Is it wrong to offer a bribe, in order to influence someone? The reason I ask is because Elder Boyd K. Packer, President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, mentions in one of his sermons how he slipped an East German train conductor a 5 Mark note when his wife’s passport was not in order. Just curious what the Lord’s stand was on the issue.
First of all for those unfamiliar with this story let me share. This is taken directly from a talk given by President Boyd K. Packer in 2002 at a devotional held at BYU.
Over 30 years ago I was assigned with then Elder Thomas S. Monson to organize a servicemen’s stake in Europe. We met at Berchtesgaden, Germany, high in the Bavarian Alps. Originally it was a headquarters built by Adolf Hitler in an incomparably beautiful place. Seldom has there been on this earth anyone who has duplicated in personality and purpose the adversary quite as much as did Adolf Hitler. I thought that we had come full circle where that had taken place on that site, and now we were gathered there to organize a stake of Zion.
After we had finished setting apart and completing that organization, we were assigned to go to Berlin for a stake conference. We needed to get from Berchtesgaden high in the Alps down to Munich to the airport.
We got to the airport in ample time for our plane, which was scheduled to leave at about 10:00 in the morning, but it was fogged in. We sat there listening to the announcements for nearly 12 hours. They kept saying they thought the fog would clear. It did not clear.
That night near 10:00, two missionary elders came to the airport. We knew then that the planes would not fly. They told us there was a train leaving Munich for Berlin at midnight. The elders took us to the train station, helped us buy our tickets, and saw us aboard the train, which would take from about midnight until about 10:00 the next morning to arrive in Berlin.
As the train was pulling out, one young elder said, “Do you have any German money?”
I shook my head no.
He said, “You better have some,” and, running alongside, pulled from his pocket a 20-mark note. He handed that to me.
At that time the Iron Curtain was very “iron.” The train stopped at Hof on the border between West Germany and East Germany, and the crews were changed. All of the West German crew members got off the train, and the East German crew got on the train. Then the train set out across East Germany toward Berlin.
The U.S. government had just begun to issue five-year passports. I had a new passport, a five-year passport. Before our trip, we went to have my wife’s passport renewed, but they sent it back saying that the three-year passports were honored as a five-year passport. She still had more than two years left on her passport.
At about two o’clock in the morning, a conductor, a military-type soldier, came and asked for our tickets, and then, noting that we were not German, he asked for our passports. I do not like to give up my passport, especially in unfriendly places. But he took them. I almost never dislike anybody, but I made an exception for him! He was a surly, burly, ugly man.
We spoke no German. In the train compartment, there were six of us: my wife and a German sitting to the side of her and then almost knee to knee in a bench facing us were three other Germans. We had all been conversing a little. When the conductor came in, all was silent.
A conversation took place, and I knew what he was saying. He was denying my wife’s passport. He went away and came back two or three times.
Finally, not knowing what to do, I had a bit of inspiration and produced that 20-mark note. He looked at it, took the note, and handed us our passports.
The next morning when we arrived in Berlin, a member of the Church met us at the train. I rather lightly told him of our experience. He was suddenly very sober. I said, “What’s the matter?”
He said, “I don’t know how to explain your getting here. East Germany right now is the one country in the world that refuses to honor the three-year passport. To them, your wife’s passport was not valid.”
I said, “Well, what could they have done?”
He answered, “Put you off the train.”
I said, “They wouldn’t put us off the train, would they?”
He said, “Not us. Her!”
I could see myself having someone try to put my wife off the train at about two o’clock in the morning somewhere in East Germany. I am not sure I would know what to do. I did not learn until afterwards how dangerous it was and what the circumstances were, particularly for my wife. I care a good deal more about her than I do for myself. We had been in very serious danger. Those whose passports they would not accept were arrested and detained.
Sidenote: That young Elder that gave Elder Packer the 20 mark was Elder David A. Bednar who was serving in the South German Mission at the time.
Was Elder Packer offering a bribe for unrighteous gain? Was he offering a bribe for something that was illegal? The answer would have to be no. You’ll notice that Elder Packer said, “I had a bit of inspiration”….he was inspired to do that. The Lord can inspire us to do things “out of the ordinary” if He so chooses.
The Lord works in strange and wonderful ways to keep His work moving forward. I think Elder Bednar was inspired to offer Elder Packer the money. I think the Lord was looking out for Elder and Sister Packer when the bribe was offered. Imagine Sister Packer being taken off of the train. Who knows what would have happened to her? The Lord looks after and protects those who are in His service.
The Lord expects all of us to be honest and of the highest integrity. Offering bribes or accepting bribes for ill gotten gains or influence is not pleasing to the Lord. I think there is a difference in the many situations you hear or read about in the world today and the story of Elder Packer.