General CBF

Predatory Lending Reform: Working for racial justice

Advocacy SquareBy Stephen Reeves
The tragic events of recent weeks have once again brought to the surface racial tensions in America that seem to linger just below. It is tempting to hunker down, stay silent, pray for peace and go about life in search of normalcy. It is also tempting to react only in anger, wallow in our preferred cable news sources and social media echo chambers, choose “sides” and dismiss those with whom we disagree.

There does seem to be a stark contrast, even between people of faith, in how we view the world. Yet neither option is sufficient for people of faith and the church of Jesus Christ. We are called to be peacemakers, but peace without justice is incomplete peace.

Rather than being paralyzed by fear, we should act, compelled by Christ’s love.

I believe that the church has both a responsibility and the opportunity to help our country make progress towards justice and racial reconciliation. This is not easy work, but it is vital if we are to fulfill our calling as Christians to live as salt and light in this world. I believe that America desperately needs the church to be the very real presence of Jesus Christ in this world. We must expect no less from ourselves.

Many have made concrete suggestions and proposed resources regarding how we might accomplish this. Allow me to suggest one more. As you may be aware, among other goals, CBF’s advocacy efforts have focused on the reform of predatory small-dollar lending in this country, namely payday and auto title lending. While anyone can fall into the debt-trap intentionally created by these products, it is clear that people of color are disproportionately impacted. This fact is one of a number of reasons CBF chose to focus attention on this issue.

The practice of charging the most financially vulnerable and desperate upwards of 400% APR is morally outrageous. Layer on top of this practice the huge wealth gap between white and minority populations and a history of unequal and dangerous credit practices and you have a recipe for disaster for many minority communities. In a workshop at the CBF General Assembly in June, Nikitra Bailey of the Center for Responsible Lending outlined much of this history of inequality which included both mortgage redlining and predatory adjustable rate mortgages and refinances that help lead to the 2008 financial crash. Even more clearly, a poll of 1,000 American Christians conducted by LifeWay earlier this year showed that overall 17% of those surveyed had personally taken out a payday loan, but for the African-American respondents that number was 49%.

Want to make a difference for racial justice in this country? It’s time to act.

What can you do?

Make a comment to the CFPB

On June 2, 2016 at a field hearing in Kansas City, Missouri, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) released a notice of proposed rule-making regarding small-dollar lending. This is the most critical moment in the fight to reform payday and auto title lending. For more information on the CFPB and why this new agency is so critical for nationwide reform, click here.

From now until October 7, the public has the opportunity to weigh-in on these proposed rules. While the stated intent of the rule is positive, many are worried that when put into practice they may not be strong enough to make the difference needed. This public comment period has the potential to greatly impact the final version of the rule and therefore the effectiveness at helping folks avoid debt-trap loans. There is no doubt that industry members will use all resources at their disposal to fight strong regulations aimed at preventing debt-trap loans. An organized faith community has the best chance to counter this message and urge effective and tight guidelines which uphold just lending principles. For a brief summary of the proposed rule and for suggestions for making a comment click here.

The time to act is now. We are asking Cooperative Baptists to make a comment to the CFPB by October 7, 2016. To comment, go to www.lendjustly.com.

Contact Congress

In addition, CBF Advocacy is encouraging Cooperative Baptists to contact their member of Congress and ask their representatives and senators to support a strong rule by the CFPB. Fortunately, through the Dodd-Frank Financial Reform act of 2010, the CFPB is already fully empowered to enact and enforce a strong rule without further Congressional approval. However, there have already been attacks on the agency which attempt to block enforcement of the rules which are not yet even final.

On July 7 the House passed the Financial Services and General Appropriations Act including language meant to block the CFPB from expending funds to enforce the proposed rule. On July 6, Rep. Terri Sewell offered an amendment to strip out this bad language but it was voted down 182 to 240 (click to see how your member of congress voted). The Faith for Just Lending coalition sent a letter to Rep. Sewell in support of her amendment. The bill will now make its way to the Senate and whether or not this language is included in the final appropriations bill is yet to be seen. What is certain, however, is that industry members, their lobbyists and the politicians to whom they make campaign contribution will continue to work to disrupt the work of the CFPB. This is why your voice is important. Your elected officials in Washington need to know that people of faith care and are paying attention. Please call today and ask those who represent you to support a strong payday lending rule by the CFPB and their ability to vigorously enforce it.

Host a screening of “The Ordinance”

ordinance-posterCBF Advocacy is proud to have supported the production of a new documentary soon to be released to the public. “The Ordinance,” produced by DeiDox, a non-profit documentary film company based in Austin, Texas, focuses on how people of faith have responded to the crisis of predatory payday and auto title lending in their community through direct ministries and mission work as well as through public policy advocacy. It features interviews with a broad group of faith leaders and policy makers including Rev. Dr. Steve Wells, Stephen Reeves and Rev. Dr. Freddy Haynes of Friendship-West Baptist Church in Dallas. The film highlights the cross-racial elements of advocacy on this issue and follows the process of the adoption of a local lending ordinance by the city council in Temple, Texas. While the film is set in Texas and uses the passage of a local ordinance as a focus, it certainly educates viewers on the issue no matter what state they are in and includes the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau which is working to implement policies for the entire country. You can see a preview of the film here.

We are very hopeful that this film will generate increased awareness of predatory lending and increased advocacy around the CFPB comment period and beyond. CBF Advocacy encourages our churches to hosts screenings of this half hour film and we want to make this as easy as possible. CBF has made a bulk purchase of screening kits for our churches so that those interested in a screening can do so at no cost to the church. I hope this is something you might consider.

If you’d like a screening kit and are in Texas, Kentucky, South Carolina, Florida or Tennessee contact our Advocacy Outreach Specialist in your state listed below. If you are not in one of these five states, contact Dihanne Moore at dmoore@cbf.net.

Kentucky – Sharon Felton – slkfelton24@gmail.com
Florida – Rachel Gunter-Shapard – rshapard12@floridacbf.org
Tennessee – Alec Miller – amiller@cbf.net
Texas – Anyra Cano – anyra.cano@outlook.com
South Carolina – Jeffrey Howard – jhoward_4311@yahoo.com

Stephen Reeves serves as associate coordinator of partnerships and advocacy for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Connect with him at sreeves@cbf.net

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