No Weird Lyrics or Dark, Ominous Post Today!

One of the assignments in my Management class at Hope International University is to discuss an ethical, business, or other dilemma with my classmates. This is a great, “real life”, test of sharing ideas and dealing with people’s reactions to your opinions and/or comments. Maybe even implementing concepts like Plan/Organize/Lead/Control. And true to form, the first week of these discussions has got my mind whirling. (Yes, for a large portion of my 2.78 readers, I DO have a mind!)

This week’s dilemma goes like this:

When [the previous professor] was working in Ecuador with HCJB World Radio (now known as HCJB Global) he encountered an interesting ethical situation. The mission organization had developed the capability of producing television programs. They wanted to get an on-air license and begin broadcasting Christian television shows. But they could not get a license.

They had set up a separate organization called ASOMA. This organization was run by missionaries and staffed by Ecuadorians. They tried for two years to get a license and while it always appeared that they would get the license, they were always denied. They found out that in the Ecuadorian culture the government officials in charge wanted them to pay a bribe to get the license. The missionaries felt this was unethical and refused to pay. The government, in turn, refused to grant the license. The missionaries tried every other means – they used their influential Christian Ecuadorian friends, they used other forms of relationship – to no avail.

After two years they turned the management of the organization over to the trained Ecuadorians. There was very little happening anyway. There was a change in government and after only two months amazingly ASOMA was granted a license. Everyone rejoiced. Later the missionaries found out that the new Ecuadorian management had simply paid a $25,000 bribe and they got the license.

We were asked : What are your feelings about what transpired? What would you recommend to the mission leaders regarding the actions of the Ecuadorian workers?

I thought about this carefully. Maybe it is because I’ve been fortunate enough to see other parts of the world, to understand America is unique, and that it’s not reliable to think the rest of the world should function like America…..but I basically responded like this:

Post #1: In our culture, the monies required to obtain a license would be illegal and immoral. If this business at hand were on American soil, I would suggest that those involved should adamantly refuse to partake in such activities and stick to their moral guns. However, as described in the situation, the culture in Ecuador appears to be very different than that of America. The “bribe”, as it were, appears to be an accepted and important aspect of business interactions in the country. While this concept fights against all that we Americans think of when business is done, that does not seem to be the case in Ecuador. Conversely, NOT giving the monies would be an anomaly. It does not seem appropriate for the mission leaders to take an ethnocentric view on the subject, especially when they are attempting to share Christ in a way that is accepted by the culture. Therefore, I would recommend that the mission leaders accept the actions of the Ecuadorian workers.

I was not surprised to learn that not everyone in the class held my view. One student responded to my post, indicating an unethical act is just that, no matter the cultural context in which we find ourselves.

What are your thoughts? I am curious to know. I have more to share on this topic, but I seriously don’t want to add more at this point because I’d love to hear others’ view on the subject. Maybe you will agree with me and that’s great. But maybe you don’t – help me see the error of my ways….at least try! So please, if you have time, leave a comment!

I will NOT be debating with anyone who responds. I will seriously contemplate your responses and then I will share what I posted to my class, in response to the student who disagreed with me. MAYBE I will respond to specific comments, but I will not debate them.

Hope that makes sense!

8 thoughts on “No Weird Lyrics or Dark, Ominous Post Today!

  1. My initial reaction was they shouldn’t pay the bribe, but when I read your response I have to agree with you. In some cultures it is inappropriate to leave a tip for a waitress/waiter at a restaurant – what they get paid is all they get. But, in this culture, it is expected to leave a tip and considered rude when people from other countries do not. So, for Americans, it is unacceptable to pay a “bribe.” But culturally speaking, a “bribe” is a necessary part of doing business – consider it a “tip” for services. Why is it that Americans think our way is the only and right way?

    Now, I do not feel that “bribing” is acceptable in a general sense, but in this case, the missionaries themselves did not bribe; the Ecuadorian people did – something that is expected and accepted in their culture.

  2. Ethics – you gotta love it! I’ll try to make this short.

    I grew up Baptist so to say “situational ethics” work for me is like saying I am headed for hell in a handbasket (pardon the old Bible belt expression)!

    So, I would say that I believe in cultural ethics. What I don’t and won’t adhere to are ethnocentric ethics. It is funny to me how people see things through American glasses when Jesus never even lived in this country, nor did he adhere to our American ways. His ways transcend any culture and even transcended the one He lived in while He inhabited a human body.

    I firmly believe that as you read Scripture, you’ll find TONS of behaviors that can be seen as unethical. But, were they really unethical or are some of us guilty of seeing things through pharisaical glasses???

    In the question posed to you, we tend to see the bribe as clearly that, a bribe. To them in that culture, it is simply seen as a payment for a service rendered.

    A personal example, as part of the adoption of my kiddos, I was forced to buy the judge and several other gov’t officials expensive gifts in order to buy their favor and speed along the process of the adoption. This could be seen as a bribe by American standards and quite frankly, here, it is against the law to bribe a judge. However, in Russia, this is normal behavior. It is not “on the books”. It is just normal. Was I going to leave Zack and Sophia in orphanages because this was not the American way of doing business?

    We can go a step futher in this whole ethics game and ask why it was okay for Rahab to lie about Joshua and Caleb being in her home in Jericho. And then we find her name in the lineage of Jesus. For all intents and puposes, she was a liar by black and white standards, but her action was much larger than what we simplify into unethical act.

    I would say, and I could be very wrong that a good percentage of people with the black and white ethical standards haven’t traveled the world or studied many different “religions” or ways of life other than their own.

    I am certain that I bring shame to the stalwart Baptists I grew up under, but what they warned me about was true. When one exposes him/herself to many ways of thinking, one is not likely to continue on in life with narrowminded beliefs.

    These kinds of posts are awesome! I love to talk about this kind of stuff!!!!

    Of course, I am not taking lightly the importance of the sad songs, because after all, “sad songs say so much”!!!

  3. If you were to ask people in Ecuador “What is the number one problem in your country?”

    They would answer “corruption”.

    A bribe is a bribe is a bribe. If it is illegal for government officials to recieve bribes, then a bribe cannot be referred to as a payment for services rendered….

  4. Great point about it being illegal, however, I’m not sure the question here is if it is a bribe or if it is illegal.

    I mean there are missionaries in Vietnam in the name of Christ when much of what they do is illegal.

    The governments are corrupt. With that, I can agree.

    It would be easy as well to say a lie is a lie is a lie, but for some strange reason with Rahab, we don’t see this thought.

    I’m all for smuggling Bibles to places where corrupt governments have made it illegal.

  5. Deana is much more eloquent than I am, but I, too, just spent the last two years bribing every Tom, Dick and Harry in Russia to get my kids home. It made me angry that it was the accecpted cultural norm, but my kids were hungry for a new life. I think the same is true for the Ecuadorians… they are hungry for Christianity. Although the financial toll was great, I do not lay awake at night struggling with my decision to play by the Russian rules in order to get my kids home.

    (Ok… I just re-read my answer and it did not exactly answer your question… those two new kids also brought this mom a lot less sleep… especially with sick kids and a stormy night that knocked our power out.)

  6. From Martin…

    I’m late to the game on this, due to lack of internet access, but here ’tis anywho.

    This is an interesting case study, with some helpful comments so far. If I may, I’ll add my somewhat longwinded two cents…

    When trying to understand things like this from a Christian point of view I have a fairly simple rule: go back to what you know; then build from there. In light of that rule, a couple basic assumptions (that, to me, are part of what every Christian should know).

    1. When it comes to Christian ethics, the basic summary is the Ten Commandments. This is a pretty standard assumption throughout the history of Christianity. This is where ethics starts.

    2. Every commandment states, in simple form, a basic principle that has broad implications. Again this is pretty standard historically. For example, the commandment, “Do not murder” also implies that we should not hate, gossip or slander (these are forms of character assassination, or spiritual murder); it also implies its opposite, that we have a duty to preserve life.

    Given the above, I would “go back to what I know” by asking myself which of the Ten Commandments this example fits into. Which commandment is bribery related to?

    To answer that, I have to ask myself, what is bribery? There are two kinds.

    One is the kind experienced by these missionaries, or by Deana in her adoption efforts. Someone in power demands payment for services rendered. That’s extortion, or bribery by another name. It is a breaking of the 8th commandment, against stealing. The mafia does it as well. We also have biblical evidence of this: tax collectors who made people pay more than the tax owed, so that the tax collector could line his pockets. While this practice was despised by the people paying the taxes, it was also an accepted part of Roman culture. That is was accepted doesn’t make it any less of a sin, as Zacchaeus learned. The evidence of Zacchaeus’ new faith in Jesus was his realization that he’d taken too much in taxes and that he must return it.

    So in the case of these missionaries, there would have been no sin on their part to pay the bribe. Those sinning are those who demand it. No one who paid the extra taxes to the Roman tax collector was considered to be sinning. But Zacchaeus realized his sin and sought to correct it. The vast majority of passages in the Bible about bribery are strong condemnations of those who accept bribes and thereby have their judgment clouded, or pervert justice by wrongly altering their decision because of accepting the bribe.

    In the first kind of bribery the sinner is the extortioner who steals from his innocent victims.

    The other kind of bribery is the one paid to tempt someone to do something they shouldn’t. The motive of the payer is to persuade someone to do what they shouldn’t. This is also mentioned in the Bible. One example is from the time when the Jews came back from Babylon. Those around them who opposed their return paid bribes to the government officials to get the officials to stall or delay the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Temple. This also is sin. Which commandment fits? A couple that I can think of. On the one hand, if I offer a bribe to a policeman to avoid a speeding ticket, I’m stealing from the government. They make the laws, They get to impose the fines for breaking those laws. By trying to bribe my way out of a ticket I’m stealing from the government. But I’m also tempting the officer to lie and, in a sense, to steal as well. So at least the 8th and 9th commandments both apply.

    In the second kind of bribery the chief sinner is the one who offers the bribe, but the one who accepts it also sins.

    Good biblical ethics is founded upon a sound understanding of the Ten Commandments and what they imply beyond the simple, “Do…” or “Do not…” of each command.

    To go the other way around is perilous. There is a saying that “hard cases make bad law.” IOW, tough examples are not good precedent, and rarely teach broad ethical principles well. They’re fun to talk about, but too often the discussion ends up in one of two places: strict legalism (the Pharisees, the medieval priests who thought up all sorts of arcane rules to follow based on all sorts of hard cases – casuistry, modern American fundamentalism); or moral relativism (based on feelings, or “I’m OK, you’re OK, or everyone has their own perspective on truth). Good knowledge of basic biblical principles helps prevent either extreme.

    The Gospel is for sinners who extort bribes and tempt with bribes. If Christians try to occupy some sort of moral high ground by not paying extortioners because of the misconception that they’d be sinning, our actions preach a false “gospel” of do-gooding instead of a Gospel of God’s forgiveness by grace through faith in Christ.

    We’re all lousy, horrible, no-good sinners who continually break God’s law in a myriad of ways. If we really understood the moral law of God, summarized in the Ten Commandments, and all of its implications, we would be broken by our own sin and inability to keep it, and humbled by God’s magnificent holiness that can’t abide sin and must see justice, and more and more dependent on the salvation He has lovingly provided in His very own Son, Jesus Christ. Instead of worrying about whether or not we should pay evil government officials a bribe, we should just pay it and take the opportunity to confront their sin with the good news of the Gospel.

    Sadly, studies show that an embarrassingly small percentage of American Christians can even name the Ten Commandments, let alone understand their implications for ethical Christian living.

    Gina, IMVHO it would be cool if you could bring a “Ten Commandments” perspective to these case study discussions. It may not be where the professor wants to go, but it might provide a decent biblical foundation for what you’re talking about.

    Well, I’ve rambled enough. Peace out.

  7. Great discussion all. Even the reading “bystander” has learned today!!! 🙂 … and it’s relevant thinking! thank you! CatO

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