Requiring Restitution for Church Criminals

After pleading guilty to a massive crime operation that involved wire fraud and bank fraud, Charles Sebesta was ordered last year to pay back the amount stolen from his church: $11,438,213. Sebesta also received 130 month prison sentence.

A Department of Justice press release explained the crimes: “Having wrested operational and financial control of the Church from its elderly members by 2006, [Sebesta] began a 10-year spree in which he treated the Church and its considerable assets as his own personal piggy bank.”

After becoming chairman of the Fifth Church of Christ, Scientist, of Los Angeles, Sebesta forged check signatures and created a fake company, Sky Blue Environmental, to send payments.

The church refused to excuse the criminal behavior of its chairman and contacted law enforcement. As a result, Sebesta was required to pay restitution. The court ruling mirrored biblical justice which required thieves to pay back their victims. Such justice is often denied when churches and ministries refuse to file charges against pastors and financial secretaries committing financial crimes.

In the 1990s Trinity Foundation investigated a church whose chief financial officer (CFO) allegedly embezzled $50 million and laundered it to the Cayman Islands. The FBI response to a Freedom of Information Act request revealed the CFO was embezzling $400,000 per week.

The CFO was never charged with a crime as the church leadership refused to file charges. Why didn’t the church pastor demand the CFO pay back the money? One likely explanation: Maybe the pastor isn’t a real Christian.

GotQuestions explains, “Genuine repentance leads to a desire to redress wrongs. When someone becomes a Christian, he will have a desire born of deep conviction to do good, and that includes making restoration whenever possible.”

If a pastor refuses to make restitution for crimes committed, such a pastor should be permanently removed and permanently disqualified from church leadership. Lack of genuine repentance shows the pastor is not faithful to God and is not qualified to lead a congregation.

Zacchaeus set an example that church criminals should emulate if they wish to prove they have repented. “But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, ‘Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.'” – Luke 19:8 NIV.