I've been in debt.
Who am I kidding? I'm still in debt, but now that debt isn't crushing.
But there was a time when I wasn't making it paycheck to paycheck, even working full-time. And I worked hard. I was single and didn't have kids, so despite the fact that I was making $16,500 a year, I didn't qualify for any benefits. I had no health insurance and no safety net.
I turned to a payday loan, and it took about a third of my check, a third I couldn't afford to lose, because I had nowhere else to turn.
I live in Oregon, where we've passed some laws to protect consumers against insane interest rates and origination fees. But there are lots of places where people have no protection.
The faith-based organization PICO is encouraging people to weigh in as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau considers regulations on predatory lenders. They're also asking for people's personal stories and pictures, and they have resources for churches who want to help.
We all know people shouldn't have to pay 300-400% interest, but what does this have to do with Christianity?
The prophets are constantly talking about justice for the poor, and people who turn to payday lenders are among the poor. These people are working (or else they wouldn't have a paycheck to get a loan from) and they can't see any other options.
They're vulnerable and desperate. I know because I was them.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says if someone sues you for your coat, give them your tunic, too. Theologian Walter Wink says this is equivalent to stripping naked in the court. It was illegal for someone to sue for a coat. That's because if you're suing for someone's coat, that's all they have.
Jesus is telling people who feel powerless to make a display of the injustice of their oppressor.
If you look at PICO's website, you'll see a few pictures of people doing something in that same spirit, standing with signs in front of payday lenders and telling their stories.
Whether you've been in debt or not, you can stand with the working poor and encourage reasonable interest rates. If the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau acts, these lenders will still make a profit, but they'll be prohibited from preying on people when they're most vulnerable.