August 08, 2018 | Connor Bechler

A student and a professor talk with each other as they walk on a campus path.
Photo credit: Amanda Impens

If you saw something being stolen, could prevent it, and didn’t, would you be culpable? Would your inaction be sinful?

How about if you were working in an office and you noticed that a coworker was tampering with checks or carrying out some other kind of fraud?    

“Is this a big deal? Well, potentially it’s a $998 billion dollar deal annually in the US,” said accounting professor Tim Bergsma, of Calvin’s business department. This figure, he noted, was based on the Association for Certified Fraud Investigators’ 2018 Report to the Nations on Occupational Fraud and Abuse’s conservative estimate of fraud rates in the United States.

This summer, Bergsma and his co-investigator Nathaniel Finneran, a Calvin graduate student in accounting, are beginning to explore—through a McGregor Research Fellowship—how witness inaction enables fraud, seeking to discover both its scope and impact. Despite the huge monetary cost of fraud, however, Bergsma and Finneran don’t view the financial damage as the whole picture.

“If a Christian business person commits a sin by stealing, that sin disrupts shalom,” said Bergsma, “if an individual possesses knowledge that could stop the stealing from happening, and they fail to do that, that might also be qualified as a sin.”

In order to better understand fraud enabled through witness inaction, Bergsma and Finneran are designing structured interviews for individuals who have firsthand experience with cases of fraud in their organizations. A subset of these participants will represent Christian members of the community.

“Working [with theology as well as business] has been both an extreme challenge while also being a breath of fresh air,” said Finneran. He added, “This project has forced me to adapt and work with a mindset that I am not used to working with. [However,] I definitely enjoy working in this space.”

Bergsma views the project’s focus on both business and theology as natural: “As a member of Calvin College's business department, as an accounting professor, I’m interested not only in the subject matter of accounting and specifically matters pertaining to fraud, I’m also quite interested in how to use work in that space for the glory of God.”

“What’s driving this is a true desire to have a healthier understanding and appreciation of sin in the context of fraud, or fraud in the context of sin, so as to be able to do things, learn things, understand things, and ask better questions that might promote wholeness, better alignment with God our creator, and ultimately shalom,” he added.

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