- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 18, 2012

In a dispute that some are calling a modern-day updating of the biblical Parable of the Ungrateful Servant, a minority-owned bank that benefited from federal bailout funds is threatening to foreclose on one of the nation’s oldest black churches.

The 194-year-old Charles Street African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood could have its sanctuary forcibly auctioned off as early as this week unless a last-minute deal is reached.

The action could be taken by OneUnited Bank, which received $12 million from the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) and whose board of directors once included the husband of Rep. Maxine Waters, California Democrat.

Having the auction take place on the church’s front steps “is as mean-spirited and as godless as you can get,” the church’s pastor, the Rev. Gregory G. Groover Sr., told the Boston Herald.

Mr. Groover did not return calls from The Washington Times seeking comment, and a secretary at the church said Friday “there’s no way I could comment” when asked whether there were any new developments.

U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano, the Massachusetts Democrat whose district includes Charles Street AME, said he has sought to persuade OneUnited not to foreclose.

“Charles Street AME is an historic and important community institution and means so much to so many people. I have asked One United to come to the negotiating table to try and resolve this matter without resorting to foreclosure. I remain hopeful that a satisfactory resolution will be found,” he said in a statement.

Biblical parallels

Charles Street AME supporters claim the pending foreclosure is a real-life reflection of the Unforgiving Servant Parable from the Gospel of Matthew (Matt. 18:21-35).

In the story as Jesus tells it, a servant forgiven a great debt turned around and choked a colleague who owed a small amount. The parable about divine mercy ends with the king sending the first servant to be tortured until he pays off his own debt.

According to Ryan Bell, pastor of the Hollywood, Calif., Seventh-day Adventist Church, OneUnited Bank is behaving like the first servant, showing the black church little mercy after receiving its millions from language designed to help black banks that Rep. Barney Frank, Massachusetts Democrat, inserted into TARP-related legislation in December 2008.

“To foreclose on this historic African-American church, is disappointing to say the least. We forgave the banks and bailed them out, and now they’re coming after the little borrower,” said Mr. Bell, who also is a leader of LAVoice/PICO (People Improving Communities through Organizing).

News reports indicate the Charles Street congregation had borrowed $3.6 million from OneUnited to construct a community center adjacent to the sanctuary, which the congregation had acquired in 1939. Fundraising and rentals from the new building would have helped pay off the loan, but construction was halted when, Charles Street says, OneUnited cut off funding.

The loan’s history

On Feb. 17, six members of the House Ethics Committee, including its chairman, recused themselves from any ethics investigation of Mrs. Waters, including the two-year-old probe of her role on behalf of OneUnited Bank, where husband Sidney Williams was a director and shareholder.

Story Continues →