Okay, put down your whips. No need to flip over tables. There are ways to follow Jesus that are less drastic, and also less likely to land us in jail. The title of this post was to get your attention, to draw you attention to the issue of payday loan .
Payday lending may seem like an odd topic for a Sunday morning sermon but that’s where we found ourselves this past Sunday at my church in Springfield, Ohio (Its also why we are planning a Community Forum on Predatory Lending in Springfield on May 25). There are four reasons why we felt that this is an issue that Bible believing churches should be discussing.
Why should Christians actively seek to reform payday lending
First, it’s a Bible issue. The bible makes a strong case against sexual immorality. There are approximately 50 passages dealing with that topic. By contrast there are over 300 passages talking about the poor. This should cause us to be at least as concerned about the needs of the poor as we are about different forms of immorality. Here is a sample of the Biblical references to our duty to care for the poor:
Because the poor are plundered and the needy groan,
I will now arise,” says the Lord.
“I will protect them from those who malign them.
Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.
Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause.
Titus 3:14 And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need...
Some of you may say, That’s fine but does the Bible really care about interest rates?” Apparently it does:
Whoever increases wealth by taking interest or profit from the poor amasses it for another, who will be kind to the poor.
If your brother becomes poor and cannot maintain himself with you, you shall support him as though he were a stranger and a sojourner, and he shall live with you. Take no interest from him or profit, but fear your God, that your brother may live beside you. You shall not lend him your money at interest, nor give him your food for profit.
Second, this is a Jesus issue. In the busiest, most important week of Jesus’ life, the week leading up to his crucifixion, he took time to confront people who gouging the poor by charging them exorbitant rates to purchases sacrificial animals, or to exchange their currency. By chasing those who were oppressing the poor out of the temple and disrupting their means of business he made a bold and costly statement about his priorities as the Messiah. His actions at the end of his life were consistent with the very first statement Jesus made following his temptation in the wilderness.
The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
o proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
Third, real faith leads to action. James, the half brother of Jesus Christ and the Pastor of the first Church in Jerusalem made a reputation for himself as a defender for the poor. It didn’t go over well. James, who had the nickname, “Old Camel knees,” because of his consistent discipline of prayer, upset the powers that be by confronting the wealthy who were oppressing the poor in Jerusalem. They threw him from the top of the temple, and when he survived the fall they finished him off with clubs and stones. James’ life was committed to one central message, real faith leads to action. He went a step further; He said faith without action is dead
Spiritual maturity isn’t measured by how pious we are or solely by the lack of sin in our lives. The spiritual maturity that Jesus sought was measure by action. Doing things that are consistent with his example and with the values of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Fourth, God tells us to seize the moment. Ephesians 5:16 tells us that we are to redeem opportunities to do good or to oppose evil because the times are evil.This is one of those times.
We are at a critical moment. Our opportunity to oppose a specific form of oppression will pass quickly. What we do in the next month or two can make a difference. It’s our chance to follow the example of Jesus Christ by standing up to an industry that is designed to oppress the poor, the payday and predatory loan industry.
Here are a few facts about this industry
What does the Bible say about Lending
The bible honors people who lend generously. The Bible does not prohibit all forms of lending. In fact, Psalm 112 tells us that righteous people lend generously and will be remembered forever for doing so.
The Bible seems to make a distinction between business loans and loans to the needy.
It allowed Jews to loan money to foreigners and other wealthy Jews as long as the interest was not excessive.
The Bible strictly prohibits two types of loans. It prohibits loans that charge excessive interest, and it prohibits loans that charge any interest to fellow Christians who are in need.
If you lend money to any of my people with you who is poor, you shall not be like a moneylender to him, and you shall not exact interest from him.
Whoever gains wealth by charging exorbitant interest collects it for someone who is kind to the poor.
The Bible clearly tells us not to oppress the poor.
The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.
Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him.
May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the children of the needy, and crush the oppressor!
The Bible tells us not to turn our backs on the poor.
1 John 3:17
But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?
Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys.
The Bible tells us to pursue Justice.
I, the Lord, command you to do what is just and right. Protect the person who is being cheated from the one who is cheating him. Do not ill-treat or oppress foreigners, orphans, or widows; and do not kill innocent people in this holy place.
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.
So what is a Christian response to this problem?
First, we should expose things that are evil. We have a moral duty to shed light on a practice that is harming our neediest neighbors, We can and should use social media, letters to the editor, Op Ed articles, and community forums to educate our fellow citizens about payday loan centers are hurting our communities.
Next, we should work through those who are placed in positions of authority so that we can fix what is broken in our world. God ordained government to protect us from evil and to help us live quiet and peaceful lives. You can help this cause by using the following guide to contact your legislators and say:
"I support the regulations being proposed by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau which 1) require lenders to do a better job making sure borrowers have the means to pay back their loans, 2) spread payments out over a few months rather than just two weeks, 3) limit how long a borrower can be stuck in the debt trap, 4) allow legitimate banks to offer similar short-term loans at lower rates of interest.
I’m also opposed to HB 4018, the Consumer Protection and Choice Act, which is financed by the predatory lending industry and is designed to protect their practice of oppressing the poor."
You can get your congressional representative's contact information at at Contacting the Congress
You can also call Paul Ryan at 202-225-3031 asking him to use his influence to keep HR 4018 from getting to the floor.
We should fix systems that wound or oppress people, not just bandage the wounds of their victims. There are two broad categories of churches; those that care about evangelism and those that care about fixing thongs that are broken in the world. We need more churches and more individuals who are willing to stand in the middle, committed to both evangelism and social justice (By “social justice” I don’t mean a partisan political agenda. I use the term to indicate a concern for a Biblical response to things like poverty, failing schools, and racial reconciliation).
Many theologically conservative churches focus solely on evangelism and treating the symptoms of things like poverty and racial strife. Those to the left of us, and our friends in the Catholic church have done a better job addressing the root causes of these types of social ills. We can and should learn from their example, and improve upon their methods by also addressing the need for personal reconciliation to Jesus Christ.
And finally, we should sacrificially meet the immediate needs of brothers and sisters who are poor or in distress.
Here is a link to one faith-based group (Agape Financial) that is using micro-loans to help the poor in their community who have emergency financial needs,
This complements things like food banks and emergency shelter faculties. As church we should be creative in developing better ways to address the emergency needs of the poor.
What is Central Christian of Springfield, Ohio doing?
We are seeking to educate our church and our community about payday lending hurts our poorest neighbors. This past Sunday it was the focus of our Sunday morning sermon. On May 25 we’re hosting a community-wide forum on payday/predatory lending. We’ve invited community leaders, other churches, and representatives for our Senators, Congressman, Governor, and other elected officials who represent our State and community. We will use this opportunity to help another church launch a Task Team to explore faith-based lending for the poor in our community.
In will close this post with a verse that I used as my benediction after yesterday’s sermon.
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
Jesus told us to love our neighbors.
Paul told us to seize the moment.
God told us to stand up to those oppress the poor.
How will we respond?
Resources for Additional Information
The Center for Responsible Lending: Payday Lending Abuses and Predatory Practices
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: Payday Loans and Deposit Advance Products
The Pew Research Center: Payday Lending in America
The Center for Responsible Lending: The Buckeye Burden: an analysis of Payday and Car Title Lending in Ohio
PICO: Resources for Learning and Action Toolkit
To join a national campaign against predatory lending
Faith for Just Lending
Stop the Debt Trap Campaign
At Central Christian Church we are committed to addressing issues of justice and standing with those in need. Jesus didn't put us in Springfield so that we could worship comfortably in a beautiful sanctuary. He put us in springfield so that give our most vulnerable neighbors a taste of heaven and a relationship with Jesus. Join us for worship at 10:30 Sunday Mornings. Join us in community service the rest of the week.
"This blog is my way of connecting with people at Central and beyond to encourage them to make their space in the world more like Heaven."
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this blog reflect my thoughts and opinions as an individual, not the formal positions of our church. Central includes people with a wide range of opinions on important issues like those addressed in my posts. It is also a place where we can discuss these issues with civility and grace.