Cap the Rate on Predatory Payday Loans Call to Action Event, 2012

by Phil Snider

Any time people are exploited or taken advantage of by others, especially the most vulnerable members of our society, then people of faith are called to stand in the gap – to do something about it – in order for God’s will to be done on earth, as it is in heaven.

That’s why I am so encouraged that you are here this evening. I admire your spirit and your heart so much.

As people of faith, we have gathered to call attention to the predatory payday lending practices that are far too prevalent in the state of Missouri. Such practices take advantage of people who find themselves in the most desparate of situations, backed up against a wall. What’s worse, such practices want people to find themselves in desperate situations, they root for people to be backed up against a wall, they thrive on people’s misfortune. Here we see a classic inversion of the Golden Rule, the polar opposite 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.

But that is not the entire story. People of faith across the state are coming together to make a difference. Tonight you will hear about these efforts, as well as have the opportunity to sign a petition that will cap the rate of payday loans at 36%.

We also recognize that this is a complex issue. That’s the reason you will hear information tonight from a variety of perspectives. Not only do we want to stir conversation regarding possible ballot initiatives, but also to reflect on a number of viable alternatives.

For instance, some fantastic community leaders, including representatives from local banks and credit unions, have been talking about the possibility of providing small loans at a fair rate to those in need. So 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 someone who just wants to take advantage of them.

We also recognize that part of the reason people are driven to payday lenders is because they have very little money to begin with. If you work forty hours a week at minimum wage, you’ll make $15,080 a year. Now I’ve struggled with math my whole life, but it doesn’t even take someone like myself very long to figure out just how difficult it is to survive on such a wage. While the primary focus of this evening is on the payday lending initiative, it’s also important to know there is another ballot initiative in Missouri that would raise the minimum wage so that people wouldn’t have to seek out emergency loans in the first place.

Ultimately, as people of faith following in the way of our Lord, we are responsible not just for putting band-aids on people who are bleeding, but to figure out why they are bleeding in the first place. This is the difference between charity and righteousness. Instead of pulling bodies out of the river, we need to keep them from being thrown into the river.

As Martin Luther King Jr. famously said, “A true [transformation] of values will cause us to question the fairness of many of our policies. On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”

We are here tonight because we want to transform the Jericho Road. We are here tonight because our faith compels to care for those taken advantage of by society.

We are here tonight to “make straight in the desert a highway for our God; to see every valley lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed.”