In Encountering Missionary Life and Work, Steffen and Douglas have some interesting sidebars that raise some issues that missionaries often need to sort through. One of these is entitled, “Missionary Lifestyle Decisions.” Here’s one of the situations presented:
Situation 6: Missionaries from Mission X are instructed to exchange money at the official government rate. Mission Y missionaries exchange their funds on the ‘parallel’ market, where they receive at least three times the official rate of exchange. The parallel market is illegal, but even government agencies use it. You do not belong to either of these missions. What exchange policies would you recommend for your team? (212)
I’ve encountered this situation. Back in 1992, I was in the South American country of Suriname for a few weeks. Inflation was a serious problem. The official exchange rate between the Suriname guilder and the American dollar was totally unrealistic. There was a black market where you could exchange money at a far more reasonable rate. Everybody used it. I don’t think there was any enforcement.
It seems to me that there is somewhat of a parallel with traffic laws, at least here in Ontario. The speed limit on our major freeways is 100 km/h. However, virtually nobody drives that slow. In fact, driving that slow can actually be dangerous and will get other drivers irate. The reality is that most people are driving at least 115-120 km/h, if not close to 130. Because of the volume of traffic, enforcement is basically impossible and the police themselves, in non-emergency situations, are often driving at these same speeds.
In both situations, there is a law but it is not respected or enforced. The law is on paper (or on a sign), but it does not really function in reality. What are Christians to do with non-functioning laws?
Option 1: Obey them anyway, even if nobody else does. This may bring you impoverishment, injury or death, but you will know that you have done the right thing and obeyed the law. Somebody else may even get hurt because of your obedience, but yes, you kept the law. Good for you!
Option 2: View non-functioning laws as phantom laws (non-laws) and do what everyone else does. This brings challenges too, because who gets to decide at which point certain laws are non-functioning? You like to rationalize, don’t you?
I am hard pressed to choose between those two options. Perhaps there is a third option: evaluate all human laws in the light of God’s Word and act accordingly. I don’t know enough about the ethics and economics of currency exchanges to comment on how one might evaluate black market currency exchanging. I would have to do further research.
I know a bit more about driving on freeways. It would seem to me that we need to have our neighbour’s best interest at heart when we are on the freeway. We ought also not to put ourselves in harm’s way. So, for instance, you have to drive for the conditions. Even if the speed limit is 100, there may be situations where it is inadvisable to drive that fast. However, there may be other conditions where it is necessary because of the flow of traffic (and safe) to drive faster, so long as you put enough space between yourself and the vehicle in front of you (and you hope that the driver behind you does likewise!). Perhaps the “law of love” requires you to ignore the 100 km/h speed limit when everybody else is too. Or perhaps Christians just shouldn’t drive on the freeway?
There are still lots of questions here, and I don’t claim to have all the answers. Feel free to comment.