my friends when it was not a simple matter to act with integrity, when the knowledge of right or wrong was not clear, or helpful.

    For instance, part of this lesson emphasizes integrity in terms of covenants made with God. So . . . what happens when a woman’s husband, with whom one has entered sacred covenants, treats her or her children abusively? Does she just leave? Or does she stay? Does she put up with some abuse? if so, how much? how does she act with integrity within this domestic drama?

    What if a member truly disagrees with a pronouncement that comes from the First Presidency? Does the member trust his own intelligence in this matter, and speak out regarding his conclusions? or does he forever remain silent? How does he maintain integrity in this situation?

    Here’s an example I’ve used with my own children, after I’ve taught them the importance of being truthful . . . But, I say, let’s say you lived in nazi Germany and you were hiding a Jewish family in your home. The Nazis came to your door and demanded to know whether you knew where any escaped Jews were. Would you tell the truth? Or would you lie? How would you act with integrity?

    The lesson quotes SWK as saying:
    “Integrity is a state or quality of being complete, undivided, or unbroken. It is wholeness and unimpaired. It is purity and moral soundness. It is unadulterated genuineness and deep sincerity. It is courage, a human virtue of incalculable value. It is honesty, uprightness, and righteousness. Take these away and there is left but an empty shell. …”

    For me, finding this complete unbrokenness involves understanding one’s own boundaries, and learning to trust one’s own gut. Yet .. . I don’t think there are many lessons (if any!) in the church about learning to trust one’s own boundaries. There are far more lessons about obedience, and for the women – supporting the priesthood, sustaining the priesthood, serving one’s family, accepting that one’s nature is more spiritual than men, that we are the charitable sex. We go through contortions to make these assumptions true in our lives, rather than find out what we really are, what we can experience and achieve. Obedience without limits does not make one whole, and sustaining what one cannot fully engage or participate in gives one a skewed or nonexistent sense of boundaries. It seems (sometimes) that women are praised for conforming to false expectations, and this in itself turns integrity upside down.

    So: how does one live with integrity? One of the best teachers I ever had said living with integrity meant holding to an unflinching intellectual and spiritual honesty, then trusting the experience of that honesty to lead you down new and wonderful paths, though there would be pain in that journey also.

    Perhaps such honesty means that one does not accept or unthinkingly conform to others’ (personal or institutional) definitions of who one should be, how one should feel, or how one defines oneself. Acting with integrity has to include some sort of definition of self, separate from all others.

    Ultimately, we all have to pass through our wilderness journeys alone. Emerging on the other side transformed, our definitions of who we are, what rules we follow, and indeed, what it is to have integrity, have changed in ways we could not have predicted, and often in ways we cannot fully communicate.

  5. cherylem said

    Rereading what I wrote, I want to add one more thing: the role of love/true charity in acting with integrity. Perhaps integrity is more than just not telling lies, more than following the rules. Perhaps the ultimate definition of integrity is found in 1 Corinthians 13, both in the mature understanding Paul talks about there, and the ultimate realization that all gifts are nothing, without love.

  6. Robert C. said

    cherylem #4, these are great issues you bring up, thanks. I’ve been thinking about many of these issues as a result of the Reading Abraham discussions we’ve been having. In particular, Jim’s got me studying Levinas’s view of ethics, which entails (very roughly) not just the letter of the law but the spirit of the law, and what this entails for each singular face to face encounter we experience. And so, as Adam Miller nicely put it, “sometimes we can tell the truth in a way that is not truthful” (I’m paraphrasing very poorly I’m sure, and perhaps distorting Adam’s meaning…)—this is how I would view the case you mentioned with the Nazis. I think the example Adam gave was saying something mean and hurtful, yet technically true—I think this would clearly be a case of not being truthful, not showing integrity. And so I think you are right to point out that integrity is more than just blindly, unthinkingly, and unconcernedly following rules. And of course this was the main problem with the Pharisees, looking toward the letter of the law instead of the spirit. (A tougher question, in my mind, is whether there’s a difference between following the Spirit and the spirit of the law. I think Levinas would be inclined not to recognize the Spirit apart from the spirit of the law, but Abraham’s command to sacrifice Isaac makes me think there is a difference, because I don’t see how this command could be reconciled to the spirit of the law….)

  7. anneliza said

    The manual makes it seem easy to teach integrity: don’t lie, don’t cheat, don’t steal etc. But if we are teaching that we should follow the spirit of the law instead of the letter of the law, how do we teach that? Are we teaching a personal integrity? Or are we teaching a religious/church integrity? By that I mean, is living with integrity something that will be defined differently for each person, or do we, as members of the church, each have the same integrity by which we should live?

  8. ed42 said

    How come ““We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29), and the examples of Daniel and Shadrack, Meshack, and Abednego who “defied men and rulers, to be true to themselves and to keep faith with their faith.”” NEVER is brought up when discussing AofF 12 (We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.)???

  9. robf said

    After the Federal persecutions of the Church up to through the 1880s, and the contentious Reed Smoot hearings, the pendulum swung from the “defy men and rulers” side way over to the “being subject” side. Its not a comfortable place to be for some of us sometimes.

  10. Robert C. said

    anneliza #7, good question regarding personal/individual integrity vs. community integrity. I think in answering that question we must think carefully about what the Church is, and what it means to be a member of the Church. I think there is a very important individual aspect to integrity which makes us a meaningful and indispensable part of the Church (“whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice in it”—1 Cor 12:12ff), but that individual aspect is rooted in—i.e. cannot be taken as separate from—the Church community. That said, I’m strongly inclined to believe in the diversity of the different members of the body of Christ—after all, I think this is Paul’s point in 1 Cor 12 (verse 4: “Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit”), which means that I think we must personally take up the call of integrity, seeking personal revelation, honoring the covenants we have personally made, etc.

    ed42, well, when AofF 12 comes up in class, I always try to bring up the counter view represented by Peter and the heroes in the Book of Daniel. My modus operandi in general is to think about apparently conflicting views, or differing extremes, or simply difference (differance in Derrida), and to try and understand each side of the difference by thinking about the interplay between the two. Also, if AofF 12 is not considered scripture (I’ve always wondered how to think about the authoritative weight we should ascribe to the Articles of Faith, but this opens a whole can of worms regarding our scriptural canon vs. modern day prophetic statements…), Rom 13:1ff is a good passage to take up (“let every soul be subject to the governing authorities” in the NRSV). Since this tension arises in the Bible alone, I’d be very curious to learn more about the way Christian theologians and exegetes have taken up this tension. (I’ll try to post something on the wiki later this week regarding Rom 13:1; also, I think Talmage’s chapter in The Articles of Faith regarding this is very, very good, though it’s been quite a while since I’ve looked at it.)

  11. I’m glad you brought up this passage from Romans, Robert. I’ve had that passage on my mind for some time (it has come back to me again and again as I’ve been reading LDS feminist authors), and I think it goes to the heart of the issues being raised here. It is obviously tied theologically to a number of different Pauline passages, such as his admonitions to slaves to be subject to obey their masters, children to obey their parents, wives to obey their husbands, men to obey the laws, etc.

    Now, the fact that these injunctions are attributed to Paul ought to make us start! He, of all people, suggesting that we simply bow to the status quo? He, of all people, commanding us to crumble inauthentically before the usurped authority of the oppressors?

    Yes, indeed. And I think is one of the most characteristically Pauline moments of all.

    Ooh, and I’d like to write more, but I’ve got to cook dinner right now!

    More soon.

  12. Molly Bennion said

    I appreciate your taking up the RS/PH classes and have enjoyed contemplating your comments on Lesson 12.

    Lowell Bennion’s focus on issues of integrity lead me to see a profound difficulty in teaching this lesson tomorrow, not to mention the personal difficulty of living a life of integrity. Bennion described salvation as a process of becoming, not a reward. He demanded complete purity of motive, for example, we must do good because we are good, be honest because we believe in honesty, love because it is our nature to love. Only then can we erase the dangerous characteristics that defeat integrity by maintaining the status quo (arrogance, dogmatism, sanctimoniousness, etc.) or by making it impossible to discern the stable features in our lives and our relationships (capriciousness, hypocrisy, indifference, self-ignorance, weak will, triviality, etc.) The real problem seems to be in obtaining a sure grasp of moral commitment and then becoming good, not spiritually imitative and not merely obedient, but spiritually good with no concern for possible reward or for possible penalty. Bennion told us to find the truth in the usual ways, from outside authority, reason, personal experience and revelation and to take pleasure (not self-satisfaction) in who we are as we seek that goal. His is a little-borrowed light story. He challenges us to hard and lonely work.

    Inspiring myself, let alone a class, to do that work with integrity seems the real challenge for the morning. It is easier to, with little thought, just do what the seemingly good members around us are doing. I would welcome your suggestions.

    Finally, a thought: we all find ourselves in situations of compromise, some very honorable within a collaborative process. Esther Peterson’s statement from her long government service “compromise, but compromise upward” holds some discussion promise. What are we willing to compromise and how do we decide?

  13. m&m said

    spiritually good with no concern for possible reward or for possible penalty.

    To me, the difference is when we reach a point where we are no longer looking to the side but really looking to heaven for help and “reward” (“peace in this life and eternal life in the world to come.”) I get overwhelmed by lessons that talk about how we need to become. The only way that really happens is to have the Lord change us. This can come as we do the stuff we are supposed to do, but requires a greater depth of understanding of and leaning on the Atonement. In that way, the work is easy and not so lonely. :) But that’s easier said than done….

  14. m&m said

    Consider for pondering how this concept is presented in the temple as well.

  15. cherylem said

    Molly, #12,
    What relation are you to Lowell?

    How did your class go? (I assume from your remarks that you were teaching). I actually would like to hear from other PR and RS teachers as to how their classes on integrity went . . .

  16. Molly Bennion said

    Cherylem, Hope you see this after so long. I should have checked the site after the lesson. Lowell was my husband’s grandfather’s cousin. Close enough to have been in my home, but not close.
    Lesson went ok. The women grappled very well with the concept of becoming (I asked “why do you do your visiting teaching?” and was pleased they headed to issues of being rather than doing). They also dug into a definitional discussion. Integrity can’t be as simple as the manual sets it out: the willingness and ability to live by our beliefs and commitments. A terrorist does that. We spent some time talking about how to discover the truth, how to have true beliefs and then how to have the courage and wisdom to live by them. And we discussed some courageous women of integrity: Juanita Brooks and Esther Peterson. Gotta sneak a touch of the feminine in these lessons so women can see themselves more easily.

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