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by Jacob Ninan
India has become notorious for corruption, and bribes are recognised as a way of life here. Scams come out every now and then revealing large scale activities at high level, but bribery that goes on at the level or ordinary life is just taken for granted. Christians here often struggle with the question about how to survive in this situation without compromise when it looks virtually impossible. Those who dare to fight against this form of corruption face long drawn battles that seem to offer no hope of solution, and those who give in live with a sense of guilt coupled with a hopeless acceptance of the status.
We are clear regarding our approach to bribes, as Christians. We are not to give or receive bribes to get anything unrighteous done, and if prudence permits we can also take measures to expose those who receive bribes. It also goes without saying that we are also not to exploit people in need by demanding extra payments for doing our duties. But we should also think about our approach when it comes to people demanding extra payments from us for legitimate activities.
What Makes A Bribe?
Though the word is used loosely by most people, when we think a bit more about it we can understand that in a strict sense it only refers to the money one pays in order to get something unrighteous done, as we can see from the numerous references in the Bible. In other words, when we want something illegitimate, unrighteous, unethical or out-of-turn done for us and then we grease someone’s palms to get it done, that is bribing. And when someone receives a payment and agrees to pervert justice or make some ‘adjustments’ to give some advantage to the giver, that is also bribery. On the other hand, when someone demands payment for doing for us what he is normally and legitimately expected to do, people may refer to this also as bribe. But it is actually similar to a wayside robber stopping us with a knife or gun and demanding money from us. For example, when we make an application for electricity connection and the official will not look at the papers without a ‘tip’, when the traffic policeman demands more than the usual fine, etc., it is exploitation, and not bribery, strictly speaking.
What would we do if a robber confronts us on a dark road and demands all that we have? At my age and state of physical strength I would rather oblige him and depart in safety! But a stronger man might consider overcoming the robber, making a run for it, shouting out for help, etc. This example might give us some understanding about what we can do when it comes to ‘daylight robbery’ in the form of exploitation.
If we are not doing or seeking to do anything wrong, and someone else is exploiting us forcefully, the guilt is on his side and not on us. We need not consider this as being the same as giving a bribe and get into unnecessary condemnation. Whether we can resist this, blow the whistle, or take up a campaign against such things depends on our ‘strength’, opportunity and God’s leading. I am not saying we should give in automatically without resistance. But at the same time, if we are forced to part with our money against our choice, we do not have to feel guilty.
-- Published in the Light of Life magazine, February 2011
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