Tuesday, October 11, 2016

PC(USA) Submits Comment to the CFBP to Regulate Payday Lending

October 6, 2016
The Honorable Richard Cordray
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
1700 G Street, NW
Washington, DC 20552

Re: The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) comments on proposed rulemaking on payday, vehicle title, and certain high-cost installment loans.
Docket number:  CFPB-2016-0025 or RIN 3170-AA40  

Dear Director Cordray, 

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) files this comment in response to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's (CFPB) proposed rule on payday, vehicle title, and certain high cost installment loans.  Thank you for the opportunity to submit comments. The rule is a critical step in stopping the harms of unaffordable loans, but the rule must be strengthened to ensure it stops the debt trap once and for all.  

The Presbyterian Office of Public Witness is the public policy information and advocacy office of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Its task is to advocate, and help the church to advocate, the social witness perspectives and policies of the Presbyterian General Assembly. In 2006, the PC(USA) General Assembly passed a resolution entitled “A Reformed Understanding of Usury for the 21st Century,” which highlighted the questionable practices of the payday lending industry that trap the working poor in cycles of debt.

Stated Clerk of the PC(USA), Reverend J. Herbert Nelson recalls his time pastoring a poor inner city Presbyterian congregation in Memphis, Tennessee like this: “One of the chief concerns in our community was the strife caused by injustices of payday lending. The debt trap in which many of our congregants were continually ensnared was a result of low wages from employers and predatory lending practices by payday loan sharks, furniture rentals and check cashing. These immoral lenders preyed on the poor and left whole families in debt that directly resulted from intentional exploitive practices."

The core principle of the CFPB’s proposal is the right approach – requiring lenders to ensure that a loan is affordable without having to re-borrow or default on other expenses. This is critically important to stopping the harms of this predatory business model, and we strongly support this approach. This basic principle though must be applied to every loan – with no exceptions and no room for future evasion. As currently written, the proposed rule contains dangerous loopholes that significantly undermine this standard.

The proposal allows too many dangerous exceptions to its ability to repay test.  For example, the draft proposal would allow six payday loans a year to be made without any ability-to-repay standard. Given that payday loans carry costs as high as 391% on average, this is six unaffordable loans too many. Even a single unaffordable loan can create a cascade of financial consequences for borrowers.   In addition, the rule exempts longer-term payday loans with high origination fees from its proposed ability-to repay-test.  These loopholes must be closed. We urge the CFPB to require an ability-to-repay determination on every loan, with no exceptions.

The draft rule does not go far enough to ensure that people have enough money to live on after repaying the loan. Right now, the proposal may allow lenders to simply continue “business as usual.”  To fix this, lenders should be required to use an objective measure for reasonably projecting a borrower's basic living expenses, and avoid over-reliance on back-end measures like default and reborrowing rates. Even low default rates are not sufficient evidence of ability-to-repay, given the lender's ability to coerce repayment through control over the borrower's bank account or car. At the same time, the CFPB should take care not to sanction industry-wide high rates of defaults and reborrowing by comparing one payday lender's default rates only to other payday lenders' default rates.  The CFPB can and should close the “business as usual” loopholes in the ability-to-repay test by requiring lenders to show that loan payments will leave borrowers with enough money to be able to pay their necessary expenses, and not allow them to rely on already too low industry standards as evidence that loans as affordable.

The rule does not provide sufficient protections against flipping borrowers from one unaffordable loan to the next. For short-term loans, the CFPB must do better to ensure that short-term debt does not become unaffordable long-term debt. We are concerned that under the draft rule someone could still be stuck in ten or more short-term loans in a year.   The final rule should ensure a 60-day cooling off period, rather than just 30 days as proposed, between each short-term loan. It should also ensure that short-term loan indebtedness does not exceed a total of 90 days every 12 months, consistent with FDIC 2005 guidelines for its banks. In addition, it is critically important to strengthen the protections against repeat refinancing of longer-term loans. If lenders can repeatedly flip borrowers from one long-term loan into another, debt will continue to pile up and borrowers will once again be stuck in a debt trap.  We support measures to strengthen protections against flipping loans, such as prohibiting more than one refinancing of these loans.

Many abusive loans still fall outside of the scope of the proposed rules, and should be covered. One concerning loophole ripe for exploitation by predatory lenders is the proposal that high-cost longer terms loans are not covered if the lender waits just a few days to can leverage over the borrower's bank account or car title, even if these loans carry rates as high as 300%.  All loans secured by a bank account or car title should be covered by the rule, regardless of when security is taken.  In addition, loans where lenders can aggressively collect by garnishing wages or taking access to a borrower's personal property should be subject to the CFPB's ability to repay test. 

We are thankful that one loophole has already been closed – an exemption from the proposed ability-to-repay test, included in the Bureau's preliminary outline, if loan payments are less than 5% of a borrower’s income. Examining income only is not enough to determine if a loan is affordable. We call on the CFPB to close the remaining loopholes and issue the strongest rule possible to stop the harmful debt trap of unaffordable payday loans.

Today, there are 14 states plus the District of Columbia that enforce rate caps that effectively prohibit these dangerous payday loans, and families are better off.  Capping the rates on payday and car title loans at about 36% is the most effective way to prevent these harms.  The CFPB must not undermine these strong state laws, and must go further to deem that making or offering a loan in violation of a state law is an unfair, abusive, and deceptive practice.
In its absence of being able to cap he rates on these abusive high-cost loans, for the CFPB rule to curb this vicious cycle of debt, it must close these loopholes and strengthen provisions to ensure a meaningful ability to repay test for each and every loan.  


Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Action Guide: Support the Standing Rock Sioux #NoDAPL

Photo by Thane Maxwell
The Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) is a planned 1,172-mile oil pipeline, with an expected capacity of 500,000 barrels of oil per day. The pipeline would originate in the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota and terminate in Pakota, Illinois. 

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approved the construction of the pipeline under the Missouri River just one mile north of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, home to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. The proximity of this pipeline to the Missouri River could threaten the Sioux people’s access to clean water, and in April 2016, the Standing Rock Sioux initiated a protest effort to protect this international human right. 

Tribal leaders also argue that the pipeline infringes upon their sacred burial grounds, and in July, the Reservation sued the Army Corps of Engineers over their failure to conduct meaningful consultation and to adhere to environmental and historical protection regulations. While the judge ruled against the Sioux’s request on September 9th, 2016, on this same day, the Army Corps of Engineers, with the support of the Departments of Justice and Interior, halted the pipeline’s construction near key tribal lands until they could fully review the permits granted for construction. 

Since April, 2016 a growing popular movement lead by indigenous people has formed at the site of pipeline construction. As of mid-September, thousands of native and non native protestors have demonstrated support at the protest camps, and an unprecedented 180 tribal nations have sent letters of solidarity. These camps are being monitored by the National Guard, and private security companies have attacked some protestors with dogs, among whom number women and children.

Our Stake As Presbyterians:

The 222nd General Assembly (2016) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), meeting in Portland, Oregon in June, passed two overtures which effect the 95 Native American Presbyterian churches across the country.

·                An apology to Native American’s for the church’s involvement and administration of boarding schools during the late 19th and early 20th centuries whose purpose was the “civilization” of Native American children.
·                                    A repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery: this “doctrine” derives its authority from Pope’s and European royal decrees stating “explorers” may seize lands and convert “non-Christians” in their name and for the good of the Christian Church. It remains the basis, as late as 2005, for Indian Law and Supreme Court decisions against Tribes.

Strong support for the land defense effort by the Standing Rock Sioux is one step in making good on the apology and towards right relationship with Native people.

The 207th General Assembly (1995) addressed the issue of environmental racism in the Hazardous Waste, Race, and the Environment statement.

What can you do? 
There are many ways that you can amplify the request of the Standing Rock Tribe, including:
•       Contacting your congressional representatives in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate and asking them to request that the Army Corps of Engineers conduct a more complete environmental assessment of the pipeline project that 1) includes the impact on the tribal reservation, and 2) honors obligations expressed in the treaty with the Standing Rock Tribe.
•       Contacting the U.S. Department of Justice to ask them to continue monitoring the methods used by police and security during the standoff in order to protect the peaceful protestors from potential violence and harassment
•       Sending your monetary donations for camp supplies, tents, and warm clothes to:

The Synod of Lakes and Prairies
2115 Cliff Drive
Eagan, MN 55122

Note on check: Dakota Access Pipeline Acct #2087

They will send a confirmation to the donor that the funds were received and then again with information about where they were distributed. Please make sure to include your name and address on the check unless already printed on it.

·                Reading and responding to the challenge to raise our collective voice against racial injustice from the Advocacy Committee for Racial Ethnic Concerns
·                Praying for:

    • The earth and all the resources the Creator has provided;
    • Wisdom, courage, and strength for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and for its Chairman David Archambault and his family;
    • Strength and courage for the Water Protectors and their families;
    • Peace and unity at the camps;
    • The provision of food, water, and shelter and the meeting of other needs for the Water Protectors, particularly those who plan to witness in winter;
    • Wisdom and vision for the people working on the legal battles being fought to halt this pipeline and to honor the sovereignty of Native peoples;
    • Patience and a willingness to rely on nonviolence for the government and corporate authorities involved;
    • The leaders of the Synod of Lakes & Prairies as they collect and discern where to use funds for the camps and the Water Protectors; and
    • All those across the PCUSA as members seek to support the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and to reduce consumption of fossil fuel and live more lightly amidst God’s creation.

Thanks to Irvin Porter, Elona Street-Stewart, Mark Koenig, and Gary Payton for their contributions to this guide.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Presbyterian Church (USA) Joins National, State, and Local Faith Communities and Organizations Calling on the Administration to Do More for Refugees

August 29, 2016

President Barack Obama 1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Obama:

We, the undersigned national, state, and local organizations and faith communities, write in advance of the September 20th U.S.-led Leaders’ Summit on Refugees to thank you for convening global leaders, and to urge you to demonstrate global leadership by making bold new commitments to refugee protection, assistance, and solutions, including increased U.S. resettlement. Faced with dramatic refugee crises at home and abroad, our nation is at a critical moment in its history and confronted by a question that strikes at the heart of our national identitywhether we will rise up to the challenges of our time, or give in to fear, division, and retreat.

Never before has the world witnessed such a dramatic scale of human displacement and suffering. Sixty-five million men, women, and children have lost their homes, and twenty- one million of those have been forced to flee their countries. While the images of overloaded boats in the Mediterranean and desperate crowds sleeping in train stations in Europe are more likely to catch the world’s attention, the vast majority of refugee families are struggling to survive in countries neighboring their own beleaguered host countries with their own political, economic, and security challenges. Many of the countries bearing the most responsibilities to host refugees are at a breaking point, and some could further descend into unrest.

In the face of this reality, we commend you for your leadership to convene global heads of state to collectively commit to increasing humanitarian contributions by 30%, and urge your Administration to do all that it can to increase the U.S. contribution.

While humanitarian assistance is the principal lifeline for most refugees, unfortunately, for some it is simply insufficient to ensure their health, safety, dignity or family unity. For refugees with particularly complex personal circumstances, risks and vulnerabilities, resettlement is often the only viable option and may indeed be life-saving. The United States has historically been a beacon of freedom and hope for the world’s most oppressed and persecuted, and our communities have proudly welcomed these families as part of the fabric that make this nation great, but we need to do much more. UNHCR has identified over one million refugees who are in need of resettlement today, yet it will take almost a decade to achieve this target given current commitments.

We urge you to increase the number of refugees, at a level commensurate with global need, who are offered the lifesaving opportunity to create a new life here in the United States. Specifically, we call upon you to provide solutions for 200,000 refugees in FY17 through resettlement and alternative admissions pathways to the United Statesat least 140,000 of which should be admitted through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. A commitment to admit more refugees must be matched with a level of resettlement funding which ensures that refugees have access to the service and support that they need to integrate quickly and successfully upon arrival in welcoming American communities.

Finally, we urge you to demonstrate American leadership by improving the domestic and foreign policy response to the refugee crisis in our own region. Hundreds of thousands of Central Americans the majority of them women and children continue to be forced to flee their homes each year, often due to gang-related violence, displacing internally and across borders in an attempt to find safety in the United States and other countries in the region. While we applaud the limited but very meaningful steps the Administration has recently taken, such as the announced expansion of resettlement opportunities for Central American refugees, many core aspects of the U.S.’s enforcement-centric response to this crisis continue to be mis-aligned with our national values and risk returning refugees to the very danger they have fled.

We urge you to amend the current enforcement policies which have the effect of detaining and deporting Central Americans seeking protection in this country, and ensure that all Central Americans adults, families and unaccompanied children have a meaningful opportunity to seek asylum and other applicable forms of relief under U.S. law. We also urge you to utilize your legal authority to protect those Central Americans in the U.S. who cannot return because of the widespread violence, such as by designating El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala for Temporary Protected Status. And finally, we urge you to ensure that U.S. support to the Mexican government in response to the regional crisis be focused on increasing capacity to screen for protection needs and adjudicate asylum claims consistent with international law, rather than enforcement and deterrence methods that should not be used against asylum seekers attempting to seek protection at our borders or anywhere in the region.

Only by advancing these specific solutions to protect those displaced by violence and persecution will the United States be able to lead by example when we are on a global stage this September.
As you build your Administration’s final legacy, we thank you for highlighting the need to address the suffering of refugees. We look forward to working with you to making these commitments a reality.


National Organizations & Faith Communities
African American Ministers In Action
Alianza Americas
American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) 

American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA)
American Jewish Committee’s Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights
American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee Anti-Defamation League
Bethany Christian Services
Boat People SOS, Inc.

Catholic Relief Services
Center for Applied Linguistics
Center for Victims of Torture
Church World Service
CODEPINK for Peace
Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach
Disciples Center for Public Witness
Disciples Home Missions
The Episcopal Church
Ethiopian Community Development Council, Inc.
Fig Tree Revolution
Franciscan Action Network
Friends Committee on National Legislation
Global Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and United Church of Christ Guatemala Human Rights Commission
HealthRight International
Heartland Alliance International
HIAS, Global Jewish Organization for Refugees
Human Rights First

International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP)
 International Rescue Committee
Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States 

Jesuit Refugee Service/USA
Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) 
Just Foreign Policy
Khmer Health Advocates
Kids in Need of Defense (KIND)

Latin America Working Group (LAWG) 
Leadership Conference of Women Religious Liberia Medical Mission
Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) 

Lutheran World Relief
Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns 
National Council of Churches, USA
National Council of Jewish Women
National Immigrant Justice Center
National Religious Campaign Against Torture 

National Center for Lesbian Rights 
No One Left Behind
Nonviolence International-USA
Office of Social Justice, Christian Reformed Church in North America 

Oxfam America
Pax Christi USA
Peace Action
Presbyterian Church (USA)
Rabbinical Assembly
Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association
Reconstructionist Rabbinical College/Jewish Reconstructionist Communities 

Refugee Alliance Network
Refugee and Immigration Ministries, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) 

The Refugee Center Online
Refugee Solidarity Network
Sister Parish, Inc.
Sisters of Mercy of the Americas' Institute Justice Team
Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC)
Unitarian Universalist Service Committee
United Church of Christ
U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI)
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops/Migration and Refugee Services 

Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA)
We Belong Together
Week of Compassion, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Win Without War
Women's Refugee Commission

State and Local Organizations & Faith Communities
ACCESS (Michigan)
Advocates for Refugees in California (California)
Arkansas United Community Coalition (Arkansas)
The Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture (New York)
Bhutanese Association of St. Louis (Missouri)
Bhutanese Community of Oregon (Oregon)
Boston Center for Refugee Health & Human Rights (Massachusetts)
College of Southern Idaho Refugee Programs (Idaho)
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Central States Synod (Kansas & Missouri)
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (Delaware-Maryland Synod)
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Florida-Bahamas Synod (Florida)
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Gulf Coast Synod (Texas & Louisiana)
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Northwest Washington Synod (Washington)
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, South Carolina Synod (South Carolina)
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, South Central Synod (Wisconsin)
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Southeastern Synod (Tennessee, Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama)
English Learning Center (Minnesota)
Family & Children's Association (New York)
Gulf Coast Jewish Family & Community Services (Florida) 

International Institute of Los Angeles (California)
Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization (IRCO) (Oregon)

Interfaith Partnership for Refugee Resettlement (Connecticut) 
Interfaith Refugee Ministry Wilmington (North Carolina) 
International Center of Kentucky (Kentucky)
International Institute of Akron (Ohio)
International Institute of Buffalo (New York) 

International Institute of St. Louis (Missouri) 
International Service Center (Pennsylvania)
Jewish Child & Family Services (Illinois)
Jewish Family & Community Services East Bay (California) 

Jewish Family Service of Seattle (Washington)
Jewish Family Services of Silicon Valley (California)
Just Peace Circles, Inc. (Maryland)
Karen Organization of San Diego (California)
Kino Border Initiative (Arizona)

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer (California)
Lutheran Community Services Northwest (Washington)
Lutheran Family Services Rocky Mountains (Colorado & New Mexico) 

Make the Road New York (New York)
Maryland Welcomes Refugees (Maryland)
Massachusetts Peace Action (Massachusetts)
Mosaic Family Services (Texas)
New York Immigration Coalition (New York)
OneAmerica (Washington)
Raleigh Immigrant Community, Inc. (North Carolina)
Refugee Services of Texas (Texas)
Rutland Welcomes (Vermont)
Samaritas (Michigan)
Sandy Spring Friends (Quakers) Peace Committee (Maryland)

Sister Parish, Faith Lutheran Church (North Dakota)
Somali Bantu Community of Greater Houston (SBCGH) (Texas) 

South Sudan Center of America (Nevada)
Spring Institute for Intercultural Learning (Colorado)
St. Thomas Lutheran Church (Indiana)
St. Stephen's Episcopal Church (Florida)
Survivors of Torture, International (California)
US Together, Inc. (Ohio)
Utah Health and Human Rights (Utah)
World Relief Fox Valley (Wisconsin)
Youth Co-Op, Inc. (Florida)

Friday, August 26, 2016

PCUSA Joins Faith Groups in Statement on Anti-BDS Legislation

Employing Economic Measures as Nonviolent Tools for Justice In the Israeli-Palestinian Context
August 22, 2016 

The U.S. Congress and 22 states across the U.S. are considering, or have passed, laws that penalize or criminalize the use of economic measures to oppose Israeli policies towards Palestinians that many find unjust and discriminatory. The targets of these proposed laws are organizations and agencies that endorse, in full or in part, the Palestinian call for the use of boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS). Such actions are anti-democratic, suppress legitimate criticism, and restrict our freedom to determine our own investment and selective purchasing practices. We affirm and defend the right of churches and organizations to witness using economic measures in the specific case of Israel-Palestine.

The BDS call, issued in 2005 by over 100 Palestinian civil society organizations, seeks to promote a nonviolent response to end Israel’s 50-year military occupation of Palestinian territories and dismantle the separation barrier, much of which is built on Palestinian land; to recognize the full equality of Palestinian citizens of Israel; and to respect, protect, and promote the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties, according to UN resolution 194. U.S. churches, among many others, are clear in seeking an end to the occupation.

Churches and church-related organizations have employed such nonviolent tactics in many instances of injustice, both domestically and globally, over the decades. The Montgomery Bus Boycott and the boycott of products made by slave labor are some historical precedents. Some more recent examples include:
  •   Support for the Coalition of Immokalee Workers to seek fair wages for farmworkers who pick tomatoes used by major restaurant chains. The churches have affirmed boycotts of Taco Bell and Wendy’s in support of the farmworkers.
  •   Support for the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) in the boycott of Mt. Olive Pickle Company in order to seek better wages for those who pick cucumbers.
  •   Support for United Farm Workers (UFW) in grape and lettuce boycotts aimed at securing fair wages for farmworkers.
  •   Opposition to the use of racially offensive names and logos by professional sports teams through boycotts.
  •   Participation in the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility to promote socially responsible practices by various companies through shareholder activism.
  •   Divestment to oppose the policy of apartheid in South Africa in the 1970s and 1980s.
  •   Corporate engagement with and/or divestment from fossil fuel companies in the context
    of the climate change debates. 

    Through the use of such nonviolent but impactful measures at the intersection of faith and finance, the churches have participated in making a difference, promoting justice, and effecting change. Indeed, when corporate social responsibility standards do not lead businesses to change their practices, then it is often only through the concerted economic pressure of civil society and public interest groups that positive political and social reforms occur.
Economic Measures (Examples of engagement corrected for accuracy, 8/25/2016) Page 1
The current effort to penalize or criminalize such use of economic leverage in the specific case of Israel-Palestine is therefore offensive and disturbing. It strikes us as an attempt to remove a responsible, powerful, and legal method of public witness as an option. To target economic measures in any way on one specific policy issueIsrael-Palestineis selective and inconsistent. In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld, without dissent, the right to boycott (1982).

As churches and church-related organizations, we may not endorse all aspects of the Palestinian civil society BDS movement; nor do we all have similar policies on the use of economic leverage in the context of Israel-Palestine. However, we all share a hope and desire for an end to occupation, and we continue to advocate for that. If we choose, through debate and reflection, to employ our economic leverage to advance that policy objective, as we do many others, we understand it as our right to do so. It is an assertion of our right as stewards of our financial resources to spend and invest as we choose, and to do so responsibly, according to our theological and moral conviction, expressed in our denominational or organizational policies.

We must be clear: such an assertion of this right is an effort to change unjust Israeli policy toward Palestinians, not to delegitimize the State of Israel, nor to marginalize or isolate our Jewish neighbors, or their enterprises. Our choices to purchase and invest responsibly, and to advocate with corporations or governments, including our own, are motivated by our firm commitments to justice and peace for all people, without discrimination or exclusion.

As churches and church-related organizations, we reject any efforts by the State to curtail these rights, and will continue to exercise them, as appropriate and in accordance with our faith and policies.

American Friends Service Committee
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Church of the Brethren, Office of Public Witness
Conference of Major Superiors of Men
Global Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries, United Church of Christ
Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns
Pax Christi International
Pax Christi USA
Presbyterian Church (USA)
United Church of Christ
United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society

Monday, July 18, 2016

Updated: Urging Congress To Do Their Job: Pass Gun Violence Prevention Legislation

Urging Congress To Do Their Job
Pass Gun Violence Prevention Legislation

Advocacy Toolkit 

Table of Contents
1) Introduction and Background Information
2) Instructions for Letter Drop
3) Sample letter to your Representative to Pass Gun Violence Prevention Legislation
4) Social Media
5) Primary Objectives of Letter Drop

Introduction and Background Information

After the historic and unprecedented Democratic sit-in on the House floor Wednesday June 22 to urge the House to take up what it has long ignored – preventing gun violence – it is now up to us, people of faith, to take this message to our Representatives.

This is a perfect time for you to let your Representative know that ignoring the epidemic of gun violence will not protect public safety. Every day 91 people in the United States are killed by a gun. Yet, the House and Senate continue to act as if this is not happening because of the stifling grip of the gun lobby.

What is more, according to Everytown for Gun Safety gun violence is becoming increasingly used as part of hate crimes directed towards members of the LGBTQ community as we saw in Orlando. Consider these facts:
Data from the National Crime Victimization Survey indicates that between 2010 and 2014, there were an estimated 43,000 hate crimes committed in the United States that involved guns.
More than half (52 percent) of hate crimes motivated by sexual orientation are violent.
Between 2004 and 2012, the percentage of hate crimes involving violence increased from 78 percent to 90 percent.
In studies going back decades, assaults involving guns have proven to be five times more likely to end in the death of the victim than those involving knives, and the difference is even greater with high-caliber guns. 

Simple measures can greatly reduce many of the mass shootings to which we have become accustomed. No one law will stop every incident of gun deaths, but we can go a long way toward having a safer community, a safer nation, a safer world. Simply put, universal background checks saves lives. In states that require a background check for all handgun sales, there are:
·      46 percent fewer women shot to death by intimate partners,
·      48 percent fewer law enforcement shot to death with handguns,
·      48 percent fewer people killed by firearms suicide,
·      48 percent less gun trafficking, and
·      52 percent fewer mass shootings.

Therefore, we must take this unique time to urge members of Congress that gun violence can be drastically reduced and they must take leadership in making this happen. 

Instructions for Letter Drop

Use this toolkit with your congregation, faith group, or coalition and invite them to join with you in making a powerful impact.

Materials Needed: A sign on letter adapted from the below template (you can edit it), sign on sheet, clipboards, pens, small table (optional)
See the sample letter on the next page (which can be edited). With others from your congregation or organization, read through and modify the letter to best describe what you want to share with your Representative and/or Senator for them to do on addressing gun violence. List yourself or another point person’s contact information at the top of the letter or on a cover sheet so you can receive the reply from the member of Congress.
Find your member of Congress and the address of their local office closest to you. Click HERE to find your Representative. Click HERE to find your Senator.

Work with others in your congregation or community group to get signatures on the letter in a high-traffic area after a worship service or event. You can send it around adult education classes, Bible/book studies, youth groups, and college classes in addition to your entire congregation. Ask the members you know are willing to sign first – people are more likely to sign something when they already see other names. We are encouraging groups to not drop it off until you are able to 10-15 signatures. The more you are able to gather, the more powerful it will be!

Make sure an announcement is made about the letter in the congregation bulletin, from the pulpit, and through social media. The most effective way to get folks to sign is through personal invitation. You and others should personally invite folks to sign the letter! Before you turn in the signatures, make sure to scan them or take a photo with your phone in order to capture the contact information for your future organizing efforts.
Call your Representative’s local office to either schedule a meeting with the Representative or a staff person, or even to simply find out the hours when they are open, so you can drop off the letters. 
When you get to the office here is a possible script: "Hi, my name is [NAME] and I am a member of [Congregation/Group] in [City]. Many of our members signed this letter to urge Representative [NAME] to pass gun violence prevention legislation on July 5th when the current recess is over. Will you please make sure the Representative and appropriate staff see this letter?"

When you and a friend (or friends) take your letter by your Representatives’ office take a selfie and tweet it out using the hashtag #LetterDrop. (You can also use hashtags like #StopGunViolence or #NoBillNoBreak as well.) That way we can see all who participate and those of us in DC can collect the pics and use them in advocacy to get the House and Senate moving. So, please tweet or send us your pictures!

Share this toolkit with key leaders from 3-4 other congregations in your area and urge them to do this as well. This will make an impact with a number of faith communities engaged. Make sure they also post pictures on social media! Email them this message and then call them for the best effect. Nothing beats a phone call to get folks moving! 

Sample Letter Urging Congress to Pass Gun Violence Prevention Legislation

Dear Representative/Senator                       ,

As members of                    (name of faith community)           we are deeply concerned about the lack of progress by the Congress in addressing the epidemic of gun violence. As the days, months, and years go by without any action taken, more mass shootings occur and the needless loss of life continues. We are writing to demand that action be taken to quell the terrible epidemic of gun violence our society is suffering.

Virginia Tech, Tucson, Oak Creek, Aurora, Santa Clara, Fort Hood, Newtown, San Bernadino, and now Orlando. The number of cities with mass shootings spreads across the states in our nation and fills our hearts with tremendous sorrow for the tragic and unnecessary loss of life. We are also angry that these tragedies continue without any congressional leadership being taken. No more time can be wasted. Gun violence is taking an unacceptable toll on our society, in mass killings and in the constant day-to-day of senseless deaths. It is long past time for action.

Not only are we concerned about gun violence, but it must also be mentioned that we are concerned about the rhetoric in this debate that scapegoats our Muslim sisters and brothers. Violence committed by people of any religious, ethnic, or racial profile for any intention is devastating – focus on the secretive, error-filled terrorist watch list as a substitute for meaningful gun safety legislation is a distraction.  The vast majority of mass shootings in the U.S. have been committed by white males whose intentions to do violence would not have qualified them for inclusion on this list.

We need you to take action to ensure that:
   Every person who buys a gun no matter where that takes place should pass a background check. No longer should we allow for a gun show loophole.
   High-capacity weapons and ammunition magazines should not be available to civilians. There is no legitimate self-defense or sporting purpose for these military-style, high-capacity weapons and magazines whose only purpose is to kill large numbers of people in a short amount of time. We need an effective assault weapons ban now.

Public support for these measures is overwhelming. The time for merely offering thoughts and prayers without necessary action is over. Compromises that scapegoat a narrowly defined group of people for scrutiny is an unacceptable distraction for a problem shared by our whole society.  We need you to take action. We look forward to working with you to enact these common-sense measures to reduce gun violence. Our prayers are with you, our support is behind you. It is time for you to lead.


Social Media

Social media is a great way to spread the word about these issues and to get your friends, family, and other community members involved. Using popular social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, we encourage you to post a picture of your letters and/or your meetings with your congressman/woman using #LetterDrop. If you are not able to meet with your congressman/woman take a picture holding up the signed letter with #LetterDrop, and you might also use the hashtags, #NoBillNoBreak or #StopGunViolence. And, as always, encourage your friends and family to share on social media and join the movement!

Letter Drop Primary Objectives

We want everyone everywhere, regardless of what district you are in to take part in the Letter Drop. It’s important that our voices are heard from every states in the religious community.