By Haddon Libby

Unethical behavior in business, government and religion seems commonplace. Does it surprise you anymore when you hear that a business paid a multi-million dollar fine for illegal activities or a politician was deeply in the pocket of a special interest group or a religious leader profited by prophet-ing? While few are punished, each incident of unethical or immoral behavior seems to cause more unethical behaviors by others in all walks of life. Resultingly, society devolves and fails to perform at its highest levels. Looking at the ills facing our community, our nation and the world, many of today’s problems have roots in immoral or unethical behaviors left unchecked or disciplined by those who could have stopped things years before.

Ann Tenbrunsel, a professor at Notre Dame on business ethics and David Messick of the Kellogg School of Business studied the psyche necessary to behave unethically and immorally. Their study found that the descent into unethical and immoral behaviors often starts with self- deception. The deception might start with a sense of entitlement or a mindset where ‘the end justifies the means.’ Self-deception often involves avoidance of the truth with lies told to one’s self that justify the behavior.

The Center for the Study of Global Christianity illustrated how rampant this behavior is in Christian churches. They estimate that church-related financial frauds for 2013 will be $37 billion! Meanwhile, monies spent worldwide on missions will be $33 billion. Whether it is raiding the collection plate or fraud, many are involved in this self-deception to varying levels.


In many cases, the person engaged in the unethical and immoral behavior believes that they are truly an ethical person who did something that did not hurt anyone. They believe that their actions were necessary to achieve some ‘good‘ for themselves or their cause. This self-deceit is key to behaving unethically. Also important to the advance and growth of someone behaving in this manner is their tendency to be surrounded by enablers who allow or assist in the advance of the unethical behavior.

Staying with religion for an example, we need look no further than local pastor David Moore who ten years ago was reported to have misappropriated Southwest Community Church funds while financing a lavish lifestyle here and in Hawaii. Despite ample evidence, many around him would not believe that he did what was attributed to him.

As time goes on, the unethical or immoral person has a mental numbing that allows for an increased comfort level with bad behavior. A disconnection between socially appropriate or morally correct behavior cannot compete with the need for self-gratification.

Former Rancho Mirage part-time resident Jim Bakker is a classic example of this disconnect. After being arrested and spending five years in jail for fraud, Bakker remarried and returned to televangelism. As he still owed the government $6 million in taxes, his ministry was structured so that others owned his new 600 acre estate near Branson, Missouri. He then went back on television talking about “end times” while selling 320 pounds of dehydrated pinto beans and 200 pounds of tomato flakes with 20 year shelf lives for $1,000 donations (all weights based on water you add). Bakker declares the beans as a miracle that helps him to share his revelations with us. It sure sounds like a load of beans to me.

Beyond all of Bakker’s nonsense, why does satellite and cable television allow him to continue committing his apparent fraud against the religious? It’s all about the Benjamins.

Next time you see unethical or immoral behavior, report what you see to an appropriate watchdog organization such as the police, the press or a person’s supervisor. By turning a blind eye, you are helping to foster a society fraught with bad behavior and corruption.

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