The proliferation of ‘gates’ suggests integrity’s in short supply, but there is hope - Gavin Matthews

The quality of our public and political life can be observed by how frequently the suffix, “gate” is appended to headlines. The first “gate” was Watergate, the scandal which ended the Nixon presidency. But Nixon wasn’t brought down by the revelations that his campaign team indulged in ‘dirty tricks’ but by the cover-up that followed. When Nixon said, “there will be no whitewash at the Whitehouse” but then attempted to cover his tracks, it was his undoing. His linguistic legacy has been that every scandal is now dubbed “gate”!

Scroll forward and when Boris Johnson issued detailed rules about Covid-restricting behaviour, and implored the nation to comply, but didn’t apply those same standards to his own office, we had party-gate! When innocent looking frozen meals which said ‘beef’ on the label were discovered to contain horsemeat, the press dubbed it “lasagne-gate”. Now today we have Campervan-gate, following on from Salmond-gate.

Judging by the number of times journalists are adding the appending the word “gate” to all manner of nouns at the moment, integrity appears to be a commodity experiencing something of a supply-side shortage.

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It doesn’t take much research to see that failures of integrity appear in every political party, amongst men and women, among people of all ethnicities, of all religions and ideologies; we all seem vulnerable to failing to live up to our own pronouncements about ethical conduct. How many people feel anxious if their partner or spouse has access to their phone? How many people would rather their browsing history was not revealed for all to see? Reputations grown over decades can be squandered in minutes and carefully curated social media ‘selves’ crumble too easily. Living up to our own standards is too hard for most of us. If there is a God whose standards for honesty and integrity are even higher, then our problem is greater still.

Gavin Matthews of SolasGavin Matthews of Solas
Gavin Matthews of Solas

Many people think that the Christian response to this is moralistic judgementalism, a puritanical ‘told you so’ attitude. Many people assume that the Bible’s message is primarily about rule-keeping and moral self-improvement. Whilst there certainly is wisdom in guarding one’s integrity carefully, the heart of Jesus’s message isn’t addressed to the upright who think they have nothing to hide but to the humbled who fear that their lost integrity can never be regained.

The traditional Christian understanding of how one regains integrity is summed up in the word “confession”—a process which must include honesty with oneself, honesty to God and honesty to anyone we have failed. Confession might involve the vulnerability of honesty, but it is tremendously life-giving.

There’s a very natural and very human concern that our confession and anguished apologies will be rejected. Indeed, our society is perhaps less open to the concepts of forgiveness and restoration than it has ever been. It was the atheist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche who foresaw a post-Christian society which held onto biblical categories of good and evil but lost the accompanying virtues of grace and forgiveness, thus becoming censorious and intolerant. Celebrities have been cancelled for drunken teenage foolishness on Twitter, their heartfelt sorrow rejected. Sins, it seems can no longer be forgiven.

However, the Bible describes how God will respond if we step into the integrity of confession before Him. “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:8-9). This extraordinary promise offers a way out for all of us who have failed privately, in business or in politics. Only the honesty of confession ends our hypocrisy and opens a way to forgiveness.

Gavin Matthews for Solas



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