Corruption-free churches are possible, says Swiss ethicist's book

By Peter Kenny
December 23, 2010

The title of the book 'Are Corruption-Free Churches Possible?' from GlobalEthics.Net begs the question, are churches corrupt?

Author Swiss ethicist Christoph Stückelberger admits it is a provocative title but says the aim of the book is not to blame, but to enable learning.

"Yes, corruption-free churches are possible," said Stückelberger, author of the second in a series of publications with a focus on applied ethics launched in late October.

He says, "Corruption is the abuse of public or private power for personal interests." He cites different types such as: corruption of power, corruption of poverty, corruption of procurement, corruption of acceleration, corruption of donations, corruption of sexual abuse, nepotism and others.

In the introduction to his book Stückelberger, who was the founding president of Transparency International Switzerland, notes, "Corruption exists not only in business, politics and NGOs but also in churches, and in the related institutions of all religions."

The book uses case studies and considers religious, ethical and theological principles, noting that there are "efforts and experiences in overcoming corruption in churches and other religious institutions".

Stückelberger is the founding president of Geneva-based and a part-time professor of ethics at the University of Basel.

"Sometimes the spiritual, ethical and institutional bases need to be strengthened in churches if corruption in churches can be successfully overcome," the ethicist told ENInews. "It is possible to have corruption-free churches and the institutions linked to them everywhere, not only in specific countries, continents, cultures or confessions."

He said that it was important that fighting corruption in churches is done to "support and heal them", not to destroy them.

In the book Stückelberger says he is targeting people in leadership positions in churches and related institutions, staff, lay people and activists. In addition, he focuses on people from other religions and secular institutions cooperating with churches, such as politicians, legislators, business people, educators, lawyers and journalists.

"In church advocacy towards governments and international organisations we often talk of 'speaking the truth to power'. This book calls churches to also speak the truth regarding corruption to our own institutions," states the General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, the Rev Olav Fykse Tveit, in a preface to the book.

"Even in secular countries religious leaders are often viewed as having a 'moral' authority, and this is undermined when Christians, churches and religious institutions behave corruptly. As a result the Gospel itself can lose credibility," wrote Tveit. "Churches need to be open, able to receive and to offer critical appraisal."

In another preface for the book, John Nduna, General Secretary of the ACT Alliance, writes, "I recommend this book as a source of clarification, inspiration and commitment to all churches, church-related agencies and all those committed to good governance and transparency."

Stückelberger says a global ecumenical ethic on the topic of corruption is possible while respecting cultural and religious diversity.

• Christoph Stückelberger, "Are Corruption-Free Churches Possible?" CHF or US$18 and 9 for developing countries. Contact
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Communion of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]


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