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In Defense of Corrupt Officials

Let’s join the biggest and most successful campaign ever against corruption.  Preach the Good News about the power of the Holy Spirit to transform individuals, then teach (and live) Christlike character and we will see nations transformed!

Photo by Hunters Race on Unsplash.


**This is a personal website and reflects my thoughts and convictions. It does not represent any official position held by Youth With A Mission.**

For a few years, I flew in and out of Norther Nigeria via its largest city, Kano.  There were several aspects of those flights that were nerve-wracking; today they make for good stories.

My most anxious moments were at the immigration point in the departures area.  The set up was similar to many others except that the officers were not behind glass; they were behind plywood sheets where the glass should have been, so no one could be seen.  The departing passenger would push their passport through a small slot in the plywood and then move about 5 steps farther along, where they would wait for their passport to appear again through another small slot.

With shrugs of apology, local passengers would explain that my passport was more likely to emerge again if it has a $20 note in it. I, however, was an anti-corruption warrior who refused to be intimidated into bribery!  I would stand at the second small slot, waiting while other passengers came and went; then, eventually, my passport would reappear, and I would feel I struck another small blow against systemic corruption.

What’s the Real Root?

Decades have passed, and now each of my four adult children have been or are involved with Africa. Two of them have lived in African countries and the other two have made many more trips than I ever did.  They have had to interface with corrupt officials at much higher levels than I ever did—and the amounts involved are exponentially greater.

There is no doubt that corruption is the primary cause of poverty in Africa.  The continent has been blessed with the greatest natural resource riches of any part of the world, but the general rule is, “the closer you live to valuable natural resources the more misery you will experience”.  A few officials and their families amass colossal wealth and the many lack clean water, good nutrition, education or any kind of health care. But how often do we consider that the dishonesty of the average person is the root cause of corruption?

Government officials, including the police, military, immigration—the every-day faces of power—rely upon the government treasury for their pay.  The treasury is dependent upon the citizens to declare their income and pay their taxes. When the treasury cannot pay government workers, they usually use the power of their position to extort money directly from the populace.  Hence, the nerve-wracking passport slots in Kano.

Anti-Corruption Campaigns Don’t Work

When a new government replaces an old one in the many nations suffering from corruption, they will inevitably announce an anti-corruption campaign. Of course, that suggests that the new government is not corrupt, but that is impossible.  When almost every citizen conceals their income and pays no taxes; when there is no system in place to track income and reliably collect taxes, only the corrupt can navigate their way to the top.  Maybe, occasionally, an independently wealthy person can commit to serving their nation and can do so without resorting to corruption—but that is exceedingly rare.

No Quick Fix

So, good luck to all the anti-corruption drives, whether mounted by the United Nations, or the foreign aid departments of Western governments, or by the big NGOs.  If the Treasury does not have the revenue to pay government workers a fair wage, then corruption cannot be stopped.  The high-profile campaigns continue, despite the inescapable logic I have laid out.  Why?

I think the answer is simple.  The governments and large organisations know of no way to address the root problem of dishonesty in the citizenry.

Which Nations Are Least Corrupt?

But there are many prosperous nations in which the taxation system works and government workers are paid, often very well.  So, we must look at their history and ask how that working system arose.  There are essentially two reasons—totalitarian control is one and voluntarily honest citizens is the other.  Since no one would choose to be under a tyrannical government, we should examine the second reason.

Have a look at the “Corruption Perceptions Index”: (

Did you notice anything those nations have in common?

The Importance of Biblical Christianity

They were the primary nations impacted by The Reformation (except for Japan, but that’s another story).  They were the nations where the general populace became literate and very familiar with the Bible.  Those were all Northern European nations and they went on to establish similar societies in North America, Australia and New Zealand.  The Counter-Reformation prevented the Southern European countries from accessing the Bible until relatively recent times, but now that two or three Popes in succession have promoted Bible literacy, that might change.

It wasn’t just the original Reformation.  Following Luther’s “revolution” these nations experienced Christian awakenings or revivals—waves of evangelism, Bible studies and character transformation in ordinary citizens.  Character transformation of citizens formed a solid foundation for honesty throughout society.  (For a very readable account of how religious awakening contributed to the American Constitution, have a look at If You Can Keep It, by Eric Metaxas.)

There is no doubt that the transformation of any nation is an enormous, complex and long-term process.  Grinding poverty alongside fabulous wealth was the norm for Europe 150 years ago, but revival and Biblical teaching brought gradual change.  Over generations, the fundamental needs of human life were more and more accessible to all.  I propose that this is the only desirable path for the transformations of nations where corruption is the current norm.

It Has Begun!

If that sounds like an impossible process, think again.  I have just returned from Brazil where an event called The Send, drew about 150,000 people, average age 24, who were super-energetic for 12 hours of worship and challenge to become missionaries. I was at the largest of the three full stadia at 10 p.m. and the energy levels, commitment and focus were still going strong after 12 hours of standing through sun and rain and dark.

I referred to The Send in an email to a friend earlier today and she replied with her own wonderful report:

“I leave tomorrow with For His Glory ministries to do a large festival in Kisangani in the Democratic Republic of the Congo; we expect to have a festival where 75,000 to 100,000 maybe even more people accept Christ Over 5 nights. We’ve trained over 10,000 people already in that city to disciple new believers.”

It seems to me that the waves of revival, or awakening, are happening already—and on a very large scale.  May they continue and grow!

Christlike Living

Now we need countless Christians who will initiate Bible studies with a focus on developing Christ-like character.  Then, with a foundation of honest citizens, proportionate revenue can be raised, and government employees paid.  THEN we have a hope of stamping out corruption.

After these many decades of experience in deeply corrupt nations, I have more sympathy with corrupt officials.  Having said that, often their corruption is boundless, so I am far from condoning or defending them, but I do understand that it is not just a result of individual wickedness.

I am still committed to waging war on corruption, but we must address the foundational issue—the essential importance of an honest population.  That can only be realised by deep conversion experiences with the Holy Spirit and then character formation by powerful Bible teaching and learning.  If that sounds like it’s too big to hope for, note that it only takes about 20% of the population to catalyse change.  That minority percentage is enough to act as “salt and light”, as Jesus referred to.  Surely that brings reformation into our thinking as a very real possibility.

Let’s join the biggest and most successful campaign ever against corruption.  Preach the Good News about the power of the Holy Spirit to transform individuals, then teach (and live) Christlike character and we will see nations transformed!

Lynn Green.

Lynn Green and his wife Marti first came to England and began the work of Youth With A Mission here in 1971. From 2004-2011 Lynn was YWAM’s International Chairman. He continues to convene YWAM’s global leadership meetings, and focuses much of his energy on international leadership development.

3 comments on “In Defense of Corrupt Officials

  1. David Hewitt

    Well put and helpful. Ever read Lee Kwan Yew’s chapter on “Keeping the Government Clean” in “From Third World to First”?

    • No, but is sounds like it would be wise. He is the best modern model of a “benign dictator”. They do come along once in a great while!

  2. Thanks Lynn, I can only very much agree with your words. So often I have surprised faces when I address the issue of everyone’s personal corruption. I learned also that not every gift is necessarily a bribe – in some countries a small gift (not necessarily money) can build the necessary relationship with officials and oil the machinery just as well. Anyway, such a big issue all around the world.

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