The drama of the Conservative party leadership contest has wandered into a range of debates, from tax reform to the NHS to energy and trans rights. However, not much airtime has been given to the one issue that propelled us into this search for a new prime minister in the first place: integrity.

In a recent YouGov poll, Conservative party members were asked what they are looking for in their next leader. Interestingly, although policy issues certainly featured, half of respondents gave answers which included themes around the leader’s personality, specifically using the words integrity’ and honesty’. And if we cast our minds back to those many resignation letters from members of Boris Johnson’s cabinet, those words also featured heavily. Clearly integrity’ is having its moment in the spotlight, but what do we actually mean by it? And as Christians, how should we respond to a lack of integrity in our leaders? 

By definition, integrity is the quality of being honest and upholding moral principles”. However, for those of you who enjoy a root meaning just as much as I do, a second, less commonly-used definition uses the Latin root of integrity integer, meaning whole, complete, not fragmented. So, to be a person of integrity is not to reach perfection, but rather to be the same person through every layer of your life. To be a unit of one.

Because the God we follow is the same yesterday, today and forever, He is by His very nature a God of integrity. And being made in His image, we too are called to have integrity. However, in a fractured world where our image-bearing nature is damaged, dishonesty, hypocrisy and division run rife. All of which has been smeared across our political scenes in recent months: citizens were unable to visit dying loved ones in the middle of lockdown, meanwhile government officials were busy breaking regulations.

Simultaneously, allegations of previously ignored complaints over sexual harassment in parliament have risen to the surface. And this week, the leadership race was dominated by division, with personal and piercing attacks throughout the candidates’ campaigns. Sadly, this is the product of a widespread systemic issue, and non-political spaces are far from immune either. Outside of Westminster, it’s not hard to spot a lack of integrity across society, from businesses to consumers and even within our own churches. 

Looking to Jesus 

When faced with a systemic lack of integrity, does Jesus have anything to offer us? 

In Mathew 23:1 – 12, Jesus warns the crowds of religious leaders that they, as a people who are not the same through every layer of their lives, do not practice what they preach. They burdened everyday Jews with the pressure of legalism rather than worship, focused more on appearance than substance of character, and desired status over service. Jesus saw this and judged them as hypocrites. Reading this text today, I relate to Jesus’ deep frustration at those in places of power. However, I am curious, when you read this text in Mathew, where do you find yourself?

Perhaps an onlooking crowd member, trying to lead an honest life, while suffering at the hands of the ruling class? Or even a Jesus-like figure an activist calling for increased accountability and integrity in the face of power abuse.

Yet I wonder how many of us read this and first find ourselves in the shoes of the Pharisees.

How many of us place a high expectancy on others to show us mercy, yet are often quick to pass judgment? Or find ourselves creating online personalities that do not reflect the person we truly are, or seizing every opportunity to loudly say we stand with a certain social cause, but not actually taking the steps to inconvenience the comfort of our own lives to action it. The systemic integrity gap pollutes our own hearts as well as the societal institutions around us. 

Through the life of the true image-bearer, Jesus, the meaning of integrity is restored. Within a culture of legalism, He taught compassion and mercy without compromise. There was no gap in what He preached from His manifesto on the mount in Galilee, to His private interactions around the dinner tables He sat at. He knew His identity was a gift, not a right. That His public profile was not performed but deposited from His Father. And that His mandate was to serve, not be served. Jesus had power and status simply by being the same person through every layer of his life. 

How should we pray?

In His life and death, Jesus illustrated a different way to hold power. With integrity and humility in His life, and the giving up of power in His death. When we think about and pray for our next prime minister, we should consider the causes they will stand for, from taking action on the cost-of-living crisis to tackling climate change, but primarily, lets pray that they hold power well.

After all, in Mathew 23 Jesus wasn’t critiquing the Pharisee’s theology, but rather their behaviour and character. In the same way, we can passionately agree or fervently oppose an individual’s politics, but we can still all be united in a collective hope for integrity and accountability. 

At the same time, I am committed to spotting the hypocrisy of the Pharisees within me, asking God to convict and bridge integrity gaps in my own life. To restore me to integer’, a unit of one with Christ. And in the following weeks, whether you are following the events of the Tory party leadership election closely or from afar, maybe you can start from this place of humility too.

In the same way, we can passionately agree or fervently oppose an individual’s politics, but we can still all be united in a collective hope for integrity and accountability.

Interested in hearing more from the Being Human team on truth and integrity? Catch Jo Frost in this recent quick take: