Speak the Truth!
By The Hon. Edward Bearse
Who am I and what right do I have to comment on this issue?
I am a senior state trial judge who recently retired from nearly 24 years service in the Minnesota District Courts. What brings me to Eastern Orthodoxy is that I am a disgruntled Episcopalian who as a practical matter has been excluded from my own church. The consecration of a certain 'bishop' at the 2003 Episcopal General Convention plus many other follow-up decisions by the Episcopal House of Bishops has driven away many of us who actually understand the meaning of authority in the church.
In early summer 2007, I was going for a run when I saw a sign announcing an OCA Mission Church in my home city of Anoka, Minnesota. That prompted me to regularly attend Divine Liturgy at this church until the fall, when I learned of the present financial scandal within the OCA.
I was stunned!
Leaving the Episcopal Church, even though it is drowning in its own apostasy, was very difficult primarily because of my connection to the people in the local congregation. However, it seemed even more difficult to be involved in another church that cannot resolve a serious financial scandal. Therefore, I stopped attending the OCA Mission Church.
However, I never stopped studying Eastern Orthodoxy, to which I was instantly attracted theologically. This spring I returned to attending the Anoka Mission, telling the priest that I was about 90% Eastern Orthodox theologically just based on my own study.
I don't know where I am in regard to belonging to the church as an institution. This scandal still bothers me a lot, so I decided to put some thoughts on paper.
I have not converted. I am only a seeker. The scandal may well prevent me from converting in an institutional sense. The reader will have to decide if I have the right to offer these thoughts:
Most of my judicial career involved presiding over jury trials. In jury trials, litigants present factual evidence to the jurors, and the lawyers then address the jurors with final arguments, trying to persuade them to find in favor of their clients. Then just before the jurors deliberate, the judge reads to them instructions of law that governs the litigation. This obviously assists the jurors in doing their work, which is to reach a verdict. The term 'verdict' really means "speak the truth". In every case, the very final instruction I gave to the juries read exactly, "Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, in reaching your verdict there can be no greater triumph than the ascertainment and declaration of truth."
I submit respectfully that this principle applies to the present scandal in the OCA.
Why can't the OCA leaders understand and embrace this simple concept? Archbishop Job asked early on if the allegations were true. Finding and declaring truth is the minimum that can be expected from people of God. How can there even be a debate on this elementary concept? Why would people of God refuse to answer, withhold information, obstruct or be uncooperative in any manner?
Lots of inside things are said within judicial office buildings. One unflattering stereotype frequently heard in judges' private conversations are references to "Joe Six-Pack". Judges don't ever expect Joe to tell them the truth. In fact judges don't even expect Joe to obey their orders. Joe seems to have an extra supply of original sin. He steals, lies, obfuscates and does anything to avoid taking personal responsibility for his actions. However, judges order Joe to behave, and notwithstanding many years of experience to the contrary, we hope for the best, and thankfully sometimes he does.
In this controversy we are not talking about Joe Six-Pack. People of God are involved. Doesn't it seem elementary that people of God would want to determine and declare truth?
Numerous people have said how complicated this problem is. Is it?
Regardless of accounting procedures, the church can determine exactly how much money was contributed during the relevant time period. If the exact number cannot be found, then a range (e.g., $4 to $4.5 million in donations) can be determined. (This is obviously just a hypothetical example.) Just asking the churches that sent in member's contributions and inquiring of the larger donors would reveal a range.
Then the most important question is what exactly happened to this money? What is the truth? This obviously involves asking tough questions of bookkeepers, accountants, administrators and leaders. This obviously means expecting truth from people of God!
No one, regardless of station, has a right to decline to answer or to withhold information. No one in the church from the Metropolitan down to the lowest-ranking employee has an ownership interest in the donations. This money does not belong to the Holy Synod. Once the donor delivers the contribution, it immediately becomes God's money! The individuals within the church hold the money in a fiduciary capacity for God. "Fiduciary" is a fancy legal word that means the church functionaries hold the money in trust for God. That word "trust" is important. The law says to the fiduciary that you can manage this money because the law trusts you. Under any legal system, the fiduciary is held to the highest standard of care for obvious reasons. The fiduciary then is obligated to spend the money only for God's purposes. Total transparency is a minimum. The fiduciary cannot deflect an inquiry by saying things like, "Well, it's in the past, so we must move on." This is God's money.
There has to be a precise accounting whether the amount is 5 million dollars or a penny.
Even though I think this problem should be fairly simple, it certainly seems very complicated from all that has been written and said. What is known about what is happening on the inside? Why isn't everything known precisely after all this time? Any explanation that focuses on different accounting systems just has to be an attempt to avoid the problem. Are people on the inside "stonewalling"? Are they refusing to answer, delaying, and withholding information? No one has the right to stonewall about God's money. The good people of the OCA simply cannot tolerate it. If an individual is stonewalling, you just assume that person has something to hide. Decisive steps must be taken, such as forcing removal of or withholding financial support from those responsible. If criminal acts have occurred, law enforcement must be advised.
At a minimum, there must be restitution.
Those of us who strongly believe in apostolic succession instinctively give great respect and deference to our bishops. We actually believe theologically in the bishop's power! However, to maintain our own Christian integrity, occasionally there have to be limits.
For centuries we have looked to the church fathers for the development of our faith and to answer all of the difficult theological questions that have arisen. Those of us in the pews should follow our bishops on these serious matters. For example, if today the church fathers announced that Eastern Orthodoxy was reversing its position on the 'Filioque' issue and that they now agree with the Roman Church, I personally would disagree but would defer and adopt that belief.
Management of money is simply a different matter. If the bishops are not properly managing money, the remainder of the church must call them to account. Confronting a bishop is no small matter. Pray for the courage to confront and do the right thing. Although there must be some large donations from a small number of people, the vast majority of contributions come from the hard-earned money of the people in the pews. Keeping the truth in darkness puts a cloud over the people, obscuring what should be a source of light--their church. No matter the source, once received, the money belongs to God. Why can't the leaders of the OCA see the need for ascertainment and declaration of truth in regard to God's money?
Why can't they speak the truth emphatically?
Edward W. Bearse