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FIRST-PERSON: Oh what a tangled web we weave …

McMINNVILLE, Ore. (BP)–2002 might well be remembered as the year of the scandal. First it was the Catholic Church and the revelation that some officials have been covering up the reality of child molesting priests. Next, we were treated to the financial deception perpetrated by executives at Enron. Then, if the energy giant’s fiscal fraud was not shocking enough, we learned that the accounting firm of Arthur Andersen was complicit in the deceit.

After the first few corporate dominos toppled, WorldCom and Adelphia fell in quick order because of the discovery of their misdeeds. Other prominent companies are also now being investigated and, like Humpty Dumpty, are teetering on the brink of a big fall.

The final chapter of the scandals of 2002 is far from written. However, it is obvious that there are those in each and every situation who acted in criminal fashion. The result will be lives scarred, careers ruined, and families wrecked.

What is as alarming as the scandals themselves is the fact that in each and every case they were perpetrated by individuals who were highly educated, financially secure and, in the case of the Catholic priests, ethically trained. When all the rubble is cleared away, you will find people who had so much more to lose compared to what they stood to gain.

In each case, untold numbers of observers echo, “How could this happen?” How could men dedicated to truth conceal the molestation of children? How could millions of dollars of debt be hidden? How could people play so fast and loose with the truth? The answer is painfully simple, compromise.

The scandals of 2002 are the sum total of little compromises. The Catholic official who chose to cover up the molestation of children did not wake up one day and suddenly decide to commit deception. No, when faced with a moral dilemma he chose to sweep the truth under the proverbial rug because he had done so in minor ways previously.

The executives of Enron did not suddenly decide to commit fraud and portray their company as something it was not. The Arthur Andersen accountants assigned to Enron did not suddenly decide to collude with their clients. No, each individual chose to participate in the coverup because they had previously practiced compromise in their personal life. Perhaps it was fudging on an expense account or cheating at golf. Maybe it was making personal calls at company expense. It was little compromises that set the stage for major deception.

Many want to believe the scandals of 2002 are about hypocritical religion, corporate corruption and/or lack of government oversight. However, the truth is that these scandals are really about the capacity that each and every one of us has for compromise.

Polls, studies and news stories continue to reveal that Americans are willing to tolerate deception so long as it is their own. Whether it is calling in sick when perfectly healthy, fudging on taxes, doctoring a resume, cheating on tests or at golf — USA Today recently reported that 82 percent of executives cheat when on the links — so long as one does not get caught, these “minor” deceptions are tolerable.

What many obviously fail to realize are those small deceptions lay the foundation for larger and potentially more damaging fraud. If lying, cheating, and cover-up are indeed accepted by so many, then a lot of us might be a compromise or two away from our own personal Enron debacle.

While few moral meltdowns make the headlines like the infamous scandals of 2002, they nevertheless affect forever the lives touched by them. Let the troubles of the Catholic Church, Enron, Arthur Andersen, etc. serve as a warning to us all. Take an inventory of your life and see if there is any deceitful compromise that you are tolerating, less you too experience your own painful year of “the” scandal.
Boggs, whose column appears in Baptist Press each week, is pastor of Valley Baptist Church, McMinnville, Ore.

    About the Author

  • Kelly Boggs