The Berkley Center for Religion and Development at Georgetown University in Washington D.C. is one of a few places dedicated to the interdisciplinary study of religion, ethics, and public life. One of the center’s key programs regularly produces up-to-date reports on faith and governance, and is led by a former colleague at the World Bank, Katharine Marshall. Most recently, the group issued two informative reports on Kenya and Guatemala as part of their Faith and Development in Focus series. The reports include an overview of each country’s respective religious landscape in relation to major issues for development, including corruption.

Both countries have overwhelming Christian majorities: Christians represent over 80% of the population, with Protestants and Evangelicals accounting for almost 50% in Kenya (the largest Christian tradition) and over 40% in Guatemala (second to Catholics). What is sadly striking, however, is that these countries with large percentages of Christians are also some of the most corrupt countries. Both countries score very poorly on corruption measurements. In the 2016 Corruption Perception Index (the most widely used corruption measurement) evaluating 176 countries, Guatemala is in position 136 and Kenya is at 145. On a scale of 0 to 100 (0: highest corruption, 100: lowest corruption), these two countries score under 30 points. While I’m not a big fan of these measurements and country rankings, they do offer general sense of the problem.

We can see that whether Protestants or Catholics are in the majority, there doesn’t appear to be any significant difference in corruption levels. Unfortunately, in Kenya and Guatemala, as in many other countries, corruption has been accepted as the ‘norm’, even among Christians of various types. Unless these corruption norms change, other reforms in structures and laws will be ineffective. This is where the church comes in. The challenge is for the church and its leaders to promote a culture of integrity and shape strong civic values, starting from within and in collaboration with others. This is an urgent task; as the reports say, “the fight against corruption is …a make-or-break issue” for Kenya and Guatemala.  This is true for many other countries.

Promoting public integrity and reducing corruption must become a central point of church life and mission, not remain a “big hole” in the gospel.

Featured image credit: Berkeley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs

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