Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) Draws a Rare Foul
Imagine my horror when opening the news and seeing the headline that the U.S. Justice Department, assisted by Swiss authorities, had filed corruption charges against 14 FIFA officials. (Yes that was sarcasm, because like most Americans I had no clue what FIFA was.) Anyhow, the crux of the charges in the indictment surround alleged bribes and kickbacks ($150 million worth) in exchange for votes for host countries of the World Cup and providing lucrative media and marketing rights. The World Cup is the Mecca of world of soccer. It’s where all those soccer moms and dads aspire to see their progeny compete when they grow up.
I do not know if the charges have validity, but it does remind me that the Bible has something to say about bribes. If you do a word search of “bribe” in the Bible, some common themes appear. For example, Deuteronomy 16:19 says, “Do not pervert justice or show partiality. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the innocent.” Fascinating. We in the church spend a lot of time praising God’s grace and soaking up his mercy. We easily forget — to our own peril — that our God of grace and mercy is also the God of Justice and fairness. Bribes have terrible power. Deuteronomy 16:19 warns us that bribes have the power to make even the wise impotent in their discernments. Bribes also dupe otherwise innocent people to justify unethical practices. Bribes in developed countries buy unmerited access.
Human beings are clever, too clever for our own good. In our western sophistication we take the distasteful word “bribe” and turn it into a more palatable word or phrase (a euphemism) such as an “incentive,” or a “gift,” or a “fee,” or a “contribution” . . . the possibilities are many. I once worked for a retail company where our wholesale supplier gave us what they called “premiums” for buying more of their products. The premiums came in the form of TVs, stereos, golf clubs, vacations, tickets to professional sporting events and so forth. Granted, the wholesaler did not expect us to do anything illegal, but they did expect that their premiums would buy our loyalty, even if some of their products were subpar or overpriced. The Bible warns us that bribes, in any form, are dangerous. Bribes spread like cancer throughout a society until they become standard operating procedure. And in the process they weaken trust, which is the foundation of a healthy society.
I noticed that many of the comments under online articles about the FIFA indictments came from people expressing their satisfaction that FIFA leaders were finally, after decades of illicit behavior, going to get their comeuppance (an archaic term used to describe a punishment or fate that someone deserves). While I appreciate that most people have a healthy sense of justice, the fact remains that institutions such as the U.S. Justice Department, despite its vast resources, can’t make people ethical. The law has always been inadequate at forcing people to be ethical. Only the work of God’s spirit can lift people up and heal their ethics, and even then it can take a long time with many ups and downs.
Allow me to swing this topic around to our situation here in America. We have become so sophisticated in our bribery that it can be nearly impossible to discern a bribe from a legitimate business exchange. There is no easy formula to help us navigate away from cleverly camouflaged bribes. The best I can come up with is that a legitimate business exchange would occur naturally even if the bribe was removed from the equation. A bribe gives one party an advantage over others. The person offering the bribe does not have to compete on a level playing field. Ultimately we desperately need a higher percentage of citizens who have sought and encountered Christ. Only then will people have the chance to acquire the necessary spiritual acumen to recognize and reject bribes throughout our society, though it won’t happen without resistance.