A wide spot in my imagination.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Fair Lending Press Conference

Earlier today, I joined thirty or so of my minister colleagues at the State Capitol to express our support for changing current payday lending laws in Texas. Right now, payday lenders operate through a loophole in Texas law that allows them to charge any rate of fees and interest that they want without any oversight or regulation by the state. Following are my remarks, explaining the theological basis of our efforts:

Remarks by Reverend Timothy B. Tutt Pastor, United Christian Church, Austin, Texas

Texas Faith for Fair Lending* Press Conference March 21, 2011

Tomorrow, the House Committee on Pensions, Investments, and Financial Services will hold hearings on current payday lending practices in Texas.

Today, we are gathered, as members of the clergy and representatives of various religious groups, to support reform of payday lending in Texas.

But these are not new topics. Issues of debt and economic fair treatment have concerned people of faith forever.

As the pastor of a Christian congregation, I can say the scriptures of our faith tradition are clear:

  • Exodus 22: 25 says, “If you lend money…to the poor among you, you shall not deal with them as a creditor; you shall not exact interest from them.”
  • Jesus himself said, in Luke Chapter 6, “If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But…do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return.”

The Bible is very clear that those with money are supposed to be compassionate and fair to those without money:

  • “It is well with the [the person] who deals generously and lends; it is well with the one whose affairs are conducted with justice.” – Psalm 112:5
  • “Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and God will repay [that person] for [those] deeds.”- Proverbs 19:17

Now, I don’t expect the payday lending industry to reconfigure their entire business model to conform entirely to these biblical mandates. I don’t expect them to give up charging interest. I understand that charging a reasonable amount of interest makes sense in their business context.

But the current practices of the payday lending industry are not reasonable.

The current practices are immoral, out of control, and predatory. Charging 500% interest violates any sense of decency and compassion and basic fairness.

This is not a matter of left or right, Democrat or Republican. The people here today represent religious congregations across the theological and political spectrum.

This is not just a Christian issue or a Jewish issues. The sacred writings of Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism are equally expressive.

We are not here today just to support good public policy.

We are not here today just to take part in the legislative process.

We are here today with the firm theological conviction that 500% interest is wrong. Charging people astronomical rates and fees is wrong. Trapping people in cycles of debt is wrong.

We are here today to speak a word of justice, to call for kindness, to remind ourselves and our elected officials that God cares how treat each other. God cares especially how we treat the poor and needy among us…and we should care as well.

Thank you.

* Texas Faith for Fair Lending is a statewide coalition of religious groups, working to reform predatory lending in Texas.

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