Ethical Behavior and Prosperity

Nathan Lott, “Ethical Behavior and Prosperity,” Selections from the Religious Education Student Symposium 2008 (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2008), 144–151.

Ethical Behavior and Prosperity

Nathan Lott

Victor, a Romanian citizen, is too young to remember much about the rule of communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. He was only eight years old when Ceausescu’s regime fell. Yet Victor lives in a world still permeated by the influence of the old communist system. In Romania, if a person needs something done, and done quickly, then most will suggest paying someone a little money under the table. If Victor wants medical assistance, he can greatly reduce the treatment wait time if he is willing to bribe the doctor. He will find himself in a similar situation if he wants to get a driver’s license, build a house, or even pay a fine for a traffic violation, which often are trumped-up by officials looking for a bribe. But Victor is uncomfortable paying such bribes. Victor would like to be successful in life without participating in unethical practices. Can he uphold the values in which he believes yet still prosper in a country that generally rejects them? We as Latter-day Saints answer unequivocally yes, even though it may be difficult to understand how this is possible at first. The Lord has said, “There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—and when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated” (D&C 130:20–21). This scripture teaches that there are eternal laws established that, when obeyed, bring financial, political, and social prosperity according to the Lord’s will. These laws include honest and ethical dealings with others and result in financial prosperity.

Victor will find that faithful members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints fully support and practice ethical behaviors in their temporal dealings, and many have enjoyed temporal prosperity as a result. However, we as Latter-day Saints want Victor and all people to know that there are spiritual laws that guarantee an eternal prosperity far more desirable than all earthly riches combined. Through the Atonement and by obedience to gospel laws, we can enjoy never-ending happiness as we live eternally with our family, the Savior Jesus Christ, and our Heavenly Father.

Ethics and the Gospel of Jesus Christ

Ethics deal with values relating to human conduct, with respect to the rightness or wrongness of certain actions and the motives and ends of such actions. Put simply, having a moral code of ethics implies that a person behaves honestly and truthfully in all his actions. This person acts responsibly to ensure not only benefits for himself, but just as important, the welfare of those around him and of society as a whole.

The restored gospel of Jesus Christ encourages men to practice ethical behavior. Having ethics certainly means one would follow the Ten Commandments given to Moses by the premortal Savior, Jehovah. An ethical person would not bear false witness, steal, commit adultery, murder, or do anything similar. Further, an ethical person would be honest in all his or her dealings with fellowmen. An ethical person would honor commitments and promises he or she had made. Indeed, “all things whatsoever [he] would that men should do to [him, he would do] even so to them” (Matthew 7:12).

The Impact of Global Corruption

Victor’s situation in Romania is not unlike many other Eastern European countries such as Russia, Hungary, and Ukraine, but the problem does not stop here. Other geographical regions of the world also battle with ethical problems. China, home to one-sixth of the world’s population, suffers from rampant corruption. Unethical behavior can also be found throughout Central and South America in countries such as Mexico, Panama, and Argentina.

Corruption is difficult to document. However, an example from just one industry reveals how large the problem may be. The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that $340 billion, nearly 10 percent of the total engineering and construction industry spending, is lost each year to acts of corruption.[1] This money could be used to build safer buildings, roads, or bridges but instead ends up in the pockets of a few unscrupulous people.

Citizens of countries like the United States, with generally accepted ethical standards, may believe that corruption does not affect them. This belief is false. Prominent cases such as Enron and Watergate prove that even countries that promote business and political ethics can have black smudges on their behavioral record. Further, the world is shrinking from a political and commercial point of view. Global commerce makes it almost impossible for any country to be isolated from the effects of corruption in another. Thus, those living in countries with high ethical standards must be constantly aware of and take action against corruption.

A Global Cry for Ethics

We in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are emphatically against corrupt behavior in any form. Thankfully, we are not alone in this battle. Many prominent world leaders believe that there are certain ethical standards or “laws” that, if followed, will yield blessings of prosperity. Rush Kidder, in his book Shared Values for a Troubled World, interviews twenty-four individuals. These people are of high global leadership status in areas of religion, government, business, education, and literature. Although those interviewed come from widely varied professional, cultural, and religious backgrounds, they all agree that there is an increasing need for more ethical conduct in the world: “Something . . . is profoundly and globally amiss, not just economically, or militarily, or politically, but ethically. Something deep in the soul of our collective future seems out of balance, and the world seems to be in a long, slow drift toward moral recession.”[2]

Although members of the Church agree with the men and women in Kidder’s book that there is a need for ethical standards that apply globally, we all come from diverse cultural, social, and religious backgrounds. Whose doctrinal foundation will be used to decide which actions are right and which are wrong? Can we agree on a common set of standards? Reuben Snake, a religious American Indian leader, said, “Everybody—I don’t care what color, creed, ethnic origin their roots are—we’re all the same. . . . We’re beginning to understand that there is a oneness to the whole universe.”[3] Sergio Muñoz, former editor of the Los Angeles Spanish-language newspaper La Opinión, added, “It really doesn’t matter whether you are Muslim or Christian or Jew. In every religion, in every country, in every region at every time, there are some basic principles.”[4] Thus, even though people come from a wide array of cultural and even religious backgrounds, they can still agree on a set of universal core values such as love, truthfulness, fairness, freedom, unity, tolerance, responsibility, and respect for life. Latter-day Saints believe that “the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil . . . [and] the way to judge” (Moroni 7:16). We know that all men are born with the Light of Christ, with the ability to know right from wrong and know how to behave ethically in society. Though we are few in number, the cause of global ethics can unite us successfully in the fight against this Goliath problem of corruption. Our cause is greatly strengthened by research that verifies the benefits of ethical behavior.

Temporal Blessings and Benefits Come from Living Ethically

Research has yielded data that correlate and compare countries’ economic strength with their ethical standards. Transparency International, the global coalition against corruption, provides a Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), which rates the corruption level that exists in 147 countries on a scale from two to ten. A CPI of ten means the country has almost no corruption problems.[5] Gross National Income per capita (GNI) provides a good measure of a country’s economic strength.[6] The graph in Figure 1 shows a strong positive correlation between a country’s CPI and GNI.[7]

This evidence strongly supports arguments of the Church leaders and other world leaders in favor of high moral standards among entire populations. Naturally, one may wonder which is the cause and which is the effect. Does this graph mean that economically strong countries have the ability to enforce ethics, or are ethical populations blessed with economic prosperity? I believe the answer is found in the Lord’s promise, “Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land” (2 Nephi 1:20). First, we keep the commandments or laws associated with economic prosperity. Then, we are blessed with prosperity according to the Lord’s will.

Individuals may also prosper while upholding personal ethical standards even when these standards are not generally accepted. King Husein is an ordinary US citizen and owner of a successful construction firm responsible for the construction of the beautiful Hinckley Alumni Building on Brigham Young University’s campus and most of the Costco warehouse stores around the world. He has demonstrated how to have a firm foundation of ethical standards and then hold to those standards no matter the apparent consequences.

When constructing an enormous Costco warehouse, King Husein’s construction crew has only 110 days from groundbreaking to grand opening. During one such project, when it seemed that the deadline for the grand opening would not be met, the executive vice president of Costco called a board meeting with Husein and the chiefs of the electrical, plumbing, and mechanical crews. The vice president said that since they were behind schedule, all crews would be required to start working Sundays until the project was completed. None of the other crew chiefs objected to this requirement, but Husein had promised his men that he would not require them to work on Sunday, a promise he would not break. He also did not want to violate the Lord’s commandment to honor the Sabbath day. He knew if he did not say something, the vice president would assume that he would work his men seven days a week until the project’s end. Husein courageously spoke up, saying that his crew would meet the deadline, but without working on Sunday. In a very stern response, the vice president asked if Husein would stand firm in his decision even if it meant that he would lose all future projects with Costco. Husein responded that he hoped it would not mean losing the account but that he would not require his men to work more than six days a week as he had promised them. The vice president stormed out of the meeting, very displeased by Husein’s unwillingness to cooperate with his demands.

Some may have compromised their standards in such a high-pressure situation, fearing they would lose business if they did not. But just the opposite happened to Husein. In the end, he met the deadline while still observing the Sabbath day and keeping his promises. He proved that he would meet his deadlines without compromising his principles. As a result, Mr. Husein gained the trust and respect of Costco’s vice president. His construction firm has since enjoyed over nineteen years as Costco’s exclusive contractor on over fifty million square feet of building projects.[8]

Eternal Blessings and Benefits Come from Living Spiritual Laws

By worldly definitions, prosperity means to have success especially in financial aspects and to exist peacefully with others. As Latter-day Saints, we stand in full support of moral standards of conduct in areas of economic, political, and social interactions. We agree that upholding such moral standards will bring prosperity as the world views it, if it is the will of the Lord. However, we have a special supplementary knowledge that we bring to discussions on ethics and values. We know that a greater eternal prosperity exists that brings eternal blessings to those who obey spiritual laws. These blessings are possible only through Jesus Christ’s infinite Atonement. These spiritual laws include faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, repentance of sins, baptism performed under the proper authority followed by the laying on of hands to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, and obedience to righteous prophets called by God to give His laws. One should desire to prosper economically and enjoy peace, yet this is not the ultimate aim of this earthly experience. Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said, “The purpose of our mortal journey is not merely to see the sights on earth or to expend our allotment of time on self-centered pursuits; rather, we are to . . . become sanctified by yielding our hearts unto God (see Helaman 3:35) and to obtain ‘the mind of Christ’ (1 Corinthians 2:16).”[9] All mankind should have as its supreme goal to yield to God and to respect the eternal laws of the gospel. By achieving these goals, we qualify through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ for sanctification and eternal spiritual prosperity.

The Book of Mormon shows the essentiality of respecting all of the laws of the gospel, not just those that will bring temporal prosperity. The examples that follow are of particular importance to us in the latter days because as President Ezra Taft Benson said, “The record of the Nephite history just prior to the Savior’s visit reveals many parallels to our own day as we anticipate the Savior’s second coming.”[10] Directly before Christ’s death, the people of Nephi upheld certain moral standards and laws. They dealt justly with each other in a social sense, but rejected God and His chosen servants: “They did establish very strict laws that one tribe should not trespass against another, insomuch that in some degree they had peace in the land; nevertheless, their hearts were turned from the Lord their God, and they did stone the prophets and did cast them out from among them” (3 Nephi 7:14). These people were living in some measure of peace and prosperity. There were no serious wars or contentions among them at this time. However, less than four years later, their peace was disrupted in a violent way. Many cities filled with these “peaceful” inhabitants were burned, sunk in the depths of the oceans, or buried by mountains as the face of the earth changed. The inhabitants died and went to face an awful judgment for the eternal laws they had not kept. All those who survived these calamities heard the voice of Jesus Christ lamenting their fallen brethren’s state, “Wo, wo, wo unto this people. . . . Many great destructions have I caused to come upon . . . this people, because of their wickedness and their abominations” (3 Nephi 9:21, 12).

In contrast, the Nephites who lived in the time of Captain Moroni and Helaman did not enjoy earthly peace despite keeping the laws of the gospel. They fought many wars with their enemies, but they kept the commandments of God and qualified themselves for eternal prosperity. Helaman, a righteous prophet, had confidence in his people’s standing before God: “I trust that the souls of them who have been slain have entered into the rest of their God” (Alma 57:36).

Ideally, a people can live in economic as well as spiritual prosperity. Such was the case with the Nephites who lived directly after Christ visited the Americas. They enjoyed almost two hundred years of temporal peace and prosperity with the same confidence as Helaman, that they would enter into the eternal rest of God after their time on earth. Yet if this peace is not possible, it is better for a people to comply with all of God’s commands than to merely uphold ethical standards in earthly relationships. By so doing, they may experience struggles and strife during their temporal existence but will certainly secure much greater eternal rewards in the life to come.

Life’s Essential Lessons

There are laws established by God from the beginning of time that, if respected, will yield blessings that are affixed to those laws. One such law is to deal justly and honestly in all relationships with others. Evidence suggests that if an entire country respects and obeys this law of ethical behavior, they will prosper economically and likely enjoy peace. This principle also applies to individuals. Faithful members of the Church stand by those of all cultural, political, and religious backgrounds to fight against all forms of dishonesty and corruption. However, an infinitely more important lesson is that there are certain eternal laws, which, if respected, will bring eternal life. As followers of Jesus Christ, we invite good people everywhere to stand firm with us in the fight against spiritual corruption and to fight for the eternal salvation of all mankind.

Notes


[1] Steven Benzley, “Embracing Gospel Principles to Confront Major Global Moral Issues,” Moral Foundations: Standing Firm in a World of Shifting Values, ed. Douglas E. Brinley, Perry W. Carter, and James K. Archibald (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2007), 76.

[2] Rush Kidder, Shared Values for a Troubled World (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1994), 3.

[3] Kidder, Shared Values for a Troubled World, 3.

[4] Kidder, Shared Values for a Troubled World, 4.

[5] Transparency International, http://www.transparency.org/

[6] World Development Indicators database, World Bank, July 1, 2006, http://siteresources.worldbank.org/ICPINT/Resources/Atlas_2005.pdf.

[7] The R2 value from Excel linear regression tool for this graph is 0.8, where an R2 value of zero means no correlation and an R2 value of 1 means a perfect correlation.

[8] Firoz King Husein, “Integrity and Honesty: Core Principles of Success,” in Moral Foundations: Standing Firm in a World of Shifting Values, ed. Douglas E. Brinley, Perry W. Carter, and James K. Archibald (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2007), 71.

[9] David A. Bednar, “Clean Hands and a Pure Heart,” Ensign, November 2007, 80–83.

[10] Ezra Taft Benson, “The Savior’s Visit to America,” Ensign, May 1987, 4.