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

bribe 5

(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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