| Integrity and Beyond
Law Professor and Author Stephen
Carter Helps Launch SPU’s Center for Scholarship and Faculty Development
Called one of the nation’s leading public intellectuals by The
New York Times, Stephen Carter is a man willing to take on
difficult moral arguments, thoughtfully debating even the thorniest
political, social and ethical issues.
|Stephen Carter articulated his
hopes for SPU and its students:
“As my wife is fond of saying, ‘The
world is full of smart people.
We need places to turn out more good
And in that work — of turning out good people, who
are also smart — I wish SPU all of God’s help and all of his
The Christian author and professor of law entered into the public
arena in the 1990s, when the terms integrity, civility
and character were out of fashion and rarely heard in national
dialogue. An articulate 21st-century oracle, Carter helped put back
into the American consciousness, making him a natural choice to
speak at the inauguration of a Seattle Pacific University center
devoted to excellence in Christian scholarship and the advancement
of character education.
Carter spoke at Seattle Pacific on October 17 during a “Day of Common
Learning” sponsored by the new Center for Scholarship and Faculty
Development. With Professor of English Susan VanZanten Gallagher at
its helm, the Center is a vital component of SPU’s plan for the 21st
century — and a key piece of The Campaign for Seattle Pacific University.
Overseeing numerous academic programs, the Center will also recruit,
fund and host the visits of outstanding Christian scholars such as
Carter, some of whom may receive permanent endowed chairs at SPU.
With the résumé of a self-confessed workaholic, Carter is the William
Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law at Yale Law School; the prolific
author of books such as Integrity, Civility and current
best-seller The Emperor of Ocean Park; a contributor to journals
from law reviews to Christianity Today; and a frequent expert
guest on Nightline and Face the Nation. He’s also a
member of the President’s Council on Bioethics, a husband, the father
of two and co-leader of a Boy Scout troop in small-town Connecticut.
Before a capacity audience in Seattle Pacific’s Brougham Pavilion,
Carter discussed the ideas of integrity and character in the context
of a Christian university. “When you have a university that sees its
mission — in whole or in part — in explicitly Christian terms, it
has no choice but to place character at the heart of its work,” he
A tall, lanky man with a professorial demeanor, Carter has long placed
character at the heart of his work. In his early legal career, he
served as a law clerk, first at the U.S. Court of Appeals and then
for Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. He joined the faculty
at Yale Law School in 1982. Nine years later, he published Reflections
of an Affirmative Action Baby, following it two years later with
The Culture of Disbelief: How American Law and Politics Trivialize
Religious Devotion. By 2002, he’d written 10 books, with The
Emperor of Ocean Park joining the ranks this summer as his first
book of fiction.
“If you search the public landscape today
in America and you want to find a voice — someone who is engaging
the culture and making a difference through ideas and the life of
the mind — I can find no one better than Stephen Carter,” said President
Philip Eaton when introducing him. “He truly represents what SPU is
all about. This is a person who models our vision for this institution.”
EDUCATING FOR CHARACTER
Excerpts From Carter’s Address at SPU
|Stephen Carter is often consulted
as an expert on integrity and its role in American life.
So how does he define it?
I refer to integrity, I have something very simple and
very specific in mind. Integrity requires three steps:
1. discerning what is right and what is wrong;
2. acting on what you have discerned, even at personal
3. saying openly that you are acting on your understanding
of right from wrong.
“The first criterion
captures the idea of integrity as requiring a degree of
moral reflectiveness. The second brings in the ideal of
an integral person as steadfast. The third reminds us
that a person of integrity can be trusted, which includes
the sense of keeping his or her commitments.
“The word integrity comes from the same Latin root
as integer and historically has been understood to carry
much the same sense, the sense of wholeness: A person
of integrity, like a whole number, is a whole person,
a person somehow undivided. …”
People of Integrity”
March 13, 1996
“IT IS A PERILOUS MOMENT to be talking about character,” said
Stephen Carter after he stepped to the podium in Seattle Pacific University’s
Brougham Pavilion. He pointed to a world overwhelmed by fear, a country
“wallowing” in argument over its responsibilities at home and abroad,
and an era in which character education is virtually ignored.
The way in which we conduct ourselves as people and as citizens is
key to the development of character in the young, Carter emphasized.
“Whenever we think about educating for character, we tend to think
about curricula, books to read, seminars, speakers. But education
for character really takes place by example — by what we show people.”
The following are edited excerpts from Carter’s address at SPU, in
which he explored character in America, and the role of a Christian
university dedicated to character-building.
Thurgood Marshall and Character by Example
I want to tell you a story. I was a law clerk many years ago for Thurgood
Marshall, one of the great Justices ever to serve on the Supreme Court,
and also one of the great human beings that it was ever my privilege
to know. If you know about Thurgood Marshall’s life, you may be aware
that before he was a Supreme Court Justice, he was already one of
the most famous lawyers in America. He had spent his career litigating
civil rights cases, criminal cases and other cases — for very little
money, and often at risk to his own life.
When it came time for Brown vs. Board of Education [the landmark
1954 Supreme Court case that ended racial segregation in American
schools], it was argued, then re-argued, then re-argued a third time.
It was not a fait accompli. It’s not as though — as you might think,
looking back 50 years now — the world said, “Of course the Supreme
Court is going to strike down racial segregation.” Very few people
thought that was going to happen. As a matter of fact, most Americans
probably thought it would be a bad decision to hand down.
Well, Thurgood Marshall [who argued the case against segregation in
Brown vs. Board of Education] was by that time a very experienced
Supreme Court litigator. And the states that wanted to segregate decided
to hire the best appellate lawyer in America to argue their case for
segregation before the Court. At the time, that reputation rested
with John W. Davis of the New York City law firm of Davis, Polk and
Wardwell. He had argued in his career more cases before the Supreme
Court than anyone else and had won nearly three-quarters of them.
So the states that wanted to segregate went to John W. Davis, and
they were pleased when he took the case. As a matter of fact, he didn’t
just take the case for the fee, although the fee was substantial.
John W. Davis was an old Virginia gentleman who actually believed
that segregation was a good thing.
Years later, in 1980, when Justice Marshall was in one of his storytelling
modes, I asked him what he thought of John W. Davis. And I naturally
expected that he would follow the tawdry conventions of that time,
as well as this one, and begin to explain, in enormous detail, what
a truly demonic fellow John W. Davis was. Which is why what actually
happened astonished me.
What Thurgood Marshall said about John W. Davis was this, and I quote:
“John W. Davis — a good man, a great man, who just happened to believe
in segregation.” Now, in saying this, Thurgood Marshall was not being
facetious. Thurgood Marshall’s view of human possibility was sufficiently
great that he could stretch across what some would consider the greatest
moral divide of America in the 20th century, and reach out a hand
of friendship and humanity across that divide, and say, “I see the
commonalities between myself and those who oppose me, and they are
greater than our differences.”
That is how you teach character. You show it. Because what that inspired
in me was the desire — which I still have not realized, although I
struggle toward it — to be able to look on those with whom I disagree
in the same way.
I begin with this story not only because it illustrates my deep belief
that character is taught by what we do more than by whatever curriculum
one may choose, but also because it represents a kind of vision of
our fellow humans that is, I think, essential to good character.
The Failure to Civilize: Self-Indulgence
I don’t believe that any of us is capable of developing good character
in isolation. We come into the world as these frail, helpless, unformed
bundles of needs and desires. The project of human civilization is
a project that rests upon the proposition that we can take these unformed
bundles and transform them into mature adults who have a sense of
connectedness to others — and even, perhaps, a sense of responsibility
Now this is a university that states that part of its mission is to
engage the culture and change the world. We face a culture that, on
this point, needs much engagement. For one thing that is happening
in America these last decades is that the project of trying to civilize
these young humans is dying. It is a project that is dying as we increasingly
send into the culture two messages. One is the message that our own
needs and desires are paramount; that self-seeking is actually a good
thing; that self-restraint is a bad thing, somehow an inauthentic
thing. Another message, equally dangerous, is that our true measure,
as we go through education, is not our character, not our morality,
not the strength of our faith — it is our grades and our test scores.
Good character requires a virtue that is hard to teach in America
today, and that virtue is self-restraint: the virtue of being willing
to go without. It’s the virtue that says, “For the greater good or
because my faith demands it of me, I am willing not to do the thing
that I want to do.” That message is one that’s difficult to teach
in a world in which young people are often told there is a problem
if they are trying to withhold themselves in a variety of ways.
There are many people out there who will tell you that if you try
to teach, as my wife and I teach our children, that sex outside of
committed marriage is something God wants them to avoid, then we are
teaching them something that keeps them from being their own most
authentic selves. But we are of the view that restraining desire is
part of what maturity and civilization happen to be about. Any infant
can be unrestrained, as can any animal of the field. What separates
the human is precisely the ability to reach that point of recognizing
the good in restraint.
As a Christian and as a parent, it is also terrifying for me to listen
to politicians at either end of the spectrum debate education. Because
when the debates are held, the issue always in the end boils down
to what is the way by which we’re going to increase our children’s
scores on standardized tests — as though this matters, which as a
parent and a Christian, I think it does not.
This is a fallacy that in some of my work I ’ve labeled measurism,
which is the tendency to substitute the things that we can measure
for the things that we can’t, even when the things that we can’t are
far more important. Because if we don’t pay attention to the civilizing
of these unformed creatures, and we instead care only about maximizing
their test scores while encouraging them to be self-seeking, then
when they grow up they are still unformed creatures without a sense
of moral responsibility, and they run Enron. They run large parts
of the world. And they run them badly. I don’t mean they run them
inefficiently. I don’t mean they run them unprofitably. I mean they
run them morally badly.
Wilderness and the Christian University
Many of you will know Roger Williams’ famous metaphor of the garden
and the wilderness. In the Williams metaphor, you’ll remember, the
garden was the place of faith: the place where God’s people gathered
together to worship, to study, to strengthen each other in the faith.
The wilderness was the unevangelized world. The garden and the wilderness
were separated by a high hedge wall — that’s the wall separating church
The point is that, for Williams, the people of faith stayed in the
garden until it was time to go out into the wilderness to try to change
wilderness to garden. But I want to suggest to you that what’s unusual
about the religious university is that it is neither fully in the
garden nor fully in the wilderness. Rather, in a sense, it has a foot
in both worlds, necessarily, and even oftentimes has to do the work
of translating one to the other — explaining the wilderness to the
garden, or often more importantly, explaining the garden to the wilderness.
That is a precarious balancing act — staying on that wall with one
foot in the garden and one foot in the wilderness — but a school that
pulls it off successfully is doing a great service to both the garden
and the wilderness.
To understand that service, I think of Auden’s 1946 Phi Beta Kappa
poem — a kind of tongue-in-cheek verse in which he was describing
the process of education of a little boy who grows up and is taught
by his parents that some things are right and some things are wrong.
And there’s this wonderful line Auden writes, which goes like this:
“And when he occupies a college/truth is replaced by useful knowledge.”
So much of modern education seems to take this as a proof text. Somehow
educators are not doing the job unless they replace truth — the things
the student brought in, believing them to be right — with another
set of propositions that, while they may or may not be true, are useful.
A Christian university has to believe that Auden’s vision, while it
is right about what many secular schools do, is wrong about what has
to be done.
The Christian tradition is a tradition in which faith and knowledge
have always gone together. Oh, it’s true, you can find Christian offshoots
that have been anti-intellectual, as you can find Christian offshoots
that have been so intellectual they’ve left no room for faith. But
at the heart of the Christian tradition, for 2000 years, has been
the notion that these are not opposites, nor are they in competition.
So that the Christian school surely has to believe that Auden’s verse
can be rewritten to say that “when he occupies a college/ truth is
aided by useful knowledge.”
At the heart of the idea of a Christian university is that it is possible
to balance on the wall. It is possible to play both roles, to be fully
a place of faith — fully the garden — and also fully a university
in the most robust and intellectually exciting sense. And the way
to do both is not by arbitrarily ruling some questions out of bounds,
saying, “We don’t talk about those things here,” but rather by having
understanding widely shared, top to bottom, that while we are about
intellectual inquiry, we’re about that for God’s purposes. We don’t
seek knowledge for its own sake. We are here as an educational institution,
in answer to a call. And it is by answering that call that the culture
— BY HOPE MCPHERSON AND JENNIFER
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