Rusty Goes to Washington

On November 17-19, I joined eighty other faith leaders from twenty-two states in Washington, D.C., to work with a faith coalition and the Center for Responsible Lending. On Monday and Tuesday we learned more about how payday loan institutions operate, and on Wednesday we visited our representatives on Capitol Hill.

It is clear that the way payday loan institutions are allowed to operate is immoral. The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is actively involved in advocating for new laws to govern these institutions, but we are not alone. Organizations including the Southern Baptist Convention, the National Association of Evangelicals (whose President joined us), Catholic Charities USA, and a host of other protestant faith communities are all joining forces to put an end to practices that prey on our most vulnerable neighbors.

Did you know that in Mississippi, the average payday loan carries an annual interest rate of 574%? Did you know that the business models of these institutions relies on the inability of its customers to repay their loans, thus forcing them into a cycle of multiple loans—loans given to pay previous loans? There is much more I need to learn (and some of you can teach me), and much more that I will share in coming days.

So why now? There is growing bi-partisan support to place a national cap of 36% annual interest rate on these loans. This is the same rate cap in place for military families throughout the nation. In addition, it is believed that in the coming months new rules will be put in place to govern these institutions and force them to follow some of the same rules already in place for traditional banks and credit unions.

Specifically, I went because this is a faith issue. There are legal minds who better understand the state of our laws. There are politicians who better understand how to build a broad coalition of support. There are victims who have stories to tell. But I went as a minister and representative of the Gospel. I met with Senator Cochran and staff from Representative Palazzo’s office to express my belief that this is a matter of faith. Traditional teaching of the seventh commandment, “Thou Shalt Not Steal” is that this commandment prohibits any form of deceptive taking. Further, Jesus confronted unjust practices that preyed on desperate people.

I went because in Luke 4, Jesus declared that the Spirit of God was upon him, “to bring good news to the poor… to proclaim release to the captives… to let the oppressed go free.” Or as his mother sang upon the angel Gabriel’s announcement that she would give birth to God’s son, “God has lifted up the lowly; God has filled the hungry with good things…”

I will take a Wednesday night in January to share more about my trip and how you can be involved in advocating for an end to predatory practices in our own community.

This is what it looks like to be people who follow the one who came and is coming to bring peace throughout all the world. I believe work like this is central to the Gospel story born in a lowly Bethlehem manger.

Journeying Together,