Bribes – To Pay or Not to Pay? (2 of 2)

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(Continued from yesterday)

However, the Bible seems to condone giving a gift to expedite matters, as well as to smooth potentially disastrous situations:
Prov 17:8 A bribe is a charm in the sight of its owner; wherever he turns, he prospers.
• Prov 21:4 A gift in secret subdues anger, and a bribe in the bosom, strong wrath.

The problem is exacerbated by the fact that the Hebrew word “shachad” is translated both as bribes/bribery and, depending on the context, as gift/reward/present. And often the case is NOT that we slip some money to the officer in charge to grease the palm, but that the officer asks for money in return for:
• doing what he’s supposed to do as part of his job e.g. issuing your license on time, or
• not carrying out some threat e.g. finding some imaginary problem with your passport and denying you entry into his country, which could jeopardize your whole short or even long-term mission.
In essence, they are extorting you. Do you give in to their blackmail?

Before you brush these scenarios off as unrealistic or few and far in-between, let me assure you that they happen often enough to business travelers and missionaries alike. The former may have no qualms about paying and writing it off as a business expense, but what about the latter who tries to follow the Bible faithfully? What is the right thing to do? This is where the current debate lies. To give or not to give?

Those who feel that it is OK to give noted that none of the wrong motivations of giving bribes apply here. There is no trying to do something illegal e.g. smuggling in prohibited goods through paying a customs officer to turn a blind eye, or perverting justice by paying off a corrupt judge. The victim is just trying to do what is required e.g. getting a license, through proper means. The problem is with the greedy official, not the victim.

Furthermore, they pointed out that there is actually no direct Scripture that condemns giving in to such a request. Some see it as equivalent to giving a tip for services rendered. It is not mandatory, but if you tip you get faster service. Others see it as similar to giving gifts to smooth relationships. Vendors give gifts to buyers routinely as part of the cost of doing business. So long as they get the desired results and no one gets hurt, it’s OK.

But do the ends justify the means? I do not think so. First, while the fault lies primarily with the officer asking for a bribe, to comply with his demand is to participate in his wrongdoing, to become his accomplice. If there’s no giving there can be no taking a bribe. It takes two to tango. Secondly, even though there is no direct Scripture forbidding giving bribes, the nature of the transaction is that it is “under the table” because it is illegal and unethical. We should not do something in secret which we would not do in public.

I believe the tip or gift analogy do not fit. A tip is a reward for good service after it is rendered, not a demand prior to the job being done. Giving gifts is permissible in the Bible, both to establish a relationship and to appease wrath. Jacob gave a gift to Esau (Gen 33:11), Abigail gave to David (1 Sam 25:27) etc. But like a tip, giving gifts is voluntary, not coerced in a threat. So while tips and gifts are reasonable, giving bribes is not.

Even if the bribes were lawful, which they aren’t, they would not be appropriate:
1 Co 6:12 All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything.
• 1 Co 10:23 All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify.

Paying bribes are “profitable” only in the sense of eliminating unnecessary waiting time, but they could also be the first step down a slippery slope. If your work requires you to deal with certain officers regularly and you paid a bribe the first time, they’ll expect payment subsequently. You will be “mastered” by the illicit arrangement. Bribes also do not edify anyone, not even the recipients, because God sees their hearts as corrupt. Would a bribe testimony bring glory to God? Most certainly not! On the contrary, if we state our Christian stand boldly and politely, God is honored and we may even gain an opportunity to share the gospel.

What if it’s some issue critical to your mission like entering the country? While difficult, there are still options. Some played dumb and ignored the hint for a bribe. Others responded courteously but firmly, noting the officer’s name or badge number and asking to speak to the supervisor, which does not always work as the supervisor may be just as corrupt. Your mission may be stalled or delayed, but if you are representing God, then I would do things God’s way rather than take it into my own hands. That’s my humble opinion.

In your specific case, if I violated the traffic code I would pay the fine rather than a lesser amount to the policeman. That’s my short answer after a long-winded elaboration. Hope that helps.

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Bribes – To Pay or Not to Pay? (1 of 2)

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Q. I had a minor traffic violation in Panama and the policeman demanded a bribe to waive the ticket. What would you have done?

A. This is fairly common in the mission field, where cultures and customs are very different from that in N. America. Some see bribes as a black and white issue in that they are never justified. However, others see bribes as a grey area in which “gifts” and “tips” are a normal part of life and can avert major problems, and acceptable under certain circumstances. There are faithful missionaries on both sides. Which is correct?

Before I give you my opinion let’s examine what the Bible has to say, starting with God’s character where all ethics originate. Our God is righteous and will never take a bribe:
Deut 10:17 For the LORD your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality nor take a bribe.
• 2 Chron 19:7 Now then let the fear of the LORD be upon you; be very careful what you do, for the LORD our God will have no part in unrighteousness or partiality or the taking of a bribe.

Taking a bribe will compromise His impartiality, so our God never take bribes. We are created in His image and follow His example, so neither should we take bribes.

Second, let’s look at the consequences of taking bribes:
Ex 23:8 You shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the clear-sighted and subverts the cause of the just.
• Deut 16:19 You shall not distort justice; you shall not be partial, and you shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and perverts the words of the righteous.
• Deut 27:25 ‘Cursed is he who accepts a bribe to strike down an innocent person.’ …
• Prov 17:23 A wicked man receives a bribe from the bosom to pervert the ways of justice.
• Prov 29:4 The king gives stability to the land by justice, But a man who takes bribes overthrows it.
• Eccle 7:7 For oppression makes a wise man mad, And a bribe corrupts the heart.
• Isa 1:23 Your rulers are rebels and companions of thieves; Everyone loves a bribe and chases after rewards. They do not defend the orphan, nor does the widow’s plea come before them.
• Isa 5:23 Who justify the wicked for a bribe, and take away the rights of the ones who are in the right!
• Ezk 22:12 In you they have taken bribes to shed blood; …
• Amos 5:12 For I know your transgressions are many and your sins are great, you who distress the righteous and accept bribes and turn aside the poor in the gate.

The effect on bribe recipients consist of:
• blinding his eyes to distort justice;
• perverting his words;
• being cursed;
• corrupting his heart;

The effect of bribes on those being manipulated include:
• subverting the cause of the just;
• striking down innocent person;
• overthrowing stability;
• ignoring widows and orphans;
• justifying the wicked;
• stripping the righteous of rights;
• shedding innocent blood; distressing the righteous;
• turning aside the poor.

On the contrary, those NOT taking bribes will never be shaken and will live:
Ps 15:5 He does not put out his money at interest, Nor does he take a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things will never be shaken.
• Prov 15:27 He who profits illicitly troubles his own house, But he who hates bribes will live.

So taking a bribe is always wrong.

(To be continued)

Kidnapped!

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When you are a missionary, you deal with a whole new set of challenges that the average pastor in N. American would never have to contend with. Sure there is the usual preaching, teaching, reaching, counseling and leading, that’s just part of the job description of a pastor anywhere in the world. But if you are serving in a foreign field, then you encounter issues, e.g. exorcism or persecution, which you would rarely face in Canada.

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In the Middle East or Central & South America, one particular problem is kidnapping. According to SCR Ltd., a company which specializes in dealing with kidnap and extortion, Panama is not listed among the top kidnap and ransom (K&R) countries in the world generally. But to the local Chinese, K&R is a very real issue because they are often the target. Partly this is attributed to the perception that the Chinese are rich, as they are hard-working and many own their own store. As well, few of them would testify against their abductors for fear of retaliation, making them easy prey.

We visited one lady whose husband was kidnapped, apparently by local gangs. A Spanish-speaking man called and asked for a large sum of money. She wanted assurance that her husband was still alive and well, so they passed the phone to him and allowed him to speak to her in Chinese. He told her to give them the money right away, and that they would release him after they receive the ransom. She raised the money and dropped it off the next day, and waited. But weeks passed without any sign of him, nor further communication from the abductors.

She was superstitious and started consulting idol-worshiping mediums to appease the spirits to find her husband, but to no avail. It was then that we were introduced to her, nearly two months after the kidnap. What can a short-term mission team do under the circumstances?

The Bible has only four verses on kidnaps:
• Joseph was kidnapped from the land of the Hebrews (Gen 40:15);
• Kidnappers shall be put to death (Ex 21:16; Deut 24:7); and
• The Law is made for those who are lawless, including kidnappers (1 Tim 1:10).
The law will punish kidnappers if they are captured, but that is no comfort to her who is waiting anxiously with their three small children, running their store by herself and worrying about his safety.

We decided the best we could do in this situation is to lead her to Christ, so that she could lean on Him. One team member shared the gospel with her while the others prayed. Previously she would have rejected, as she had forbidden church members from taking her kids to Sunday school. But calamity could break down a person’s objections in a way no other means can, and she prayed quietly to receive Jesus as her Lord and Savior, entrusting everything, including her husband’s safety, into His hands. Since we will leave Panama in a few days, we asked her relative to follow her up.

Usually we would rather share more with her over a longer period of time, but these are not normal times. We just do what we can with the appointments the Lord gives us, and leave the results in God’s hands. Success in witnessing is sharing Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit and leaving the results to the Father. All He asked of us is obedience. Nothing more, nothing less. Hope you will do the same.