CHENNAI, India (BNc) — Can Christians pay bribes, even if it is intended to bring about justice for the innocent? Is there a difference between paying someone to do something illegal and “tipping” for something well done?
In her new book, Bribery: The Ethics of Giving and Receiving Gifts, missionary Beth Johnson tackles those questions.
Through the use of both Old and New Testament examples, the book attempts to see how God views the principles of gift-giving at any level and for any reason.
Joy Jensen, missionary wife in Tanzania, endorsed the 82-page paperback:
“This book is a ‘must-read’ for everyone who has an interest in mission work – missionaries, supporters, short-term campaigners. These lessons are packed with Scriptures, are easy to understand and leave no doubt about God’s view of bribery. At the conclusion of each lesson are thought-provoking questions which help the student solidify each lesson and make the appropriate application.”
BNc asked Beth about her self-published book and its topic.
BNc: What prompted you to write this book?
Beth: We had been at the point of losing the property for the [leadership training] school and had gone through lawyer after lawyer — more than a dozen. Each time, the man who had taken us to court bought off our lawyers. Our whole work was in jeopardy of going down. Finally, we happened to contact a lady lawyer who had worked for the Income Tax department and whose husband was Finance Minister. Apparently she and he valued their reputations enough to do a good job for us and keep us from losing everything.
BNc: Is corruption a general problem outside the U.S.? And inside?
Beth: Most third world countries are where they are economically because of corruption, mafia or drugs. Until recently I had not suspected corruption in the U.S., but lately I have seen reports of several that have not behaved ethically.
BNc: Is bribery a major holdback to missions?
Beth: Bribery can be a temptation to anyone who is wanting to get things done fast in cultures where officials do not move quickly.
BNc: How often do you have to deal with corruption and bribery?
Beth: Almost every day we are faced with someone asking a bribe or trying to put us in a position where we might be tempted to pay one to get a job done fast.
BNc: What’s the basic premise of your book?
Probably the chapter about Paul and Felix is the hard-hitting one. Paul had done nothing to deserve imprisonment or death and he deserved to be set free, yet he refused to pay a bribe to Felix to go beyond the legal system.
BNc: Is just a flat refusal the best way to deal with bribery? Do you have any quick tips for dealing with government officials?
Beth: We try our best to avoid conflict because any official has the power to set fines and force people to pay. We try to use “soft answers” or appear ignorant of what they are asking at other times. If we are confronted directly, we ask if they give a receipt, and, of course, they do not. Then we simply tell them we cannot pay out any money without a receipt. One fellow’s answer to that was, “Mr. Johnson, you’ve been reading too much Bible.”
BNc: When can a missionary or short-term worker expect to bump into corruption?
Beth: When they start to buy or sell property or deal with bigger projects, they will find problems. If anyone happens to lay a court case against you, it is almost certain that a judge or a lawyer will approach you for a bribe.
BNc: How do people tend to justify offering bribes?
Beth: Like one man said, “Well, everyone does it; that is just how things are done here!”
Beth began teaching children’s Bible classes at age 14 and has taught as many as five classes a week for ladies or children for more than 40 years. During those years, she also served as a preacher’s wife and missionary.
Since Jan., 1962, Beth and her husband Dennis have worked with congregations in four states of the U.S. and Canada and served the Lord in Thailand, Malaysia and India.
She also taught English in public school (K-12 and university level) while they were in the U.S.
Two of her numerous special class assignments were teaching parenting for AFDC mothers and daycare recertification classes.
She has appeared on lectureships in Alabama, Texas, North and South Carolina.
Her articles and lessons have been used for classes online and for daily devotional mailing lists. They have also been published in the U.S. and India.
Beth and Dennis have two sons, three daughters and 17 grandchildren.