A church in Joliet, Illinois, was ordered to return nearly $800,000 of donations following an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) into a donor for fraudulent practices.
According to ChurchLeaders.com, Messiah Lutheran Church had received donations from a local company that had been involved in dishonest financial dealings. Most of the donations were made back in 2010.
Despite the church having no part in the fraudulent financial practices, it was ordered to return the money to the federal government. The congregation now fears they will have to sell their building.
“The church accepted those donations in good faith and is not accused of wrongdoing,” the church leaders say on the Messiah’s fundraising page. “However, the donations are no longer available to meet the SEC’s demand because they have been used in ministry over the last ten years.”
In a recent interview with CBS’s Shardaa Gray, the Messiah Lutheran Church pastor Kurt Hoover explained that the church, which has been operating for at least 120 years, has four main goals in this situation.
“One of those is not losing our church. We want to keep our church family unified. We want to give God glory. We want to continue our ministry in the community.”
Messiah’s board president, Brian Wielbik, spoke up on behalf of congregants, stating, “That’s very, very disturbing, and people are angry about it. People also here are in disbelief at how can that happen, but unfortunately, it has,” he said.
“In 2019, the Securities and Exchange Commission accused a business of fraudulent practices,” Gray said. “As part of that process, the SEC can go in and take everything that the company has, go after any other areas where they have given money, and take that money back.”
Following the investigation, the SEC filed a federal lawsuit requiring Messiah to pay back the $780,000 in donations from the local company within 10 years. The first payment of $487,000 must be made to the SEC by Nov. 15.
“We were able to pay $187,000 right away,” Hoover explained. “We had that sitting in reserves. We have to raise $300,000; if we don’t raise that by Nov. 15, there’s a penalty; another $100,000 is added to the total.”
Messiah Lutheran is calling on the Joliet community to help them raise the remaining $300,000.
“Messiah Lutheran Church needs to pay a judgement despite no accusation of wrongdoing. Not paying it will likely result in the forced sale of its building,” the fundraising site states. “Illinois law does not protect the clawback of donations from nonprofits.”
“David trusted God to help him stand against his giant, Goliath,” the statement from Messiah continues. “Messiah is trusting God to help it continue in ministry against the huge SEC demand.”
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Milton Quintanilla is a freelance writer and content creator. He is a contributing writer for Christian Headlines and the host of the For Your Soul Podcast, a podcast devoted to sound doctrine and biblical truth. He holds a Masters of Divinity from Alliance Theological Seminary.