Praying On The Poor
by Rev. Dustin Bartlett
“If any of your people become poor and are unable to support themselves among you, help them as you would a foreigner and stranger, so they can continue to live among you. Do not take interest or any profit from them, but fear your God, so that they may continue to live among you.”
- Leviticus 25:35-36
Poverty is a very real problem for many in South Dakota, and it exacts a very real human cost. Poverty not only affects people who are poor, but affects us all. Poverty often leads to increased crime rates, lower academic achievements, and poor health outcomes. As a society, we all pay the price of poverty. And, as a society, we should do what we can to alleviate and end poverty in city, state, nation, and world.
Helping poor people to get themselves out of poverty should be central to those efforts. Unfortunately, there are some who benefit financially from keeping poor people in poverty.
The payday lending industry is built on a model of making small loans with extremely high interest rates to poor people – to people who are desperate and have nowhere else to turn. The extremely high interest rates then trap them in a cycle of debt repayment.
According to the Pew Charitable Trust, South Dakotans pay an average interest rate of 574% on payday loans. At that rate, it’s no wonder they have a hard time getting themselves out of debt – which is a first step to getting themselves out of poverty.
As I said before, this is an economic issue. Poverty costs us all. But for people of faith, this is also a moral issue. People of faith understand that we are supposed to help economically vulnerable families and seniors; we are certainly not supposed to take advantage of them for profit. As it says in Proverbs 22: “Do not exploit the poor because they are poor and do not crush the needy in court, for the Lord will take up their case and will exact life for life.”
We are called to love our neighbors and keep them from harm instead of taking advantage of the poor through excessive interest rates and exploitative financial arrangements.
Fortunately, South Dakota voters have an opportunity to do something about this. On November 8th, you can vote “Yes” on Initiated Measure 21 to place a cap of 36% on payday loan interest rates. And vote “No” on Amendment U, which is a deceptive piece of legislation put forward by the payday loan industry that looks like it will cap the rate at 18%, but will actually remove any limitations on interest.
Many religious groups in South Dakota, including my own United Church of Christ, SD Faith in Public Life, the Family Heritage Alliance, the Evangelical Lutheran Church In America, the United Methodist Church, and the Presbyterian Church (USA) have all urged people of faith to vote “Yes” on Initiated Measure 21 and “No” on Amendment U.
You can find out more information about this important issue here:
Please, between now and election day, pray for a more just society. Pray for an end to predatory lending. And then act on those prayers by voting for one.
I’ll get back to the series on spiritual disciplines next week