I received the title of “Professor honoris causa” from UNIBIT, the University of Library Studies and Information Technologies in Sofia, Bulgaria.
It is a private university, one of the leading universities in Europe for information technologies, cyber security, intellectual property, copyright and library sciences.
Ethics in Higher Education such as in UNIBIT can make a real difference by guiding their students and teachers to become values-driven leaders with integrity, integrating strong values in the digital Cyber-world and engaging for a global balanced world to promote peace, justice and sustainability.
“Corruption Free Religions are Possible” is the title of Christoph Stückelberger’s new book. The Swiss ethicist and theologian, founding president of Transparency International Switzerland, is convinced that religious communities must – and can – confront all forms of corruption, even within their own ranks.
Corruption-free Religions are Possible
The fight against corruption has been a concern for Swiss ethicist and theologian Christoph Stückelberger for many years. In 1995, he was a driving force behind the founding of Transparency International Switzerland – just two years after the international association was established. He served as its founding president until 2003.
“Initially, I was interested in the private sector, especially multinational companies, from a development perspective. Government corruption in developing countries was also part of it,” Stückelberger explains. More and more, he says, he came across the area of corruption in education and in religions.
“Whenever corruption affects an entire society, it affects all sectors of society, including churches and religions,” Stückelberger says. Back in 2010, the ethicist published the book “Corruption Free Churches are Possible.”
The currently published book “Corruption Free Religions are Possible” is the logical extension to all religious communities, as a collaboration of various theologians, ethicists, and experts from all major religions and from all over the world.
The more hierarchical, the more vulnerable
“How can we credibly represent values in development cooperation? That was an important ulterior motive for the book,” Stückelberger emphasizes. As the former head of Bread for All, the Swiss equivalent of Bread for the World, he dealt with church and civil society partners in developing countries on a daily basis.
Churches and religions tend to be less targeted by government corruption agencies, Stückelberger said: “You don’t want to offend anyone.” Religious communities basically have a leap of faith. “Losing that bonus is all the more painful.”
Within churches and religious communities, there are big differences, both in terms of corruption and in terms of fighting it. “Protestant, Presbyterian and Methodist churches are much less susceptible to corruption than Orthodox, Pentecostal, Charismatic and Catholic churches,” Stückelberger explains.
The more hierarchical, the more susceptible, one could say in simplified terms. And the more a church leader relies on God alone, the more likely he or she is to neglect accountability and transparency through earthly rules and laws. At the same time, it should be noted that there are courageous voices against corruption in all churches.
According to Stückelberger, the openness to talk about corruption within one’s own religious communities is greater in the Christian religious communities than in the other religions. In Islam, there are strong efforts to change this, but less so in Hinduism and Buddhism.
Overall, there is a welcome trend toward more transparency within religious communities worldwide. In some countries, of course, this is also happening as a result of increasing pressure from the state.
Always an issue for religions
All the holy scriptures of the major religions talk about corruption. “Ever since there have been institutions, there has been corruption,” Stückelberger summarizes. “Even the first judges mentioned in the Old Testament were admonished 2500 years ago not to be bribed.” (Ex. 23:8) And another important aspect: all the Holy Scriptures oppose corruption because it violates justice and creates unfair conditions.
Buying votes in elections to leadership offices is the most common motive for corruption in religious communities in Africa and Asia, according to Stückelberger. “People buy the votes of synod members for leadership office. Once you get to the financial pots, you can then get that investment back.” In the same way, he said, it is common for official cars to be signed over after the term of office has expired, or for properties to be sold over or underpriced.
Finally, he said, there is also the phenomenon of sexual corruption, in that final grades or admission to a good school or university must be bought with sexual quid pro quos. “A sad chapter that occurs in all religions,” Stückelberger said.
What can religions do?
“In a nutshell: there is no religious justification for corruption,” Stückelberger emphasizes. Anyone who thinks this sentence through to its logical conclusion must take a stand against corruption as a religious leader.
Clear rules for appointments to offices are just as important, the ethicist emphasizes. “This also requires control and enforcement of electoral mechanisms.” A thorny issue, he says, is sanctions. “Church leaders need to sanction and, if necessary, suspend office bearers to show that they take their own word seriously.” Only then, he said, is one credible to the outside world.
“When a church leadership publishes a statement against corruption in the state, it often happens that its own members smile because they know how things look in their own house,” Stückelberger said. It is therefore a relief that there are now a number of religious leaders who are mobilizing on the front lines against corruption. For example, various national chapters of Transparency International are headed by religious leaders such as pastors or imams.
Cooperation between religions can greatly improve the impact of anti-corruption efforts, according to Stückelberger. “Especially in countries where a religion is already under pressure, it’s unlikely to address the issue alone, lest it come under even more pressure.”
Corruption starts small
He often encountered “petty corruption” in person in some countries, Stückelberger recalls. “If I’m stopped every few kilometers by a policeman who then finds some small thing and wants $3 to let me move on, that’s already corruption,” he explains.
He says a local colleague tipped him off about this. “In any case, ask for a receipt. And if that didn’t work, he always had some small New Testaments with him, which he then gave to the policemen. With credibility and creativity, the matter was then settled,” Stückelberger smiles. In Cameroon, a church youth group once printed deceptively genuine-looking banknotes and used them as a means of payment to policemen when they demanded unjustified payment: “When they then turned the banknotes over, they read an appeal against corruption.”
Behind the anecdotes, however, the theologian and ethicist emphasizes, is an important insight: “Corruption often starts very small.” That’s why efforts against corruption are also always a process of empowerment, of encouragement, he says: “We all have the duty, but precisely also the opportunity, to stand up against corruption.”
Corruption-free Religions are Possible: Corruption, the abuse of public or personal power for private interests is almost as old as humanity. This book focuses on the sector of religious institutions.
Religious institutions are normally not-for-profit. Religious organisations run 100,000s of profit-making specialized services such as hospitals, universities, schools, elderly homes, companies, banks, micro finance institutions, farms etc. They often have the legal form of a not-for-profit foundation, trust or association with a supervisory control by the religious institution. Profiting from these activities is then not distributed to shareholders, but serves to build reserves for the sustainability and stability of the serving institution and if possible, to support core activities of the religious institution. Some religious institutions have large properties of land, buildings and other assets.
Many studies and experiences show that a number of religious institutions are affected by corruption and mirror the corrupt environment in which they live. All religions are potentially and — in reality — affected by corruption. All religions are part of the problem, but also part of the solution. And between religions, denominations and countries are clear differences.
This book includes twenty articles from Buddhist, Hindu, Islamic, Catholic and Protestant perspective and international standards. It refers also to sexual corruption by religious leaders.
Corruption-free Religions are Possible
This book has three objectives: 1. to understand the mechanisms and roots of corruption in religions by analysis and information, 2. to encourage stronger commitment of religious institutions in fighting corruption as core part of their commitment to their faith and values, 3. to strengthen cooperation between people of different faith and religious institutions in order to increase impact in all sectors of society.
As Ethicist and Founder-President of the Swiss Chapter of Transparency International 1996-2006, the anticorruption cooperation between different world religions has been one of my goals for a long time.
Corruption-free Religions are Possible: Download for free and order print your print copy here
The Social Security Systems must be further expanded as a key part of security. But the systems developed during the last seventy years in high income countries may not be applicable and certainly not payable all over the world as it is already under heavy economic pressure in high income countries to find sustainable financing e.g. of pension schemes.
In a globalised, urbanised and mobile modern society, former social structures in families and villages are often fragile or no more in place. Will Asian and African countries implement social welfare states as in Europe with pension funds, health insurance, unemployment schemes, or will it be different, reflecting different value-priorities?
With the boom of elderly homes as an answer to the ageing of societies such as in China and with Covid-19 pandemic and its boom of jobless people exposed to health without health insurance, the questions becomes even more important for a global world in balance.
Innovative models of social security will be needed. It includes social protection for workers in the ‘non-standard forms of employment’ (informal sector, temporary workers), decoupling of social protection from employment and policy innovations for social insurances.
Thoughts from my book “Globalance. Ethics Handbook for a Balanced World Post-Covid.
Globalance. Ethics Handbook for a Balanced World Post-Covid.
Christoph Stückelberger, with a Preface by Ernst Ulrich von Weizsäcker. Geneva, Globethics.net Focus Series No. 57, 2020.
ISBN 978-2-88931-367-9 (Online Version)
ISBN 978-2-88931-368-6 (Print Version B&W)
ISBN 978-2-88931-372-3 (Print Version Colour)
Dialogo, the platform for ‘Dialogue between Science and Theology’, based in Roumania and partner organization of Globethics.net, organized its annual online conference on 21-29 May 2021 on “Spirituality, Religion, Irreligion and Society today”. Research papers have been presented.
In the final online conference on 28 May, Globrethics.net President Christoph Stückelberger gave a presentation on Religious, spiritual, secular: three world views and its relevance for ethics and values.
May is considered a blissful month in Europe, when nature is in bloom, love grows and traditionally many weddings take place. May is also the month when the Christian Pentecost is celebrated (like today, Pentecost Sunday, when I am writing this text). Both love instinct and Pentecost have one thing in common: fire in the heart!
The large peony bloom from our garden in Zurich today is like an unfolded fan, like a white wedding dress that hugs the world. In the middle is the golden fire of the stamens that hold the blossom and the world together. For me the picture is a symbol of Pentecost.
However, is Pentecost more than a long weekend? Yes, it is no less than the origin of a world revolution that has lasted and continues to this day and the future. It came this way:
The followers of Jesus had turbulent times behind them: The enthusiasm to emulate Jesus with his vision and his values was followed by a total crash with Jesus being executed on the cross as a sect preacher and heretic. Called Good Friday later. This was followed by apparently strange apparitions of the dead man with the few friends who could not forget him – later called Easter. This gave rise to shy, fragile moments of hope from this tiny “sect group” that their life would have meaning again. This fragile longing for hope was followed by an event that I call the beginning of a world revolution: Pentecost, in Greek πεντεκοστή/Pentecost (Acts 2:1) simply means “fifty” and means fifty days after Easter. It is the number for fulfillment, wholeness and new beginning. The debt relief, as described in in the Old Testament Lev 25-26, took place every seven years. After 7×7 years, in the 50th year, the Jubilee year of debt relief and a new beginning was declared, so that everyone had the same economic starting opportunities again.
The Pentecost event is now described as follows (Acts 2,1-13): the group of those women and men who had regained courage gathered in a house (Greek οίκος, Oikos). Suddenly these people were seized by an inner turmoil, described as a storm wind, where a flame appeared on everyone’s head. I call it more understandable as ‘fire in the heart ’, just like with lovers. The vendors from the surrounding hotels and residents of the narrow streets of Jerusalem flocked to see what was hap-pening. These “enthusiasts” with fire in their hearts did not begin to speak in their own ‘club’ language, but in the many languages of the multicultural and international community of people in Jerusalem. These came from all over the world at that time, from Egypt to Iran, from Turkey to Libya, from Rome to Central Asia (enumerated in v. 9-10). They were “Jews, Cretans/Greeks and Arabs” (v.11). “We hear them speak of the great deeds of God in our own languages” (v.11) testified the people of this cosmopolitan city.
Why now do I call this Pentecost event the origin of a world revolution? This small group with the ‘fire in the heart’ won the hearts of people by taking them seriously in their own existence and culture – the mother tongue is the most intimate expression of this – and not imposing their own values from the outside, but translating them into the other culture. Their hearts were full of empathetic and energetic love (αγάπε/agape is the Greek word for divine, inclusive, comprehen-sive love). With this fire of love they broke through the walls of the then hegemonic world powers (Rome, Egypt and Persia are explicitly mentioned). This courageous small group formed bridges between people, cultures, centers of power and ideologies.
This ‘fire in the heart’ leads to respect for diversity and being different. This is only possible – without exploding, imploding or indulging in arbitrariness – because the courage for diversity is connected with the certainty of unity. This fire is a symbol of the love that holds the world together on the inside. Like the gold-yellow center of the white peony at the beginning of this text. Pente-cost thus becomes a symbol for unity in diversity.
And the house (oikos) of this Pentecostal community of women, men and children becomes a symbol of the world community. Oikos in the threefold sense of Oikoumene (ecumenism as a community of churches and religions), Oikonomia (economy as the fair sharing of the goods of this earth) and Oikologia (ecology as a commitment to unity with the whole creation). In times of renewed war in Gaza, dangerous US-China tensions, climate crisis and particular interests post-Covid: Isn’t Pente-cost there a stunning, comprehensive spiritual, economic, ecological, political, social and cultural vision and world revolution? The invitation for a new beginning for the post-Covid world community. Yes, we can, with the fire in our hearts!
Pentecost Sunday, May 23, 2021