My wife and I spent some
time in Guatemala this summer. You've already read in these pages that
we visited Scandinavia. It's not that we usually travel this much, but
when we were about to leave for Scandinavia, we got an e-mail from the
bishop of our church in Guatemala. We know him and have great respect
for his work. He had experienced several assassination attempts in May
and there were continuing threats against him. It took us about 30 seconds
to decide to catch the next available flight to spend some time with
His life is in danger because he was in the forefront of the process
which led to the 1996 Peace Accords. Those Accords resulted in an end
to the conflict which had claimed over 200,000 lives since the 1950s
when our CIA assassinated Guatemala's first democratically elected president.
A reliable source estimated that 90 percent of the deaths were at the
hands of the army, other state security forces or paramilitary death
He has also been active on behalf of human rights in the troubled country.
So why, we asked our friend, do you continue your work? Why expose yourself
and your family to such danger? It boiled down to integrity. This was
the work he was called to do, and while he knew the danger, nothing
was going to keep him from it. That's integrity: when integrity bears
a high cost!
Integrity is not always the hallmark of our leaders. About 20 years
ago, a young African-American man came to one of my worship services.
After the service, he introduced himself as a pastor of another Christian
denomination. He had come to ask my forgiveness. I was shocked because
I'd never met this young man.
The story gets a little complicated. At the time, I was a worker-priest,
earning my living in the world of real estate finance and affordable
housing. That allowed me to be a pastor in my spare time. This young
man had applied for a loan to the company of which I was an executive.
In those days, you needed a certain small percentage of the purchase
price as your investment (down payment) in the property. He had offered
a bank cashier's check as his investment in the house.
The problem was I'd just seen two other applicants, buying from the
same builder, with the same realtor, who also handed me cashier's checks
drawn on the same bank. As a routine matter, our process showed that
none of these borrowers had ever been close to that amount of money
in their entire lives. The money had come from the seller which
was not permitted. The attempt to hide it was a fraud. The young man
standing before me knew it was wrong but didn't realize all the implications
of fraud. He'd come to ask forgiveness, which I gave. I then gave him
some advice about how to achieve home ownership. I hope that he now
owns a home and a clear conscience.
The story came to mind this summer when the Nevada Leadership Academy,
here in Sparks, ran afoul of allegations of mismanagement and fraud.
The county school district's staff requested that the board revoke the
charter for this school. The board, for whatever reasons, declined to
What caught my eye was that it was alleged that the pastor, who at that
time directed the charter school, instructed the folks who wrote the
school's checks to marshal $150,000 of the school's money and to transfer
it to the church. It was in the form of a you guessed it
cashier's check. This check was shown to the church's bank as evidence
of equity in the building the church wanted to buy. When the loan was
approved, the cashier's check went back to the school. That transaction
sounded pretty familiar to me from my experience of years before. Major
corporate leaders are being arrested these days for variations of this
"round trip" transaction.
So when this became public, why did the lender have no plans to foreclose
on a loan which may have been obtained fraudulently? Based on a lot
of years of experience in the lending world, I can venture a guess or
two. Of course, no bank likes to foreclose on a church. I also assume
it was because this loan is probably a performing loan the monthly
payments are being made (with lease payments for space used by the charter
There's no reason to foreclose
on a performing loan. It will be interesting to see if the Nevada Leadership
Academy can get its financial house in order. If the school's lease
payments aren't made to the church, then it will be quite a stretch
to keep the loan on a performing basis.
So there are two examples of integrity in this story.
I've identified one.
Can you find the other?
The Rev. Ronald M. Rentner is Pastor of Lord of Mercy Lutheran Church.
This commentary originally
appeared in the Daily Sparks Tribune of Friday, 8 Nov. 2002, and has been
reproduced here by permission of Rev. Rentner.