Ethics crisis in America? Church leaders say yes

Wed Jan 21, 2009 7:58am EST
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By Carey Gillam

KANSAS CITY, Missouri (Reuters) - From billion-dollar ponzi schemes to bad mortgages and pay-to-play dealings by public officials, some are asking: Is there a crisis of ethics in America?

The swirl of corruption, fraud and greed stretching from Wall Street to Main Street has many U.S. church leaders saying the answer is a resounding yes -- America is facing not only an economic meltdown, but also a moral one. And they are rushing to bring flocks back into the fold.

"Honesty is honesty. It doesn't matter if you are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, whatever. A lot of these debacles we're seeing can be traced and sourced back to a lack of good old ethics," said the Rev. Jerry Johnston, who this month launched a 12-part series of sermons on ethics at First Family Church in Overland Park, Kansas, which has about 5,000 members.

Johnston is one of a number of religious leaders and scholars who say the current spate of troubled times are an opportunity to lead more Americans into church pews and to prayer.

"We're beginning to see this across the nation," said Ken Eldred, a California technology company entrepreneur who writes books about the role of religion in business. "There has been a crisis of ethics ... and I think sadly it is quite significant. People think business has nothing to do with faith, that honesty is not always the best policy. But when you take that away, people end up worse overall."

The list of examples of dishonest dealings ranges from disgraced financier Bernard Madoff, who has been accused of fleecing investors out of $50 billion in what may be the largest Ponzi scheme ever, to Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, accused of trying to sell the U.S. Senate seat formerly held by President Barack Obama, to the more than 400 people charged last summer in a $1 billion U.S. mortgage fraud investigation.

"Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age," Obama said at his inauguration as president on Tuesday.

Greed and lack of accountability are blamed for the suffocating personal debt borne by millions of Americans and the toxic financial products that led to the decline of several U.S. banks and brokerages.   Continued...

<p>A sign marks the intersection of Main Street and Wall Street in Windom, Texas, October 8, 2008. REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi</p>