I collaborated with Rabbi Barbara Block, Rev. Michael Overton, and Rev. Mark Struckhoff for this piece in today’s News-Leader.
On the pages of the News-Leader, readers frequently find clergy from across the religious spectrum expressing a wide range of differing opinions on a number of hotly-contested issues. Yet when it comes to predatory payday lending practices — which at their very core exist and thrive on a person’s misfortune — a vast and ever-growing number of clergy in the Springfield area stand united for reform.
Given the fact that the Bible contains over 2,000 verses related to economic dignity, it shouldn’t be surprising to see so many religious leaders stand united. After all, the Bible consistently condemns usury and teaches us to love our neighbors rather than exploit their financial vulnerability for selfish, unscrupulous gain.
Parasitic predatory lending practices use 400 percent interest rates to intentionally trap struggling families in debt. Clearly, the American public understands that 400 percent interest is wrong and immoral — as evidenced by the unique coalition of faith organizations and community leaders coming together to seek an end to the payday loan debt trap.
Many clergy are taking a lead on this initiative because we’ve seen the way predatory payday lending (which is better understood as legalized loan sharking) has decimated the lives of some of our beloved parishioners and friends. Predatory lending practices take advantage of people who find themselves with their backs up against the wall. What’s worse, payday lending companies want people to find themselves in desperate situations, which is actually the inverse of the Golden Rule. Instead of treating others the way you would like to be treated, predatory lending practices are forged in the hopes that others are treated exactly how you do not want to be treated.
This simply isn’t right. Anytime the most vulnerable members of society are taken advantage of, people of faith are called to stand in the gap — to do something about it — in order for love and fairness to be the measure of society, as opposed to exploitation and greed.
We are grateful for the many people in our community working toward true reform, including representatives from local banks and credit unions actively trying to figure out ways to provide small loans at a fair rate to those in need, so that a viable alternative to predatory lending might become available. This way, for example, if a person’s brakes go out and they don’t want to miss work, they’ll have the option of seeking a loan from a reputable, integrity-driven lender that helps them stay on their feet, as opposed to a payday lending company that is rooting for their financial ruin.
Since Missouri is among the states that have the most outrageous payday lending laws in the nation, we hope you’ll add your voice to the growing chorus of citizens seeking true lending reform. If you’d like to be involved in this work, you can connect with Faith Voices of Southwest Missouri — an organization constantly striving to work toward the economic dignity of all Missourians — via Facebook, Twitter, or email (@faithvoicesswmo; firstname.lastname@example.org).
Rabbi Barbara Block, Rabbi, Temple Israel; Rev. Michael Overton, Senior Minister, First Baptist Church; Rev. Phil Snider, Senior Minister, Brentwood Christian Church; Rev. Mark Struckhoff, Board Member, Missouri Faith Voices