Integrity Talk by Elder David A. Bednar
“I WILL NOT REMOVE MINE INTEGRITY FROM ME”
Brigham Young University-Idaho Devotional
September 10, 2002
Elder David A. Bednar
Good afternoon, brothers and sisters, and welcome to a new semester at Brigham Young University-Idaho. Sister Bednar and I are delighted that you are here at the university, and we appreciate worshipping with you today in this devotional assembly.
I want to begin my message this afternoon with a brief test and a self-evaluation. Please listen to the following episode presented in a general conference address in 1966 by President N. Eldon Tanner, a counselor in the First Presidency of the Church.
A young man came to me not long ago and said, “I made an agreement with a man that requires me to make certain payments each year. I am in arrears, and I can’t make those payments, for if I do, it is going to cause me to lose my home. What shall I do?”
I looked at him and said, “Keep your agreement.”
“Even if it costs me my home?”
I said, “I am not talking about your home. I am talking about your agreement; and I think your wife would rather have a husband who would keep his word, meet his obligations, keep his pledges or his covenants, and have to rent a home than to have a home with a husband who will not keep his covenants and his pledges” (Conference Report, Oct. 1966, 99-100; or Improvement Era, Dec. 1966, 1137).
Now for the self-evaluation and the test. Carefully and thoughtfully and honestly and silently answer the following questions. Did President Tanner’s counsel seem old-fashioned, outdated, and unreasonable to you, or did it seem appropriate? Was losing the home more important to you than keeping the agreement, or was keeping the agreement more important to you than keeping the home? Is the counsel President Tanner gave in 1966 equally applicable in 2002, or are our modern conditions and circumstances so different that his counsel is no longer relevant?
Let me suggest that our answers to these questions indicate our susceptibility to two pervasive latter-day sicknesses: (1) the rapidly spreading disease of dishonesty and (2) the contemporary epidemic of ethical failures. Brothers and sisters, we live in a world and at a time when a pharmacist has admitted to intentionally diluting doses of medication given to cancer patients in order to make more money; when political “spin” frequently is prized above the truth and accurate information; when executives and accountants in large corporations such as Enron, WorldCom, Global Crossing, and Xerox “cook the books” and misrepresent the financial condition of their firms; and when students across this country increasingly think cheating on tests and assignments “is no big deal.” As President James E. Faust has warned:
. . . we all should be concerned about the society in which we live, a society which is like a moral Armageddon. I am concerned about its effects upon us . . . (“Honesty–A Moral Compass,” Ensign, November 1996, p. 41).
Consider, brothers and sisters, that if you or I found President Tanner’s instruction about keeping an agreement to be impractical, obsolete, or out of step with our current thinking, then I submit the corrosive and eroding and debilitating impact of these two latter-day diseases on our characters and on our souls is well under way.
Integrity and Honesty Defined
The words “integrity” and “honesty” are closely associated and often used interchangeably. In fact, in my message this afternoon I will frequently refer to both integrity and honesty. We must remember, however, that these terms are related but are not synonymous.
Integrity is the quality or condition of being whole, complete, unbroken, and undivided. The word integrity comes from the Latin root word “integer” and is related to other words with the same root such as entire and integrate. All of these expressions share the notion of being intact, sound, uncorrupted, and perfect. As Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin has explained:
. . . integrity means always doing what is right and good, regardless of the immediate consequences. It means being righteous from the very depth of our soul, not only in our actions but, more important, in our thoughts and in our hearts. Personal integrity implies such trustworthiness and incorruptibility that we are incapable of being false to a trust or covenant (“Personal Integrity,” Ensign, May 1990, p. 30).
Honesty is the quality or condition of being truthful, sincere, candid, and worthy of honor. The word honesty comes from the Latin root word “honestus” and is related to other words with the same root such as honor and honorable. Each of these expressions shares the notion of being genuine, trustworthy, upright, respectable, and decent. As President James E. Faust has taught:
We all need to know what it means to be honest. Honesty is more than not lying. It is truth telling, truth speaking, truth living, and truth loving (“Honesty–A Moral Compass,” Ensign, November 1996, p. 41).
You and I must strive to become men and women of integrity and to be honest with God, honest with ourselves, and honest with other people. Integrity and honesty with God result from knowing and understanding who He is and our relationship to and kinship with Him as our Eternal Father. Integrity and honesty with ourselves result from knowing and understanding who we are as sons and daughters of God. And integrity and honesty with other people result from knowing and understanding who they are both as sons and daughters of the Eternal Father and as our brothers and sisters. All unprincipled and dishonest thoughts and actions are a betrayal of God, a betrayal of self, and a betrayal of other people.
Becoming men and women of integrity and honesty does not occur quickly or all at once, nor is it merely a matter of greater personal discipline. It is a change of disposition, a change of heart. And this gradual change of heart is one that the Lord accomplishes within us, through the power of His Spirit, in a line-upon-line fashion. For example, in Philippians 2:12, Paul encourages the Saints to “. . . work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” But how are we to do that? Note the answer that follows in verse thirteen: “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” That is, we give ourselves to the Lord and choose to be changed. He is working on us and in us. Brothers and sisters, it is vitally important for all of us to remember that becoming men and women of integrity and honesty is not simply a matter of more personal determination, more grit, and more willpower; rather, it is accomplished through the enabling power of the atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Closely associated with becoming men and women of integrity and honesty is reaching a point where we no longer are driven or directed by rules; instead, we learn to govern our lives by principle. To be sure, we keep the rules; but we also begin to ask ourselves, “What is the principle involved here?” Such a person becomes less dependent upon external scaffolding and structure and more dependent upon quiet and ongoing divine direction. As the Prophet Joseph Smith explained, “I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves” (Teachings of Joseph Smith, eds. Larry E. Dahl and Donald Q. Cannon, Bookcraft, 1997, p. 32).
We learn from the teachings of Elder Bruce R. McConkie that:
Ethical principles are born of doctrinal concepts. To say “We believe in being honest” is to testify that because we believe in Christ and his saving truths, we automatically accept honesty as a divine standard to which every true believer must conform. And so it is with all true principles; they inhere in, are part of, and grow out of the saving truths. . . .
In teaching the gospel, it is far less effective to say “Be honest, for honesty is the best policy,” and then to reason from a social standpoint why this is so, than to link honesty with the gospel out of which it grows by teaching: “Wo unto the liar, for he shall be thrust down to hell” (2 Nephi 9:34). It is only when gospel ethics are tied to gospel doctrines that they rest on a sure and enduring foundation and gain full operation in the lives of the saints (Bruce R. McConkie, A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, Salt Lake City, Deseret Book, 1985, pp. 699-700).
Examples of Integrity and Honesty
Perhaps the story of Job is the most well-known scriptural example of integrity and honesty. Job was a faithful and prosperous man. Over a period of time, however, he lost his wealth, his health, his friends and his standing in the community, and his family. Job’s integrity and honesty with God, with himself, and with other people clearly were put to the ultimate test. His reaction, for example, to the loss of all the bases of his worldly wealth–oxen, servants, sheep, camels, and even his posterity–all lost in just one day–tells us much about Job’s heart and his faith in God. His devoted response is found in Job 1:21-22.
. . . Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.
In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly.
Job’s reaction to his physical challenges, including painful and disfiguring boils, is likewise impressive. In Job 2:9-10 we read:
Then said his wife unto him, Dost thou still retain thine integrity? curse God, and die.
But he said unto her, Thou speakest as one of the foolish women speaketh. What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil? In all this did not Job sin with his lips.
Wealth gone. Health gone. Offspring gone. Now note Job’s reply in chapter 27, verses three through six, to the loss of friends and family and to the suffering he endured during an extended period of isolation and loneliness and persecution.
All the while my breath is in me, and the spirit of God is in my nostrils;
My lips shall not speak wickedness, nor my tongue utter deceit.
God forbid that I should justify you: till I die I will not remove mine integrity from me.
My righteousness I hold fast, and will not let it go: my heart shall not reproach me so long as I live (emphasis added).
Brothers and sisters, the story of Job is for all of us an enduring example of integrity and honesty with God, of integrity and honesty with himself, and of integrity and honesty with other people.
Albert Frehner and Matilda Reber were married on April 20, 1888, in the St. George Temple. Albert and Matilda then established their humble home in Littlefield, Arizona. To provide for his family, Brother Frehner hauled freight between El Dorado Canyon and Bonelli’s Ferry. Sister Frehner nurtured their growing family and took care of the household chores which included cleaning, making soap, canning and drying vegetables and fruit, and knitting socks, sweaters, and sewing all other needed clothing. For these stalwart Saints it was a hard and happy life together in an arid and desolate place.
Albert and Matilda had been married for ten years when Brother Frehner was called in 1898 by President Lorenzo Snow to serve as a missionary in Switzerland, his native land. At the time Albert received the call to serve, Matilda was expecting their fifth child. However, it never entered their hearts or minds to refuse the call. Both gladly accepted the challenge. Matilda assumed the total responsibility for the care of her young family, for their cotton farm, for running the post office out of a small room in her home. She also boarded the “school teacher.” Five months after Albert left on his mission, Matilda gave birth to twin girls, Edith and Ethel.
I have provided this background information about Matilda and her circumstances as a context for the following incident. One day Sister Frehner was attending to her duties in the post office. A man, as he was ready to depart after completing his postal business, gave Matilda 25 cents to send to Albert in the mission field. Now I know 25 cents does not sound like much to you and to me today, but to Matilda it meant a great deal! Sister Frehner thanked the good brother, and then asked him if she could use 2 cents of the money to buy a stamp. Matilda explained that she had written a letter to Albert a week or two earlier but did not have the 2 cents to purchase the necessary postage. The man readily agreed to her proposal, the stamp was procured, and the letter was mailed.
Brothers and sisters, please consider that Matilda was the manager of the post office. She easily could have borrowed and used a stamp–fully intending to repay the 2 cents when she was in a position to do so. And no one would have known. In her dire financial situation, it certainly would have seemed reasonable to go ahead and mail her letter at the time she wrote it. But Matilda would have known. And Sister Frehner was a woman of integrity and honesty. She simply refused to use, in any way, something for which she could not pay. She also was careful to seek the man’s permission to use a portion of the money for a purpose other than that which he had intended. The integrity and honesty of Matilda, my great-grandmother, have had a profound and lasting impact upon my life. Sister Frehner is an example of integrity and honesty with God, of integrity and honesty with herself, and of integrity and honesty with other people.
Cheating in academic work is unprincipled, dishonest, and a form of self-deception and betrayal. No university student can hope to ultimately succeed in a career or profession if he or she builds upon a foundation of fraud. Please listen carefully to the following story told by President James E. Faust in a session of general conference in 1996.
A friend related this experience her husband had while attending medical school.
“Getting into medical school is pretty competitive, and the desire to do well and be successful puts a great deal of pressure on the new incoming freshmen. My husband had worked hard on his studies and went to attend his first examination. The honor system was expected behavior at the medical school. The professor passed out the examination and left the room. Within a short time, students started to pull little cheat papers out from under their papers or from their pockets. My husband recalled his heart beginning to pound as he realized it is pretty hard to compete against cheaters. About that time a tall, lanky student stood up in the back of the room and stated, ‘I left my hometown and put my wife and three little babies in an upstairs apartment and worked very hard to get into medical school. And I’ll turn in the first one of you who cheats, and you better believe it!’ They believed it. There were many sheepish expressions, and those cheat papers started to disappear as fast as they had appeared. He set a standard for the class which eventually graduated the largest group in the school’s history” (“Honesty–A Moral Compass,” Ensign, Nov. 1996, 42).
The young, lanky medical student who challenged the cheaters was J. Ballard Washburn, who became a respected physician and in later years received special recognition from the Utah Medical Association for his outstanding service as a medical doctor. He also served as a General Authority and as the president of the Las Vegas Nevada Temple. Elder Washburn provides all of us with a powerful example of integrity and honesty with God, of integrity and honesty with himself, and of integrity and honesty with other people.
The Importance of Integrity and Honesty in Your Experience at BYU-Idaho
The thirteenth article of faith begins, “We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men . . . .” Brothers and sisters, it is significant to me that the first trait listed in this inspired summary of cardinal Christian virtues is honesty. Indeed, the very fountain and the foundation of our daily discipleship are integrity and honesty.
Brigham Young University-Idaho exists and is supported by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in order to provide high quality secular learning in an environment that fosters faith in the living God. On this campus we strive to become both faithful and competent, to become devoted disciples as well as skilled scholars. In our work at BYU-Idaho as students, scholars, and employees, we must follow the pattern outlined in the thirteenth article of faith; we first and foremost must have integrity and be honest. We must become men and women of integrity and honesty with God, of integrity and honesty with ourselves, and of integrity and honesty with other people.
I believe the definitive test of our integrity and honesty is when we personally enforce in our own lives that which ultimately cannot be enforced. There are so many aspects of being honest, of obeying the honor and dress codes at BYU-Idaho, and of living the gospel that simply cannot be enforced in our lives by anyone else. In the final analysis, you and I bear the responsibility to become men and women of integrity and honesty–men and women who are true and trustworthy when no one is watching and when no one else is around. Do we, for example, only drive the speed limit when we know or expect that a police officer is watching? And what videos do we watch and what Internet sites do we visit when we are alone? Our parents certainly can help in this process, but they cannot do it for us. Our friends likewise can help, but they cannot do it for us. Our church leaders teach and encourage and inspire, but they cannot do it for us. Individually, each of us must become a person of integrity and honesty “. . . through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah . . .” (2 Nephi 2:8). Indeed, all things are possible (Mark 9:23) with the help of the Savior and through the enabling and strengthening power of His infinite atonement.
Let me now be just as direct and clear as I know how to be. If you leave this university with knowledge and skills and a degree but lacking integrity and honesty, then you have failed. And the sacred tithing funds from all over the earth that make it possible for you and all students to study here will have been wasted. Conversely, if during your time at BYU-Idaho you make meaningful progress toward becoming a person of integrity and honesty, and having done your very best academically you are considered only an average student, then you will have nonetheless succeeded magnificently. And you will be well protected against the effects of the latter-day disease of dishonesty and the epidemic of ethical failures.
In a world that grows increasingly dark because of distrust, cynicism, and unethical behavior, employees and graduates of Brigham Young University-Idaho must radiate the light of integrity and honesty. This university, one of the Lord’s universities, will ultimately be recognized as an institution where integrity and honesty are as common and consistent as a windy afternoon in Rexburg. Can we see the influence of this campus in the world as students with ability and integrity assume roles in families, in the Church, in business, in government, in education, and in other spheres of activity? Can we recognize that the world will come to this campus to find young people who can create opportunities and solve problems and discover and innovate–and who will do so from a strong foundation of integrity and honesty? In an increasingly wicked world, the image of Christ in the countenances of graduates from BYU-Idaho will radiate a light that will literally “chase darkness from among you” (Doctrine and Covenants 50:25). Can you students see that dishonest acts while you are a student at Brigham Young University-Idaho–in your academic work, in your social activities, and, most importantly, in honoring and keeping your commitments and covenants–will diminish your personal light and impede the primary purpose for which this institution was created?
Men and women of integrity and honesty not only practice what they preach, they are what they preach. And the Savior stands as the preeminent example. He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). It is not just that the Son of God brought light into a darkened and fallen world; He is the Light (3 Nephi 11:11). It is not just that our Savior showed us the way; He is the Way (John 14:6). It is not just that Christ made the resurrection available; He is the Resurrection (John 11:25). And it is not just that Jesus of Nazareth restored the truth and taught the truth; He is the Truth (John 14:6).
I now conclude with two additional examples of integrity and honesty involving students at BYU-Idaho. I believe the simplicity and seemingly ordinary nature of these events make them truly extraordinary.
The first episode was described in a letter I received from a local business owner.
A girl living in one of the dorms stopped in, shopping for a tie to send to her boyfriend who is serving a mission. She took a close look at the ties and found a great looking one. We stepped over to the checkout counter, and I rang up the sale. She paid with a check and left. I went about my work, and about an hour later I looked up and saw the same girl walking into the store. She had an interesting smile on her face as she walked up to me. She handed me a check and explained that I had accidentally put the check she had written back into the sack along with the cash register receipt and the tie. I really did slip up on this one! We laughed, and I thanked her and told her that I really did admire her honesty.
The young woman in this story clearly exhibited integrity and honesty with other people. She obviously is also increasing in integrity and honesty with God and with herself.
The second example comes from a letter I received from a student.
My whole life I have believed very strongly in the Church, but being here at BYU-Idaho has strengthened my testimony immensely. I had an experience a couple of weeks ago that helped me realize just how much of a privilege it is to be here.
I recently attended an outdoor dance. Just before the dance was to begin, my friends and I were sitting on the grounds eating pizza. I took my wallet out of my pocket to show my friends some pictures, and then I forgot to put my wallet back as we got up and left for the dance.
Later that evening I realized what had happened, and I asked my RA if I could go out to look for the wallet. He gave me permission, and I proceeded toward what I thought should be the location of my wallet. I quickly realized that my wallet was no longer there. I knelt down right there in the grass and began to pray to my Father in Heaven to help me find my wallet.
I then returned to my dorm room with a very optimistic attitude. I walked into my room fully expecting the wallet to be sitting right there, but it wasn’t. So I proceeded to check my telephone messages. And there was a message from the “Lost and Found” saying that someone had returned my wallet and I could pick it up any time.
I am so grateful to be here at a university where I can trust my fellow students. I love looking at the person in front of me in a classroom and knowing that he or she believes in what I believe. At any other university I probably would never have seen my wallet again, but here at BYU-Idaho it is different. I never found out who the person was who returned my wallet, but I have thanked him or her many times in my prayers. I have thanked them for helping me to have a spiritual experience, one that I will never forget.
The unknown person at BYU-Idaho who returned this young man’s wallet is an example of integrity and honesty with God, of integrity and honesty with herself or himself, and of integrity and honesty with other people.
May each of us have a greater desire and determination to become men and women of integrity and honesty. May we seek and qualify for the enabling and strengthening power of the Savior’s atonement. And may each of us become and contribute to the latter-day light that will literally “chase darkness from among you” (Doctrine and Covenants 50:25).
Brothers and sisters, I testify that God the Eternal Father lives. Jesus Christ is His only Begotten Son. And I witness that as we yearn to and become men and women of integrity and honesty, we will increasingly become like them. In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, amen.