Marcus Singleton is the pastor of Living Faith Community UMC and is the president of the board of Birmingham Faith in Action, an ecumenical collaboration of faith communities that works to do justice in the Birmingham area. Predatory lending has been in the news quite a bit lately as a bipartisan coalition that includes advocacy groups, faith communities, credit counselors, the federation of Republican Women, and many others has been working to get the legislature to pass a law that would cap interest rates on pay day and title loans at 36%. Currently, pay day lenders can charge up to 456% interest and title loan companies up to 300% interest. Below is a speech Marcus gave at a recent rally.
We are gathered here today because of systemic practices that continue to perpetuate the oppression of the working poor and impoverished. We are gathered here today because free enterprise is regulating the hallowed halls of our democracy. We are gathered here because the blood of Abel cries out from everywhere: our communities, our cities, our rural areas and our suburbs. We are gathered because the effects of predatory lending is killing the hopes of many for economic and financial viability. These lending institutions are emaciating the vitality of our families and constricting the possibility of redevelopment of our distressed communities. What we have before is a failure of our policy makers, of our politicians to have a moral interest in the welfare of their citizens and constituents?
Shamefully this is not new for Alabama. In Alabama our history records; that our leadership has zero interest in its citizens which are deemed the Least of These. Our constitution is a blatant reminder! In addition; we just commemorated the 50th year of the Civil Rights Movement, which was born from a deficit in moral interest toward black and poor people. Yet, sadly, we don’t have to go back 50 years to record Alabama’s inhumanity toward people who simply seek an opportunity to survive and provide for their families. In 2011; keeping with its fractious treatment of poor people and people of color, Alabama lawmakers signed into law the Beason-Hammon Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act, known as HB56 and it is considered our nation’s strictest anti-illegal immigration law.
I stand before you today to remind you that predatory lending is a moral issue and our politicians have demonstrated both historically and in the present – a grave deficiency in moral interest toward the most vulnerable people in the State. Many of whom represent their constituency on whose behalf they were elected to serve. HB56 is coded as citizen protection without warrant of any realized threat.
Yet, in the midst of the deafening cries of Abel who was murdered by Cain – where are our policy makers? Why aren’t they rushing to protect those whose meager hope for survival and escape from financial ruin is being strangled by the hands of these predatory lending companies? Our lawmaker’s decision not to act is leaving families to drown in their own financial debt, just as Abel drowned in his own blood.
How can our politicians with straight face support laws that allow 456% on payday loans and 300% interest on title loans and contend their voting is steeped in the moral interest of their most vulnerable citizens? We’re not referring to the 1800’s! We’re not reflecting on the 1900’s! We are talking about right now in 2014! Where is their moral interest; to do what is right, for people not corporations? As stated above, Alabama is world renown for being on the pernicious side of history.
We spent an entire month in Birmingham remembering a painful time in our history, local politicians and politicians from across the country participated and all agreed; we mustn’t allow such tragedy to ever occur again – yet we continue to allow incendiary businesses to enter communities under the guise of helping people. But immediately after securing loans from these predatory lenders, the lives of hard working and well-meaning people explode into a financial downward spiral and forced enslavement to these lenders. This is why we need our lawmakers to demonstrate moral interest toward the victims and would be victims of payday lenders.
If we don’t history will repeat itself, not only with the lives of four innocent girls but with the lives of 1,000s upon 1,000s whose lives and livelihood suffocate under the debris and fallout of 456%. How many more fiscal bombs must explode before our lawmakers stand up and demonstrate moral interest toward the most vulnerable?
If our politicians are moral agents and genuinely want to do what is right; minimally what Alabama must do is like the Military Lending Act (MLA) of 2006, pass a law that caps the interest rate at 36% including all fees and charges.
Listen to reason: the MLA was proposed by the Department of Defense stating “Predatory lending undermines military readiness, harms the morale of troops and their families, and adds to the cost of fielding an all-volunteer fighting force”.
I say “Predatory lending undermines family readiness, harms the morale of families and communities and adds to cost of fielding and creating upward mobility for all our citizens.”
In closing, scripture reminds us how people with high moral interest treat others. So we call for justice and fairness. We seek justice, Ezekiel 22:12 says: "In you, they take bribes to shed blood; you take both advance interest and accrued interest, and make gain of your neighbors by extortion; and you have forgotten me, says the Lord God." We demand fairness, in Exodus 22:25 God says, “If you lend money to my people, to the poor among you, you shall not deal with them as creditor; you shall not exact interest from them”.
We have a choice: (1) demonstration of high moral interest which values the humanity and sacred worth of all people or (2) to continue the systemic practice of malfeasance and economic terrorism toward our most vulnerable citizens.
Alabama State Legislature – We the People are calling out; respond by passing a bill that demonstrates high moral interest in protecting the well-being of our families and communities!
Inspired by Love,
Pastor Marcus J. Singleton
Birmingham Faith Action
The Advocacy for Social Justice Blog is produced by the North Alabama Conference Advocacy for Social Justice Team to help people think about justice issues through the lens of faith. It is intended to be a place where United Methodists can listen and learn from each other with mutual respect and understanding. (For the purpose of this blog see the the post “The work of justice is the work of the church”.) Please join the conversation by adding your comment below. If you have an idea for a blog topic or would like to make a submission to the Advocacy for Social Justice Blog please contact the Team Convenor Rev. R.G. Wilson-Lyons at email@example.com.