Thursday, March 17, 2016

Reverend Nelson Joins Faith Call to Rein In Abuses of Payday Lending

This statement was given by Reverend Dr. J Herbert Nelson on a press call on March 17, 2016. Faith leaders convened to urge Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz to publicly renounce the abuses of payday lending. 


Good Morning. I am Reverend Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, Director of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness in Washington, DC. Our concerns as servants of the Kingdom of God related to predatory lending practices are deeply biblical and theological. The Old Testament and New Testament Scriptures both address the issues of fair lending practices. Exodus 22:25 is likely the earliest when it focuses the concern in reference to the poor.

If you lend money to my people, to the poor among you, you shall not deal with them as a creditor; you shall not exact interest from them. (NRSV)

A similar concern with charging interest that focuses on the condition of the one needing the loan is found in Leviticus 25:3536:

If any of your kin fall into difficulty and become dependent on you, you shall support them; they shall live with you as though resident aliens. Do not take interest in advance or otherwise make a profit from them, but fear your God; let them live with you. (NRSV)

Both of these prohibitions against charging interest on loans have in view the distressed economic plight of the borrower, and both make the same judgment that God’s demands of covenant community preclude the practice of charging interest.

Even though the prohibition against charging interest on loans was limited to fellow Israelites, a universalizing tendency in Christian theology eventually extended the protection against charging interest to all with whom one had financial dealings[1]. The New Testament provided an explicit warrant for such a broadening of the claim in Luke 6:35:

But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. (NRSV)

Articulated in the context of loving enemies, the widening of the scope of Deuteronomy’s restriction on charging interest was virtually inevitable in Christian consideration of the matter.

I served as Pastor of a poor inner city congregation in Memphis, Tennessee before coming to Washington, DC in 2010. 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 lenders, 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. As people of faith we recognize this as a detriment to the building of true community and a deterrent to family welfare. Therefore, our call to Democratic Party National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz is to discontinue her advocacy for a Florida bill that will not resolve this problem in her home state, but instead further damage the lives of poor people. We are asking her to side with the community values shared by both of our faith traditions – the Judeo Christian heritage. Thank you.

[1] Both Scriptures and statements are guided by the Presbyterian Policy Statements that may be found in A Reformed Understanding of Usury for the 21st Century ; Approved by the 217th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)