Suggestion: As Christians, we need to break more rules.
Last year, we were visiting some missionary friends in communist Vietnam, and found ourselves in a dilemma. Legally, we had to officially register at a state-run hotel where our activities could be monitored, but for a variety of reasons, we had intended to stay with our friends. In the eyes of the government, this was illegal and could send a police squad to our door.
I asked our hosts about what our options were if the police came. They shrugged – we could 1) go along with them to be punished, or 2) bribe them. Out of curiosity and secret ambition of ruling an underworld empire, I asked how much a typical bribe would be. “About 225,000 Vietnamese dollars.”
Which equals 10.00 USD. For the whole squad.
Oh, you know I considered it.
I know there are many who would argue that bribery is always wrong, and normally, I’d throw in with them – but this instance gave me pause to look deeper into the situation before applying such a blanket statement.
It’s too easy to stop at the fact that the system is corrupt and that the police are accepting bribes. The deeper implication is that the system is so corrupt that the police are accepting 10 dollar bribes. The amount of money says a lot more about how deep the rabbit hole goes – it is a tangible indicator of the poverty of the lawmen’s own lives, even while on the side of a corrupt government. The system is failing them too.
Ultimately, we felt the Holy Spirit telling us to stay, and thankfully, nothing happened. I honestly don’t know what we would have done if the police had come. But it got me thinking.
In Luke 16, Jesus tells the parable of the shrewd manager, who’s been cheating his boss out of a lot of money by skimming his accounts. The boss finds out, fires the manager, and demands his money back. So the manager finds all the people who owe his soon-to-be-ex-boss money… and cuts them a deal. He reduces their debts and thus racks up some much-needed favors that he planned on cashing in once the ax fell.
8-9 “Now here’s a surprise: The master praised the crooked manager! And why? Because he knew how to look after himself. Streetwise people are smarter in this regard than law-abiding citizens. They are on constant alert, looking for angles, surviving by their wits. I want you to be smart in the same way—but for what is right—using every adversity to stimulate you to creative survival, to concentrate your attention on the bare essentials, so you’ll live, really live, and not complacently just get by on good behavior.”
I don’t think American Christians are used to hearing this message. I think we’re used to living by rules and good behavior, and just praying that God makes a way when it comes to living in unjust conditions. We don’t rock the boat like we used to.
I say used to, because we used to run an Underground Railroad. We used to smuggle in Bibles to countries that outlawed Christianity, or pretend we’re teachers when we’re really missionaries and live under killer governments where their faith is forbidden. We used to make treasonous statements like “Jesus is king,” in the face of Caesar. We used to be troublemakers, get flogged, and go to jail on the regular because we refused to obey men over God. Some of us still do.
So maybe a little bribe isn’t the end of the world, if it’s a shot in a war against an oppressive regime and a new opportunity to start a relationship with someone who needs a better reason to come back to your door.
We don’t need more Christians in churches. We need Christians in casinos, in porn, in prisons, in the black market, in politics. And I may not know how the heck we’re going to navigate those dark waters and slippery slopes, but I know that we’re not getting anywhere by hanging back in our safe little
boxes fellowship halls. The Kingdom is bigger and infinitely more complex than all we have assumed. We need to start living creatively, and not blindly follow a set of inflexible rules that have been placed on us by both our culture and our churches.