By William Steele
I was invited to help at a college and seminary of the Presbyterian Church in Korea. I went on a recent Monday to visit.
I do not feel free to be of help to that college. They lack financial transparency. When institutions do not report in detail their audited finances, there is a suspicion that they are they are misusing funds.
This was so in a Christian school for the children of missionaries where my wife taught and I volunteered. The administration did not prepare financial reports for anyone.
Thus, they hid the fact that they embezzled teachers’ pension funds; they deducted teachers’ contributions from salaries but did not pay contributions to the Korean pension fund. A teacher who quit while we were there had to write threatening legal action to receive her pension funds.
The institution charged parents for textbooks for the students but only bought one textbook and ordered the teachers to make photocopies for each of their students, which is illegal and unethical.
Teachers with Christian ethical standards refused to comply. My wife and I could not in good conscience continue there. We have read of the financial corruption at Yeouido Full Gospel Church and the corruption of the Christian Council of Korea and the shame that this brought churches. This is possible because Christian organizations do not make public financial reports.
A Korea Times report in 2007 said, “Earlier in August, the Seoul Archdiocese of the Roman Catholic Church took the lead by opening its financial books for the first time in Korea’s Catholic history. … It marks a U-turn from the hitherto outdated and corruptive management practices of the past. Faithful implementation of the new system will help them regain the people’s trust and contribute to enhancing transparency across the board as well as in religious circles.”
An article in The Korea Times on Feb. 24 encouraged pastors to pay taxes and religious organizations to be transparent with their finances. This is a requirement by law in North America and Europe. In Korean thinking, pastors do not work.
They are, however, employees of churches and they receive stipends or an honorarium. When serving as a pastor in Canada, I received a stipend, on which I was required to pay income tax. The law also required me to report and pay taxes on any honorarium I received for extra activities such as conducting marriage ceremonies. This is just.
A concern expressed to me by a pastor is that financial reporting to the government and paying taxes would involve the government in the internal affairs of the church. This is not so. The state has a role of implementing justice, even in the affairs of the church, and it does not involve the government in the internal affairs of the churches.
I would encourage Korean and expatriate church members to withhold their offerings until their churches begin reporting their properly audited finances.