A Matter of Character

A Matter of Character

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An interesting term has been gaining traction these past weeks into the New Year.  No doubt you too will have heard it.  The word is CHARACTER used in reference to politicians, athletes, and religious leaders.  I decided to look up this noun in the dictionary to be clear in my understanding.  As defined on dictionary.com, character is having qualities of honesty, courage, or the like; integrity.  Great, that is my understanding as well.

Sadly, having an honorable character is not an attribute that I regularly see lifted up in some reality television shows such as The Real Housewives, Survivor, The Apprentice or The Bachelor as something to aspire too.  In fact, it seems the abhorrent, the scandalous, or the outrageous is what draws eyeballs or gains high ratings.

Last week, Oprah Winfrey interviewed biking legend, Lance Armstrong, who has lived for years under a cloud of allegations surrounding his racing career achievements.  Lance confessed that he and his teammates did use performance enhancements “in many, but not all” of their Tour-de-France wins.  In fact, he further admitted that he is a “bully.”  Days later, Katie Couric spoke with Manti Te’o to determine what he knew and when he learned it regarding his alleged girlfriend’s death.  He admits lying.

Regrettably, this trend of reinforcing negative conduct has not yet reached a saturation point in our culture; media outlets continue to feature these stories.  Sure, I understand the importance of exposing fraudulent or corrupt behavior.  But unless acceptable behaviors are regularly contrasted and highlighted, and until the media stops condoning what is unacceptable, how can we expect impressionable minds to make appropriate decisions?

As a lad I recall my dad telling me: “All you ever have in this world is your word.  It is your bond when building meaningful relationships.”  In that moment, I understood what my father was trying to instill in me.  No amount of wealth would mean more than my being a person of integrity.  His expectation was clear.

I have never forgotten those words.  In fact, that conversation about honor is the one on which I have attempted to found my life.  Perhaps more times than I should admit, I have fallen short of that vital concept.  Life has thrown me a few curve balls.  However, those lessons have shaped me into the person I am today.  I have humbly learned that life’s journey is neither a straight or obvious path.  It is filled with twists and turns that sometime mislead, whereby we choose wrongly.  Still, we rise.

I believe in Dr. King’s vision of a world where people are judged by the content of their character above all else.  I am not the only person who cherishes this value.  Yet that doesn’t appear to be where our society places emphasis when defining success.  All people are accountable in their own actions.  But until we become clearer about what we value and become more mindful of what we desire as an outcome, we will be forced to live with the impact of our recklessness.  We willingly choose greed over substance, to our detriment.


The United Church of Christ has 5,194 churches throughout the United States.  Rooted in the Christian traditions of congregational governance and covenantal relationships, each UCC setting speaks only for itself and not on behalf of every U CC congregation.  UCC members and churches are free to differ on important social issues, even as the UCC remains principally committed to unity in the midst of our diversity.

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Bentley de Bardelaben
Executive for Administration and Communications Justice & Witness Ministries
700 Prospect Ave.
Cleveland, OH 44115