I like the silent church before the service begins, better than any preaching.
--Ralph Waldo Emerson,
Military academies and seminaries share a weakness. They do not teach students how to handle large sums of money. Consider Ollie North and Jim Bakker.
Col. North was a member of the National Security Council. He has been much in the news of late. He needs no introduction.
While working in the White House basement North was responsible for a Swiss bank account. In response to a request from Elliot Abrams in the State Department, the Sultan of Brunei deposited $10 million in that account. The money was to be used for contra aid. Instead, it disappeared. Abrams does not know where it went. If North knows he's not saying.
Bakker has also been much in the news of late. Bakker is a TV evangelist. He is also the former head of something called PTL, an organization whose full name is Praise the Lord and People That Love.
Some years ago Bakker, then, as now, a married man, had a sexual encounter with a young woman not his wife. If his description is to be believed and there is no reason to disbelieve it, the encounter was not his fault. The whole thing happened, he is reported to have said, because "in an isolated incident I was wickedly manipulated by treacherous former friends and then-colleagues who victimized me with the aid of a female confederate."
Many a married man has been victimized by a woman. We all feel the utmost sympathy for the innocent man to whom this happens, more especially when treacherous former friends are the cause of the liaison.
Understandably, Bakker wanted the wickedness of his former friends (as well as his own indiscretion) kept secret. Contrary to early reports, however, he did not pay blackmail. Instead, he paid $265,000 to the young woman's lawyer, which was appropriately divided between the young woman and her lawyer.
As a token of her appreciation for Bakker's generosity, the young woman agreed not to sue Bakker for assault and battery, false imprisonment and infliction of emotional distress. (People schooled in the law will immediately be able to distinguish those two transactions from garden variety blackmail.)
As a result of her graciousness and his payment, the entire episode was kept from Bakker's followers, until a short time ago. When the secrecy was dispelled so was Bakker's tenure as head of PTL.
But on to tales of large sums of money, which is what this column is all about.
Some years ago the IRS decided to look into the financial affairs of PTL. Its interest was in part aroused by Bakker's life style. Although Bakker is a lover of the Lord, mammon ranks a close second in his affections. He and his wife at various times are reported to have driven matching Rolls-Royces and to have owned a $375,000 condominium equiped with gold plumbing fixtures. He lived the kind of life the man whose Gospel he preached did not himself enjoy.
In the course of its investigation the IRS questioned bookkeeping practices that left $13 million in PTL revenues unaccounted for. Here is where the difference between religious training and military training manifests itself.
When asked about the disappearance of $10 million from a Swiss bank account, Col. North refused to answer on the grounds the answer might incriminate him. That is why no one knows where the money went.
When asked about the inability to account for $13 million, Bakker had a straightforward response. "The devil got into the computer" used for record keeping. That is why no one knows where the money went.
We know that Congress was very angry with North's refusal to testify. We do not know what the IRS thought of the devil's involvement with Bakker's computer.
Here is some advice for my readers. If Congress asks you about activities you prefer not to discuss, you, too, can take the 5th Amendment.
If you are audited by the IRS and it turns out you have made mistakes, don't blame them on the devil. If it worked for Bakker it was dumb luck. It will probably not work a second time.