The All-American Bloodsport

Rough & Tumble — No Holds Barred

From the Pulpit

Watching examples of integrity in action

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 him.

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 squads.

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 do that.

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 school).

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.



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