Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Here's A Protest And A Campaign I Could Really Get Behind

It cost too much, but the
inspiration was priceless
I might have discovered my special purpose.

I was sipping a s’more frappuccino (which I hadn’t had before and which I found to be just okay), hanging out with Marianne and Emma when I saw a storefront across the street that called to mind visions of pro-life protestors at an abortion clinic. We don’t see them as much anymore (I think the government has clamped down on them), but maybe we could recall their movement just for a moment.

Operation Save-A-Life

I know that’s not a real name. At least I don’t think it is. But you know what it might look like. Lots of people marching in front of an abortion clinic. Carrying big signs, sometimes chanting or singing. They approach young, scared girls and seek to convince them (either through dialogue or literature) not to end their child’s life. Those who show interest are offered “crisis-pregnancy” counseling. For the few who choose to keep their children, systems are in place to provide them the parenting resources they need or to help them find adoptive parents.

It’s a noble pursuit, but it is not often successful. Some wonder if it might be time for a new approach. But this post isn’t about abortion at all. It’s about another evil being foisted on our society by some. This evil literally enslaves people and their families in a cycle of destruction that may not be escaped for generations.

I’m talking about payday loans.

Freedom for Captives

Jesus quoted Isaiah, saying that as the Messiah, one of his priorities was to bring freedom to the captives. This was not just spiritual captivity, Jesus also sought to free people from oppression and control whenever he could.

His followers also embraced this pursuit. The early Christians often pooled their resources to redeem slaves and set them free. Paul told Philemon that he expected him to treat his slave Onesimus as a brother (in other words, set him free).

How then should we respond to the modern phenomenon of payday loan corporations which essentiall enslave people. They do not chain them or kidnap them, but through easily available loans and impossible interest rates they place the desperate (and often their families) into life-long servitude.

According to the PEW research group: 
The chains of impossible interest
  • Twelve million American adults use payday loans annually. On average, a borrower takes out eight loans of $375 each per year and spends $520 on interest. 
  • Lenders usually charge about $15 per $100 borrowed per two weeks (391 percent Annual Percentage Rate or APR). 
  • 69 percent used it to cover a recurring expense, such as utilities, credit card bills, rent or mortgage payments, or food. 
  • Payday loans are due in full on the borrower’s next payday; yet if the borrower cannot pay off the full loan plus interest, she pays a fee to extend the due date, or pays back the loan but quickly takes out a new one to cover other expenses. The loans do not amortize, so this payment does not reduce the loan principal owed. For example, a person who borrows $400 for a $60 fee for two weeks would have paid approximately $480 in fees after renewing the loan for four months, but would still owe the original $400.

Jesus’ Kind of Protest

Jesus would be angry about this. I'm pretty sure Jesus is angry about this.

Remember when He threw over the tables in the temple and drove people out with a whip? Those were the payday loan sharks of his day. Jewish people would travel great distances to worship in the temple, but the “religious leaders” declared nothing could be sacrificed that wasn’t purchased in Jerusalem. Since these men had a corner on the sacrificial market, they could charge whatever they wanted.

And they did. They preyed on the desperation of others to amass great fortune for themselves. Jesus shut them down.

I think Jesus would like us to shut these money changers down. I think maybe we can learn how to do it from our pro-life cousins.

Who’s In?

I see three critical elements necessary to make this work: 
  1. loving protest 
  2. immediate assistance 
  3. ongoing mentoring

I’m not sure sign boards and picket lines are the ideal vehicle to bring the payday loan industry to its knees. Furthermore, I’m not convinced someone seeking a payday loan would be inclined to speak with a sign-waving protestor. But perhaps they would give an ear to someone who gently approached them just before they entered the store. Your presence will likely be far more effective than your picket.

We need a protest of presence, not another picket line

When someone arrives at a payday loan store, it doesn’t matter why they need money. Whatever tough luck they’ve experienced, whatever bad choices they’ve made are in the past. At that moment, they’ve decided to turn to their last resort; and unless someone intervenes, they will mortgage their future to salvage their present. For this reason, any attempt to help this person must include an offer of immediate assistance. Whether you offer them the full amount they need, partial assistance or sit down with them to find other creative solutions; to not meet their pressing need is to force them into that store and into the cycle of financial slavery.

The vast majority of people who visit a payday loan store once, will visit again. Even if you bail someone out once, odds are, they’ll be back if something doesn’t change in their life. More than any gift of cash or credit, what that person needs is someone who will enter into their life and provide ongoing financial mentoring. Whether you connect them with a class, introduce them to a counselor or take on the role yourself; this is the level at which true lasting change happens. Mentoring is the escape hatch from the downward spiral of financial crisis.

Are you in?

Here’s your checklist: 
  • Recruit friends to join you in front of a payday loan store once per month (down the road you can go more often or share the load with others) 
  • Raise enough funds that you’ll be able to provide people with daily necessities if you have opportunity (be prepared to partner with local food pantries or other services if possible) 
  • Find a financial mentoring curriculum you can use with those who are willing (Dave Ramsey’s material will work as will Crown Financial. Use something simpler if you have access or can create your own). 
  • Set a date when your team will hold their first “Protest via Presence”. 
  • Choose a location. Do some research and find out where the busy payday loan stores are (have a backup plan in case you are asked/forced to leave) 
  • Go (don’t carry cash. If you have opportunity to talk with someone, have them meet you somewhere else. You don’t want to foolishly open yourself to harm) 
  • Here’s your opening line if you need one: “hi friend, before you go in there would you be willing to consider some alternative financial solutions? I have some resources at my disposal and I’d love to see if I can help.

Send me a message if you’re ready to go


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