Compliance, Ethics and John the Baptist

You’re at the office, negotiating with a potential partner that, if consummated, would result in a joint-project that would be highly profitable for both companies. After the end of a long day of negotiations, your potential partner goes back to the hotel. One of their team members calls you and asks to meet you at a local bar. She wants to tie up one more loose end with you before heading to bed. You agree to meet her. At the bar, you learn that the “loose end” she wants to discuss is actually an invitation to spend some time with her in her hotel room. She has the power to kill the deal, yet you don’t want to get involved for a variety of reasons. You’re now in a no-win situation.

There is a difference between compliance and ethical behavior, says Michael McMillan, director of ethics and professional standards at the CFA Institute. While it is possible to be completely compliant, this does not mean that one has acted in an ethical manner. The difference, says McMillan, is that compliance behavior meets a legal standard whereas ethical behavior meets a values standard. The latter is more difficult to measure than the former, but it is the latter behavior that customers really want.

In Mark 6, we read the story about John the Baptist and how he had publically told Herod that it was unlawful for Herod to have his brother’s wife, Herodius:

17 For Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested, and he had him bound and put in prison. He did this because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, whom he had married. 18 For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19 So Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to, 20 because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him.

21 Finally the opportune time came. On his birthday Herod gave a banquet for his high officials and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. 22 When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests.

The king said to the girl, “Ask me for anything you want, and I’ll give it to you.” 23 And he promised her with an oath, “Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom.”

24 She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?”

“The head of John the Baptist,” she answered.

25 At once the girl hurried in to the king with the request: “I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”

26 The king was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her. 27 So he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. The man went, beheaded John in the prison, 28 and brought back his head on a platter. He presented it to the girl, and she gave it to her mother. 29 On hearing of this, John’s disciples came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.

In this story, clearly, all of the actions taken were technically legal because in that culture, the King decided what was legal on a moment-by-moment basis. Herod had the power to order John’s execution and it was legal. The daughter was allowed to dance in front of the men to please them (presumably fully nude – otherwise, why would it please the King and his guests so much?) when she could not do this type of dancing in other places – that would have been illegal (presumably). Her request for John’s head was legal because the King gave her a window of opportunity to make a one-time request that would have otherwise been impossible for her to make.

It’s all legal, but it’s all unethical. The King – weakened by his sin – is unable to overcome his embarrassment in front of his guests and unable to stand up to the peer pressure, so he orders John’s death. The daughter – apparently able to use her sensuality to manipulate and control men – sees nothing wrong or unethical in participating in John’s murder. In fact, she’s working to get closer to power and wealth via her mother, so she willingly goes along with it all. Her mother – infused with hatred for John because she enjoyed her position of power and wealth more than her first husband – murders John by proxy. And the guests just sit there, lusting after the daughter while getting more and more drunk. They don’t care what happens to John. They are the approving masses who lack any real moral backbone. John is murdered as a result of a conspiracy between a cruel cowardly leader, a vengeful and selfish mother, a sensuously manipulative daughter and the silent masses who won’t stand up to obvious wrongs.

It is possible to be compliant without coming close to being ethical. One can follow the law while fully disregarding core values that give rise to the better and higher acts of virtue. As a Christian Business Owner, it’s not enough to be compliant. You need to be ethical. And it is the Holy Spirit who decides what’s ethical for you in a given situation, not your lawyer. Walk with God, be free from the bondage of sin, and you will find yourself not needing lawyers as much as you act more and more in alignment with the values God has for you and your business.

Bill English
CEO, Mindsharp
Associate, The Platinum Group
M.A., M.Div., LP
Licensed Psychologist, State of Minnesota