Christians Heart Payday Lenders

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payday-lender.jpgThe Christian Right has used the Bible to bolster many a political issue, from abortion to stem cell research. Strangely enough, however, they seem to have missed one of the biggies: the Bible’s many injunctions against usury, or predatory lending to poor people. The Bible is far more explicit in its disapproval of usury than, say, gay marriage. (The book of Ezekiel compares usurious lending to extortion and murder for hire, in fact, and threatens major hellfire for those who practice it.) Yet in parts of the country where the Christian Right wields the most political power, usurious payday lending has flourished more than anywhere else in the U.S., according to a new study by Christopher Peterson and Steven Graves.

Today’s payday lenders charge around 450 percent interest on short-term loans, rates ten times higher than the federal definition of criminal loan sharking and nearly double what the Mob charged in its heyday. Peterson’s home state of heavily Mormon Utah ranked high on the list of havens for payday lenders. The state claims more payday lending outlets than McDonalds, Burger Kings, Subway sandwich chains, and 7-11s combined, and has failed to pass even modest restrictions on allowable interest rates that exceed 500 percent a year, among the highest in the nation. (One reason may be that the chairman of the Salt Lake City Republican Party, former State Senator James Evans, himself owns several payday-lending outfits.)

Peterson and Graves decline to speculate as to why devout Christians and Mormons who wield considerable political clout continue to tolerate practices that are so clearly at odds with Biblical teachings. They simply attempted to point out the correlation, writing that sadly, “Those states that have most ardently held to their pious Christian traditions have tended to become more infested with the progeny of money changers once expelled by Christ from the Hebrew temple.”

Photo by Flickr user ninjapoodles used under a Creative Commons license.

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You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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