In recent times our brotherhood has started to suffer serious, life-threatening persecution. The exciting growth of the Gospel in the poorer areas of the planet and especially the Moslem world, has been matched by the growing strength of Islamic fundamentalism and opposition to our witness. This exciting and yet worrying situation has inevitably led to many challenges for our thinking, especially in the area of corruption and bribery in the mission field.
Let's begin with a real life example. A young married couple are arrested and sentenced to death for the sake of their conversion to Christ. They are in prison, having been cruelly tortured, and are to be executed. A possibility arises to pay a bribe to enable them to escape from the prison and the death sentence. A brother is holding his mobile phone, talking to one of our contacts who is standing around the corner from the prison. The contact basically says: " Can you give xxxx$ to get them out of prison. Please answer immediately and send the money to XYZ if so" . What is the brother going to answer? He has to decide immediately. There may not be another chance to save those lives.
We appreciate that such situations are perhaps new and unsettling to many Western Christians. We naturally seek for Biblical guidance that we might do what is right before God, when faced with the issue of corruption and bribery in the mission field.
- There are times when circumstances do change the appropriacy of behaviour which in more normal life we should practice. Take lying as an example. To lie is wrong. We should be truthful. Of course. But think of Rahab. She lied- and her lie and acts of deception are quoted in the New Testament as acts of faith! Further, Rahab implied that the Israelite spies were her clients- "there came men unto me" (Josh. 2:4) appears to be a euphemism- and she gave the impression that of course, as they were merely passing clients, how did she know nor care who they were nor where they went? Her male interrogators would've found it hard to press her further for information after she said that. So she not only lied but she gave the impression that the messengers of the Kingdom of God were immoral- in order to protect both them and her. Of course the way she left a red cord hanging from her window, as if almost inviting people to imagine the spies had been let down over the wall from her home on the wall, was a tremendous act of faith and witness by her, but she presumably kept to her story that they were her anonymous clients. For she was still living in her home when the city was taken. Her witness was thus an indirect one to those who wished to perceive it, but it was made within the context of a major series of untruths. The Hebrew midwives lied to the Egyptians- and were blessed for it. And we could give other examples. If we probe further, and ask WHY such lies were acceptable and even required, we find that often those lies were connected with saving life. To do anything that would cause the loss of human life when it is in our power to save it is dangerously close to murder. If it is in the power of our hand to do good, surely we should. Otherwise we are likely to be saying " Be ye warmed and filled!" , yet do nothing. We do of course emphasize the need for prayer- and we have arranged days of prayer and fasting for these cases. But this does not absolve us from the need for action. Rather, it seems, do those prayers open up ways practically for us to seek our brethren's good. And some of those ways involve bribery.
- It is a Biblical principle that we should do unto others as we would have done to us. Most Western readers of these words have likely never been badly beaten up, tortured or threatened with imminent death. Those of us who have can testify that one's natural reaction is to seek for the preservation of their body and life as far as possible, and we would all seek for someone to come and help us. Even the Lord went through these very emotions in the context of His crucifixion. If we were in those brethren's position, or if our children or loved ones were, we would surely do all we humanly could to help them.
- The Bible reveals God's mind on bribery in the Old Testament. He said that a judge should not TAKE a bribe, nor should anything be done to pervert the cause of justice- so long as that justice was based on the true justice of God. For the Hebrew judges were to judge on God's behalf, i.e. as a reflection of His judgment. In fanatical Islamic regimes we are not dealing with such a system. We are not perverting the cause of justice. For there is no justice. Our obedience to the laws of the land is only so far as they don't conflict with the law of Christ. Radical Islamic justice does clearly conflict with that law. If it is in the power of our hand to save the life of our brethren then we feel it is unethical not to do so. Besides which, there is no Biblical command which we can find which forbids the giving of bribes.
- It may help to consider what our community would do in the case that one of us were kidnapped and a ransom demanded, on pain of the death of our kidnapped brother. I think we would all have no problem in donating to that cause to save his life. The case of brethren and sisters unfairly and wrongly accused and sentenced to death for righteousness' sake, yet releasable for money, is effectively the same position.
- We do not consider that we are to merely allow evil in the sense of calamity or disaster to overtake us; we are to do what we can humanly to save life. If a brother or sister is seriously ill, we do not tell them that they must just sit at home and await God's will to be done whilst we pray for them. We pray for them and seek to get them into a hospital; and if they need money for this, we would try to raise it for them. Doing what we can to save the life or preserve the health of our brethren is to us effectively the same thing.
- Another real life case may provide helpful food for thought. A sick brother in a poor Eastern European country needed regular dialysis, without which he would have died. Due to the situation in the country there were only a limited number of machines available. Whoever paid enough money to the doctors got to use the dialysis machine [and it has been the same with getting blood for blood transfusions]. We gave him the money, he gave it to the doctors, and he lived. Those without such money eventually died. In such cases, bank notes bought or saved life- under God's good hand and grace. In the Western world, we would have paid money for the brother to have private treatment. Again, God would have used our bank notes to preserve a life. But the 'cost of living' is just paid in a different form in some countries.
- There are many situations in the mission field where corruption and bribery is so rife that money is effectively taken from one by officials, and the line between theft and bribery becomes very hazy. Take a corrupt airport. You go to passport control. You are told you have a false passport, are a spy, will be imprisoned. You protest your innocence. They ask to see how much money you have. You put all your banknotes on the counter. The official picks up say $100 and says " OK? You give me this, I let you go? OK?" . Now is that a bribe or just daylight robbery? Most brethren of any experience in preaching in the poorer world will have been in these types of situation. Money is demanded for something that is unreasonable and untrue. But is that bribery in the mission field, or theft? Going back now to our brethren imprisoned and sentenced to death for the sake of their conversion. This is unjust and unreasonable. Someone somewhere down the line asks for money to let them out. Is it a bribe, or daylight robbery? We believe we have no option but to give the funds to save the life of our brother, just as the brother in the airport has no real choice but to say " OK, take the $100 bill if you want" .
- Biblically, there are examples of where Divine principles are at times in conflict. The purpose of this is surely to develop our consciences. Did one keep the Sabbath, or break the Sabbath in order to save life? Save life and break the Sabbath was the Lord's position. And this is the position which we adopt. We do not seek to break the laws of any country in an arbitrary manner. We have deeply analyzed our consciences and Bible teaching. We have not adopted the position which we have hastily nor emotionally. We have soberly concluded that we can only be obedient to the laws of man in so far as they do not contradict the law of our Lord, for whom the salvation of the life of His brethren was of paramount importance. The Lord said that He had a choice of saving life or destroying life, were He to prefer to keep the Sabbath laws above the need for preserving life. Clearly He saw failing to act to save life as tantamount to destroying life. We must give our Lord's words their due weight here in our decision making. To not act to save life, to excuse ourselves for whatever reason, is effectively destroying life, or, as Mark's record puts it, " to kill" (Mk. 3:4; Lk. 6:9). We can't therefore be passive in this matter. The context of the Lord's statement was in response to questions about whether something was " lawful" or not; it was the age old question, 'Is it is a sin to do X, Y or Z?'. His answer was as ever in terms of a principle- that our guiding principle must be the saving and healing and preservation of human life. Would our decisions about, e.g., an imprisoned brother, save or destroy his life? The answer is clear; to get Him out of a death sentence would save his life. It is in this light that our Lord re-interpreted the Law, and invited us His people to rise far above mere legalism. He was faced by critics who sought to find " an accusation [a legal term] against Him" . They were looking for Him to make a specific breach of the Law. And the Lord sought to lead them to a much higher level, to look at life in terms of living by principles rather than in terms of obedience or disobedience to stated laws. The Lord parallels refusing to heal a withered hand with murder. Why? Because in essence, to ignore a person's wellbeing is to treat them as if they don't exist; as if your ignoring of their need in practice is in fact murder. This is how serious are the issues which face us when we face up to brethren whose lives we can save for the sake of money. The attitude of the Pharisees was that the Lord was infringing a letter of the law and therefore was guilty of death. They murdered Him on the sabbath days; and thus they chose to destroy life rather than save it. The word for " to kill" in Mk. 3:4 is so often used in the Gospels about the killing of Jesus. They failed to take His exhortation. The crucifixion of God's Son was thus a result of legalism; it was because of His attitude to the man with the withered hand that the Pharisees first plotted to kill Jesus (Lk. 6:11). Whatever our individual conscience on these matters of corruption and bribery in the mission field, let us not " be filled with madness" as the Pharisees were at the fact the Lord approached human behaviour in terms of principles, rather than reducing everything to a common right / wrong scenario. The principle is clearly the saving and preservation and enriching of others' lives. Surely we should each allow each other to articulate this fundamental issue as we each have occasion to do so.