A few days ago, a prominent Southern Baptist leader resigned after it was discovered his academic credentials were fraudulent. He had lied about schools he had supposedly attended and degrees he had supposedly earned. This was not an unfortunate error, but a fraud perpetrated and sustained for years.

As an academic leader, these actions create learning opportunities for the Gateway community—and for all ministry leaders who value education. First, do not plagiarize—which means do not use materials created by others (in any media) without attributing them to their proper source. Second, do not claim academic achievement which has not been formally recognized by a legitimate school. Enrolling does not equal attending. Attending does not equal graduating. Claiming otherwise is lying.

Cheating like this is a problem we confront at Gateway. We have multiple methods for discovering plagiarism and levels of response designed to educate and, if necessary, discipline students appropriately. Graduation is a public record, so we can easily and legally answer any inquiry confirming if a person graduated from Gateway. Academic cheating—in the classroom or on your resume—can and will be uncovered.

When these lies come to light, they are devastating to both the instigator and people who trusted him or her. On these issues, how can you minimize the damage? First, do not cheat in school or lie on your resume. Second, if you have lied or cheated, resolve the issue now—not tomorrow or next year or when you change jobs and clean up your resume. The longer any sin festers, the worse the results will be. Third, expect and accept your consequences. When you violate a public trust and perpetuate a fraud over time, you will pay a steep price. Expect this, take your medicine, and start on the long road of rebuilding trust.

Another issue in the recent situation is the smear factor. Since the defrauder was a prominent African-American Southern Baptist leader, some may attempt to make it a class action sin. It was not. These were lies told by one man. His actions do not mean all Southern Baptist leaders or all African-American leaders are at fault. Religious or racist tropes do not explain the recent incident. What happened does not reinforce and should not validate prejudices against any group.

While we are saddened when any leader fails to uphold integrity, part of striving for integrity is admitting when it is not maintained. It is painful, but necessary, to tell the truth, fix the problems, and press forward toward healthy solutions. We are doing that in this situation and this path—though rocky and discouraging—is the only way to meet the challenge of recovering personal and organizational integrity.


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