Having lived in Moscow and traveled within the NIS for about five years, and having been peripherally or intimately acquainted with the real-life habits of ministries here, including two represented by those interviewed [on bribery: East-West Church & Ministry Report 5 (Winter 1997), 8-11], I feel qualified to tell you that things are often not as they are presented.
Biblical proof texts aside, some things will simply not happen without someone breaking or bending the law (to the point of mutilation) in Russia. I am sometimes offended by ministries who proudly and judgmentally proclaim obedience to Caesar while hiring, encouraging, or allowing others to break the law on their behalf. What am I talking about, you may ask? Many Westerners hire services to find them quarters and make payments. Since the vast majority of landlords will only accept dollars in cash or foreign accounts, or require some sort of payment under the table, and since these monies are almost always hidden from the tax man, many God-fearing folks would be without a roof over their heads or office space if they didn't hire mercenaries to take care of the problem for them. Shame does not seem to prevent some of them from proclaiming their obedience to income tax laws while paying under the table for their apartment in obvious violation of Russian laws.
I ask the "innocents" who haven't yet had any problems needing to be solved to spare me their wisdom, and the self-righteous not to give me any silliness about innocence if someone else has acted as a mercenary on their behalf.
Russian society does not share (by and large) legalistic notions or pharasaical purity considered sacred in the West, particularly not when a good cause is in jeopardy. It judges more on the desire to do a good work and an effort to save funds for future good work.
The best analysis, biblically and practically speaking, was that of Gregory Nichols. Your report maybe did him a disservice in highlighting his position as "A Case For Bribery," given its loaded meaning in U.S. society and the vague-to-the-point-of-irrelevance sense of the word post-Soviet. There ought to be 50 terms for bribery here to cover the myriad phenomena which range from indirect charity to gifts to criminal malfeasance. Theoretically speaking, is a nonrestrictive, unsupervised gift of $15,000 to an orphanage administration via a board member, and made with the knowledge and tacit agreement of the executive, an "event unrelated to official policy?" That which we do in love to proclaim the Gospel and which is expedient toward this end is love. If Holt [International Children's Services] loved the children in Russia, no price would be too great for their rescue, whether helping them here or taking them to adoptive parents in the U.S. Harry Holt died while fulfilling God's law in Christian opposition to the U.S. government and many other petty government hacks on both sides of the Pacific. That was the legacy of the Holt family.
For ministries in Russia no law of man or God stands ahead or in the way of the salvation of his little ones of any age, in any place, at any time. I want the Church to base its actions on true love and not this artificial and damnable legalism. I want businesses to admit that they're businesses and ministries to live up to their name. I want the West to understand that the world isn't fair and there isn't a "right answer" for methodology in Russia; there's only wisdom and love for the individuals that make up this people.
Jeff Willis,administrator for an indigenous Christian print and media ministry in Russia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan
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© 1997 Institute for East-West Christian Studies