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Civis 002/2015

III.  Internal Obstacles


The church oftentimes thinks that corrruption is not important and is easy to solve. Instead, corruption has become a national problem. There are three illusions that discourage the church from contributing in corruption eradication in Indonesia.

First, corruption is a problem outside the church. In fact, corruption is like a chronic disease and the patient has become accustomed to it. In other words, church as part of the society is not immune from this social disease. Moreover, with the permissive attitude in our society, the church is very tolerant with the corrupt practices and even preserve it within church practice.

Second, the church feels that it is enough just to pray for the government officials (1 Tim. 2:1-2). Not that intercessory prayer is not important, but praying alone is not enough.

Third, if the government officials are Christian (some people add the criteria of “born again”), corruption problem will be resolved automatically. Then, the church becomes actively involved in promoting regional chiefs (governors, mayors, etc.) or legislative members who are Christian. Of course the church supports Christians who become public officials. But, it must be remembered that there is no direct correlation between corruption and religion.

The following is a list of 14 most corrupt cities from a survey in 2010 (0 means very corrupt and 10 very clean). Notice the cities with largely religious population:

  1.  Pekanbaru 3,61

  9.  Sorong 4,26

10.  Jayapura 4,33

13.  Jakarta 4,43

14.  Mamuju 4,45

Notice also the Corruption Perceptions Index from the Transparency International where the indexes of communist countries are still better than countries that acknowledge religions (0 means very corrupt and 10 very clean).


Country                    Year        Score        Ranking

Indonesia/China     2014        34/36        107/100 (of 175 countries)

                                2013        32/40        114/80   (of 177 countries)

                                2012        32/39        118/80   (of 176 countries)


Corruption does not recognize religion. The main criteria for public officials should be a clean record, good integrity, and competency. Good if the person is Christian, but if not, it is fine too.


IV.  Strategy


Church’s strategy to contribute in eradicating corruption cannot be separated from her identity as a church. A church is not an anti corruption NGO, but a religious institution. Therefore, the church is expected to give a moral contribution to shape the public morality that critizes corrupt behavior and promotes honest one. There are three things that the church can do.

First, church’s sermon and teaching need to touch more on public piety. Church usually deals with individual and social piety. Individual piety relates to obedience to the commands not to lie, not to steal, not to commit adultery, to keep the Lord’s day holy, to pray diligently, to give tithe routinely, etc. Piety that centers around the afterlife and peace of mind. Then, social piety is becoming a Christian like the Good Samaritan. Though ideally a pious person would become a good official, in reality it is oftentimes different. Being pious alone is not enough to make someone a good official. Many examples show that those arrested for corruption charges were previously known as pious people. In a corrupt beraucratic environment, the moral defense of the pious person proves to be fragile. Individual or social piety does not seem to directly prevent corrupt practices because the piety has been subdued and surrendered to corrupt power.

It is at this point that I talk about public piety in relation to integrity in workplace. It is the piety that supports the profession. Public piety cultivates critical and resolute mind of an individual to fight the corrupt structures. Such piety discourages the corrupt officials from inviting the pious official to collaborate in group corruption. Religious leaders who maintain their integrity will distance themselves from the powerful people and businessmen, so that there is always a space to speak and act on the right things. In his farewell to the nation he led, Samuel was accountable for his leadership by challenging them to show if he ever extorted them or accepted bribe from them (1 Sam. 12:3). Few leaders would stand at the end of their term and say, “Here I stand. Testify against me.” Samuel successfully defended his integrity as a national leader.

Second, the church can educate her congregation not to support nor approve corrupt behavior of public officials. Due to their financial ability, oftentimes church considers any gift to public officials is normal. Jakarta provincial government is seriously fighting illegal fees by giving decent salary to its officials. There is a law for public officials in relation to accepting gifts in return to their public service. The Supreme Court publishes the Guide to Judge’s Behavior, May 30, 2006, which among other things says that a judge can receive gift or facility from a regional government as long as it does not influence his/her performance and does not interfere his/her independency as a judge. Besides, the gift’s value must be reasonable and every gift must be reported in writing to the Anti Corruption Commission and the Supreme Court’s Supervisory Chief Justice, within 30 days since receipt.

With  the corrupt culture that still lingers with our bureaucracy, gift to public officials is prone to corruption. Gratification is a gift to government officers or state officials for their capacity as public officials. Gifts to public servants don’t always means bribery. But, gifts like that are not without impact. Unlike other language, Indonesian language has a unique way to respond to a gift from other people. The recepient says “terima kasih”, a combination of two words that each has its own meaning (“terima (accept)” and “kasih (love)”). Accepting gift from other people is acknowledged as accepting (the expression of) love, an expression of heart. Something invisible becomes visible in the form of a gift. Therefore, for Indonesians, a gift can be interpreted deeply so that the recipient is not considered as blind to love. To a degree the recipient feels indebted and motivated to reciprocate, directly or indirectly, right away or later. In that sense, the gift becomes not neutral. Hence, our law forbids gratification to government offiers. The logic is this. Accepting gifts without giving back in return is also not good. Therefore, refusing gifts is very important to maintain the integrity of public servats. No free lunch. If you don’t want to be indebted, then be courageous to refuse any gift without a clear intention.

The relationship developed between the giver and receiver (public officials) before the giver gets into a legal problem is like a bribery from a loan shark. In this way we understand this verse:

A bribe is seen as a charm by the one who gives it;

they think success will come at every turn. (Prov. 17:8)

A gift opens the way and

ushers the giver into the presence of the great. (Prov. 18:16)

The great (gědolim) here means the powerful people (Jon. 3:7; Mic. 7:3; Nah. 3:10), people of influence because they are in close circle with the king (2 Sam. 7:9; 2 Kings 10:6; Jer. 5:5; 52:13; became the name of “Gedolim” group in Neh. 11:14).

Gifts (mattan-’adam) give the flexibility for the giver and get him to meet the powerful people (hifil rḥb in Gen. 26:22 “gives flexibility”; Psa 4:2 “gives a room”). The giver in the Proverbs seems to be under pressure, so that the gift benefits him. Therefore, the gift is given with a hope of profit in return. This proverb does not encourage people to bribe, but simply acknowledges the reality that the powerful people like gifts and a person who knows the official’s favourite gift is planting indebtedness.

Gratification, especially bribery, damages fairness and professionalism. Everyone must be equal before the law, but bribery makes the sword of justice sharp on the bottom and blunt on top. Here is Moses’s order to the judges:

Do not show partiality in judging;

hear both small and great alike.

Do not be afraid of anyone,

for judgment belongs to God. (Deut. 1:27)

But bribery “pervert the course of justice” (Prov. 17:23), “perverted justice” (1 Sam. 8:3), “blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the innocent” (Deut. 16:19), “oppress the innocent … deprive the poor of justice in the courts” (Amos 5:12), make the rulers not to “defend the cause of the fatherless (and) the widow’s case does not come before them” (Isa. 1:23). Bribery can benefit the guilty and harm the innocent (Isa. 5:23; Psa. 15:5), even kill the innocent (Deut. 27:25; Eze. 22:12).

In the end, the church is just a small part of this nation. In terms of number, if the majority is in order, then actually many problems in this country will be solved. To participate in eradicating corruption, the church needs to work hand in hand with any organization and anyone with a strong commitment on this. At least, give moral support to the fight against corruption. Don’t let it happen, if one day this country becomes like Singapore, there is no church’s contribution in it.


(This paper was presented in the Church and Politics Strategic Forum held by Leimena Institute in Jakarta on February 9-12, 2015).

Rev. Yonky Karman, PhD

Rev. Yonky Karman, PhD

Lecturer, Jakarta Theological Seminary

Rev. Yonky Karman, PhD is a social observer and lecturer at the Jakarta Theological Seminary. The KOMPAS newspaper awarded him the 2015 Dedicated Intellectual.