It could be the beginning of a joke – “A Catholic, a Baptist, and a Lutheran sit down for breakfast…” On May 14th, this was no joke, but an inspiring display of unity. On that morning last month, a group of Christians met in Washington, D.C. to eat together, among other things. And when I say “Christians” I mean representatives from Catholic, Southern Baptist, Cooperative Baptist, Progressive Baptist, Mainline, Evangelical, and Pentecostal groups. When I looked around the room I was shocked – there wasn’t a major group of mainstream American Christians missing. This was a small, but historic gathering. For some, this was the first time they had ever spoken out in one voice on any issue. And the issue was predatory payday lending.
The coalition met in May to launch Faith for Just Lending and begin a concerted effort to combat predatory lending in the United States. After breakfast we drove to the press conference. As I squeezed into the very back of one 15 passenger van, I smiled when I saw the connections being made between these different believers – a Presbyterian pastor talking with an evangelical leader. A Pentecostal and Catholic sharing ideas. And as two different Baptists squished next to me they reflected poignantly on the joy of finally working together on the same public concern.
What unifies this diverse group is shared experience. This group has seen, firsthand, the destructive power of predatory lending in people’s lives and the overall effect it has on our communities. My goal is not to introduce you to the moral, economic, and political problems of payday lending. I cannot say more than has already been said by Stephanie Summers, CEO of the Center for Public Justice
and Stephen Reeves, associate coordinator of partnerships and advocacy for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship– both of whom can speak on the topic with extensive expertise. If you are coming to this topic for the first or even second time, you will benefit greatly from these articles.
What I offer are three proposals for moving forward in the struggle. What can Christians do? What can you do?
We would love for you to add your voice to the cause. Go to http://lendjustly.com/ and take some action. Contact your congressional representative. We believe this needs to be addressed at a federal level. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t great work being done to curb the payday lending industry in your state or city. Find out what is happening and how you can speak up. Share articles and information on social media and start a discussion in your neighborhood or small group. Talk to your church and neighborhood leaders and educate them. See if your denomination or church has joined Faith for Just Lending. Take initiative.
And remember that advocacy also assumes a responsible knowledge of the topic. So if you haven’t read those other articles yet, get going!
Churches have not been idle over the past 25 years as payday lending has exploded into a multi-billion dollar industry. Local faith communities have provided financial training and resources all along. But this alone cannot solve the problem. There are twice as many payday lending storefronts as Starbucks in America. Think about that. Once I could see another Starbucks while standing in a Starbucks. Churches are not set up to offer financial services. But education and financial assistance can go a long way. We also need Christians in the business sector to use their compassion, training, and creativity to offer new financial alternatives for desperate people. In providing responsible solutions we speak with more authority and demonstrate positive leadership on this issue.
Provide Constructive Solutions
How will positive change occur? To answer that, we have to understand the mindset of lawmakers and industry executives who are actively resisting this movement. When the Faith for Just Lending coalition met with congressional representatives on May 14th, we were met with a variety of responses, ranging from warm support to open hostility. Many fear that any restriction to the lending industry is a direct attack on free market purity. Others are supportive, but do not have the power to act. Some receive tens of thousands of dollars in campaign support from payday lenders. So we must be wise in how we present our proposals.
The coalition did a beautiful job of living the call to be a moral voice on this social issue. But we must also present concrete solutions. Let us be constructive, even as we use our prophetic voice to deconstruct injustice. Whatever solutions we bring to the table should be focus on government’s role to create a flourishing economic environment (Stephanie Summer’s article references this – if you still haven’t read it, you are missing out). Government’s role is not to leave everyone to their own devices, but to carefully nurture economic flourishing through the addition or removal of laws. If you come to certain neighborhoods (e.g. inner cities or army bases) where payday lenders thrive off people in desperate situations you will conclude that certain places are far from a flourishing economic environment. This is not about attacking the free market; this is about protecting a healthy market for our most vulnerable citizens.
One healthy solution is greater accountability for lenders. They rely on making the money easy and the consequences unclear. Deceptive lending is unhealthy lending. Let’s demand more clarity and openness in the lending process. Let’s encourage lending that builds people up, rather than an entire industry that has a “perverse profit incentive for borrower failure” (Stephen Reeves). Another avenue to remember as we offer solutions is that America, from its beginnings, has been concerned with unjust lending practices. Many different restrictions and laws have governed the lending industry as new injustices have arisen in our country. We believe that it is time to address this particular problem and continue that tradition.
-Dan Carter is a husband, father, neighbor, reader, runner, and Senior Pastor of Calvary on 8th St. located in Holland, MI. www.calvaryreformedholland.org