Many of the Korean-owned protestant churches in the United States are in dire need of a financial audit after a series of incidents, one of which an employee was charged with embezzlement of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
At The Way Church in L.A., a pastor who is only identified by his last name Jeong was recently found to have embezzled $750,000 from the church funds.
The talk among those familiar with the finance of Korean-American churches is that most of those religious organizations only have an in-house finance management system, which naturally makes their funds susceptible to criminal actions.
“Financial expertise is lacking even though each church has its own financial team,” said Dave Noh, an Irvine-based pastor. “Doubting someone is considered a taboo within the realm of religious people as church is a place in which people are encouraged to trust each other. Obviously, that is something many people should be careful about.”
Some even say that money-related crimes in churches are more common than what one may imagine, as the shame oriented cultures among various religious circles often try to sweep it under the rug to avoid public backlash and humiliation.
“It is something of a ‘shared secret’ between churches to keep quite when someone embezzles money,” said Tae-san Kwon, a pastor at Olympic Presbyterian Church. “They just want to avoid such a news getting out to the public. Korean churches must break out of an outdated form of operations and build a more systematic financial system. That is also the best way to protect the leaders within their organization.”
The Way Church has provided a valuable example to Kwon’s suggestion. After Jeong was found with embezzling $750,000, the church formed an investigative group and conducted an audit. Moreover, Jeong has recently been submitted to a rehabilitation facility where he is receiving treatment for his gambling addiction.
“American churches in general reach out for professional help from certified public accountants to handle their financial departments,” said Los Angeles Christian Ethnics Movement director Kyoung-seok Oh.
“At those churches, authority is often delegated so that no one can wield too much power. It’s now imperative for Korean churches to prepare a professionalized accounting system.”
By Yeol Jang