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Ryan J. Bell

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Clergy to Wells Fargo: Time for Deep Soul Searching

Posted: 04/26/2012 3:46 pm

As Christians continue to celebrate the Easter season we are reminded of an important biblical story that should serve as a clear warning to Wells Fargo and the nation's other largest banks about the danger of closing its eyes to the pain and suffering they continue to inflict by mass foreclosing on Americans.

The Gospel of John tells the story of Thomas, the disciple of Jesus who famously doubted his resurrection. Thomas demanded to feel Jesus' wounds before being convinced that he had risen from the dead. His story gave rise to the popular term "doubting Thomas." But there's more to the story. When given the opportunity to see and touch Jesus' wounds, Thomas fell to his knees and professed his belief. For this reason he is also called Thomas the Believer.

His story may appear to be solely a cautionary tale about disbelief (Jesus did say to Thomas, "Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed"), but it can also be seen as a story of transformation -- that even those who close their eyes and harden their hearts to the Good News are capable of changing their beliefs and their actions.

Despite so much evidence to the contrary, there is Good News spreading in the world today. While the big bank foreclosure machine enters its fifth year of gobbling up people's homes with little discretion, more and more Americans are, in a sense, "rising from the dead" and demanding that the banks put an end to this crisis once and for all. But the big banks continue to deny that the tables are turning, and instead continue business as usual. Now that the multi-state AG servicing settlement has been signed, banks plan to kick their foreclosure machines into high gear all over again. They continue to deny their lead role in perpetuating this crisis that is hurting everyone by keeping housing values depressed and the economy stagnant.

One bank, however, stands out in particular for its public denial -- Wells Fargo.

When the robo-signing scandal broke in the fall of 2010, Wells Fargo was the only major bank that refused to put a moratorium on foreclosures, claiming that it did not engage in this practice. But a report from the HUD Inspector General later turned up evidence that Wells Fargo does engage in robo-signing and that Wells Fargo employees tried to cover it up.

According to the Huffington Post, Wells Fargo employees told HUD investigators that they regularly signed up to 600 documents a day without attempting to verify whether any of the information was correct, and that they notarized more than 1,000 documents a day -- including sworn statements that purported to verify the bank's legal right to foreclose on a home -- often without having witnessed the signature of the documents. During the course of the HUD investigation, Wells Fargo tried to restrict investigators' access to just five of a list of 14 affidavit signers and notaries. The reason? "Wells Fargo told us we could not interview the others because they had reported questionable affidavit signing or notarizing practices when itinterviewed them" said the official HUD report. A new report from MSNBC confirms these facts.

Like the apostle Thomas, it is high time that Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf address our communities and put his "hand in the wounds" of our families. It's time for him to see and feel the mental, emotional, physical and financial toll experienced by the millions of homeowners who are in foreclosure or who have already lost their homes to his bank. Maybe this would give him pause before he and his fellow CEOs proceed to foreclose on the estimated 7 to 9 million additional homeowners who could yet lose their homes. Maybe, just maybe, he would recognize how his hard-heartedness is hurting not only homeowners but everyone in America, himself included.

John Stumpf, his board of directors and his shareholders are in desperate need of a spiritual wake-up call. That's why this Tuesday, clergy from the PICO National Network invited them to attend an interfaith prayer service prior to the start of the Wells Fargo annual shareholder meeting in San Francisco. We are praying that the leadership of Wells Fargo will respond to this call for change from a representative group of moral and spiritual leaders in America.

Central to the Christian narrative is the truth embodied in the Easter story, that life follows death; that love, generosity and mutual respect will finally outlast and overcome selfishness and greed. As Christian leaders we stand on the side of life, urging the leaders of our banks and other civic institutions to stand with us.

 

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