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Why I was arrested on the steps of the Justice Department

On May 20, 500 evicted homeowners and their supporters gathered on the steps of the Justice Department to protest the lack of justice in the foreclosure crisis.

As an ELCA Lutheran pastor, I don’t normally find myself protesting iconic symbols of our nation, but recently found myself on the stairs of the Department of Justice in Washington D.C., much less being led away in handcuffs in solidarity with the protesters. But there I was on May 20, standing with 500 evicted homeowners and their supporters on the steps of the Justice Department to protest the lack of justice in the foreclosure crisis. 

Rev. Matthew Bersagel

Before I really understood what the foreclosure crisis was all about — and before I had had a chance to meet homeowners who had been foreclosed on and evicted through little or no fault of their own — I was like many Americans. As a decent steward of my own finances, I had told myself that anyone in trouble just bought more house than they could afford. They should have been more careful or more disciplined. Just get a better job, I thought. 

But as I began to listen, really listen, I heard that an extraordinary number of people experiencing foreclosure were people swamped with medical bills. Others had lost their jobs in the recession. The ruined economy cost them their livelihood. One had never missed a payment, but the note was called in when the value of the home collapsed. The home was seized. 

Another pattern jumped out at me; in the process of losing their homes, many people were told lies at some point about what banks were up to with regard to their mortgage. “Dual tracking” is the technical name for it.  It is when banks say one thing in customer service while at the same time pursuing another path in their legal department to evict.

Making matters worse is the fact that not one banker of a large national bank has been jailed for ruining the economy and the housing market through fraud and deception. For me, as a Christian, this violates the law of love, the Commandments, the example of Jesus and the basic decency of the golden rule. When fraud upon the people is ignored, the people are at the mercy of whatever the banks care to do to them.

So while the jolt of a taser knocking me backwards over a concrete planter and the sharp squeeze of cuffs while being hauled toward Precinct One in Washington was not something I had pictured for that day, I was proud to face arrest with 26 other brave homeowners.

It has never been a goal in my life to be locked up, but my sense of violation of everything decent led me to welcome it if it would expose the emptiness of our economic policies and the people promulgating them. Until Attorney General Eric Holder and our justice system repent and begin enforcing the law in more than token gestures, I will stand with homeowners. They are a passionate and diverse bunch who are not perfect, but whose most serious flaw is believing that we live in a nation of laws and of people.

It’s time that our banking and lending system repents and starts treating people with dignity and respect, helping them to find what they need instead of taking advantage of the weakest among us. The too-big-to-fail banks are having their way with the most vulnerable homeowners, all to record profits.

In America, this economic violence shouldn’t be happening. I pray, as we all should pray, that those who have hurt so many millions of families find their souls and do the right thing. 

The Rev. Matthew Bersagel is senior pastor at Crown of Glory Lutheran Church in Chaska.


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Comments (3)

  1. Submitted by Stan Hooper on 06/08/2013 - 08:27 am.

    Bankers & Financiers Lending Dignity and Respect

    I want someone to tell me why, from the viewpoint of the financial organizations, there would be any advantage to provide dignity and respect to their customers? Most don’t and it doesn’t seem to bother them one bit. The few that do don’t seem to be gaining any advantages by doing so other than providing warm, fuzzy feelings, but not notable financial benefit. Preferably, I’d like the response from a financial leader.

  2. Submitted by Patrick Wells on 06/08/2013 - 05:26 pm.

    Criminal Behavior in the Financial Sector

    The Reverend Matthew Bersagel is right.

    I commend Reverend Bersagel for demonstrating against the big banks. Ironically, some protestors at the Justice Department, including Reverend Bersagel, have been arrested while exercising their constitutional rights to free speech while the Justice Department has refused to prosecute the criminals in the big banks.

    There is rampant crime in the “too big to fail” banks. The rampant crimes have been documented by 60 Minutes (Steve Croft), PBS (The Untouchables), William Black (professor, regulator, economist), Sheila Bair (past head of the FDIC),etc. The financial crimes include fraudulent misrepresentation of securities, liars loans, robosigning, wrongful foreclosures, Libor rigging, etc. The failure to prosecute these crimes is a greater scandal than the other scandals involving the IRS, the State Department, etc.

    The NY Times has reported the Justice Department, several years ago, took the FBI off the criminal investigations of the big banks. Yes, Eric Holder is at fault, but so was the Bush Department of Justice.

    There are no criminal prosecutions because the large banks are the largest contributors to both the Democrats and Republicans. It takes big money to get elected and neither political party will take on the banks.

    In addition to being the primary source of political money, the big banks and law firms provide a revolving door to lucrative employment for government employees who favor them.

    Finally, the big banks and law firms dismantle any reforms by carefully monitoring and influencing the rule making process after laws are passed.

    Arguably, the above criminal behavior has contributed a great deal to the decline of the American middle class. Middle class income has been in decline for over 10 years. This phenomenon of middle class decline is of significant historical interest.

    The average American Citizen is willfully ignorant about the financial corruption. Only a few elected officials, the best example being Elizabeth Warren, are trying to reform the financial corruption. Representative democracy cannot function without engaged and informed citizens.

  3. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 06/08/2013 - 05:45 pm.

    Thank you Pastor.

    for pointing out what a huge moral failure we are facing in this country. I believe this is a failure of leadership too. I supported the President but his failure to lead by a massive wave of criminal prosecutions against the financial and banking elite which precipitated the financial collapse in 2008 has been a great disappointment. Until the culprits are rooted out and punished and true reforms are instituted, we will continue to repeat the mistakes that led to the 2008 crisis and eventually wind up there once again.

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