Saloma Miller Furlong
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A Question of Accountability for Monroe L. Beachy

This morning there was a story in the New York Times about Monroe L. Beachy of Sugarcreek, Ohio, who was running an investment firm for 25 years and then suddenly filed for bankruptcy in June 2010.

From the article, it sounds like Beachy made his first mistake by placing his trust in someone who was not worthy of it. Then he made more bad decisions by trying to cover up the ones he’d already made.

This article is extensive and includes a summary of the Amish and Mennonite proposal to the Federal Bankruptcy Court in Canton, Ohio:

“Monroe Beachy in his time of distress breached the trust of his fellow Amish and Mennonites” by entering an “environment of coercion and self-protection in the bankruptcy court,” a group of church elders told the judge, urging him to put the case into the hands of the church where it belonged.

That would accomplish three worthy goals, they said. It would allow a less expensive, more advantageous financial workout “based on Christian principles of love and care for the poor and needy.” It would create a setting in which “Biblical forgiveness and restoration can be found between Monroe Beachy” and those he is accused of betraying. And it would repair “the tarnished testimony and integrity of the Plain Community.”

Though 2,300 of 2,600 creditors filed letters endorsing this plan, it isn’t clear in the above proposal whether all the investors were from Plain communities. However this Washington Post article from February 17, 2011, did make that point clear when it was stated: “Bankruptcy officials have argued that it would be unconstitutional to transfer the work of the court to Amish church leaders, noting that some of the investors, who came from 29 states, are not Amish.”

This seems rather an important detail, for how can the Amish or Mennonites claim that this case should be placed in their hands, if not all the investors belong to their church? It sounds like this would only open the door to problems later. Most likely if the Amish or Mennonites felt they were dealt with unfairly, should the church elders get to decide how the money is divided, they would not bring the matter to court, for it is indeed against their principles to settle their disputes in court. But the decisions made by the elders may not satisfy someone outside the church who doesn’t go by these standards. This could bring the matter right back to court.

 

Taken in Holmes County, Ohio

The response from the Amish community when their motion to take the matter into their own hands was denied shows their humility and deeply held and lived Christian faith. In a letter to the judge, the members of the A&M Trustee Committee wrote: “We are agreed among ourselves to accept your ruling as the will of Almighty God in this matter.”

I’m glad that the Amish and Mennonites are accepting the decision, for I believe the judge has made a sound one. The court-appointed bankruptcy trustee, Anne Piero Silagy, is optimistic that up to 50 cents on the dollar can be returned to investors. This sounds like the fairest way to deal with the problem of who gets how much money. It is an expensive lesson for all the investors and yet it is a natural consequence of having misplaced their trust in Beachy, just as he mistakenly placed his trust in others. If, after the plan has been implemented, there are still Amish and Mennonites who feel the care for the poor and needy has not been satisfied, they have the prerogative to follow their Christian principles by contributing to those in need. Among the Plain communities, they know who these people are.

The Plain People are also free to forgive Monroe Beachy, but it doesn’t mean he shouldn’t face consequences for his actions in greater society. He is both a member of the Plain community and a citizen of the United States. As a member in good standing, the Amish principles dictate that he cannot file for bankruptcy because he needs to be accountable for his debts. As a citizen of the United States, he also needs to face the consequences of his fraud. Making exceptions in our judicial system for someone because of his religious beliefs is a slippery slope. After all, if Beachy hadn’t violated these Christian tenets in the first place, there would be no need for court action.
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