As he explains, the report on exploitative lending has been launched on the very best of days, as our Just Money campaign with Citizens UK celebrated a historic victory!
Yesterday the Government announced that they would be capping the cost of credit, bringing to an end the unrestricted interest rates and penalty fees currently charged by payday lenders. Today it has emerged that the Archbishop of Canterbury played a key role in this decision. So it is a very good time to announce CTC’s latest publication – ‘God and the Moneylenders: faith and the battle against exploitative lending’.
The Archbishop’s victory is just the latest example of the way in which our supposedly secular society often looks to religious authority on fundamental issues of the direction of our economy and society. As is argued in this collection, the language and the institutions of faith have played a crucial role in discussion of the financial crisis and its aftermath, and the new Pope and Archbishop have both struck a chord far beyond the walls of the Church in their interventions on the shape of the financial system.
This collection has been written for people who are inspired by that debate, and now want to take practical and effective action. It is structured into three sections: Seeing (where we present evidence of the impact of exploitative lending on the poorest), Reflecting (where we bring this experience into dialogue with the Scriptures) and Acting (where we describe practical initiatives in which local churches can get involved).
The decision to begin this collection with a ‘Seeing’ section, and with an essay which presents the experiences of the poorest in their own voice, reflects our theological convictions. Christian theology must begin with their perspective, for it must begin with the person and practice of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. Too often in our theological discussions, Christians focus entirely on what Jesus and his disciples taught, without noticing this extraordinary fact about who and where they actually were. How the world looks depends on where you are standing, and Jesus stood with – not merely for – the poorest of his age. Where he stood is part of what he reveals.
In the first essay, therefore, I am drawing on the work I’ve been doing in inner-city London and beyond, listening to people affected by payday lending and helping them to organise for a more just financial system. As well as sharing some of their stories, I present quantitative research which shows such testimonies to be representative of a far wider group of people.
The question begged by my work is why this should be an issue for people of faith in particular. The second section of this booklet addresses this, offering theological reflections on the issue. First Angus Ritchie’s essay with Muhammad Abdul Bari explores the central role of faith in responding to economic injustice and the impact of Citizens UK’s community organising work since the financial crash of 2008. Luke Bretherton then demonstrates that the issue of exploitative lending and economic justice stands at the very heart of the Christian story of salvation – from the exodus of the Hebrew slaves in Egypt, through Jesus’ earthly ministry and his sacrificial death upon the cross, and on to the practice of the Church born that first Pentecost. His extended essay leaves us in no doubt as to the Scriptural imperative to action. Its implications are drawn out in the ‘principles for a faithful financial system’ which follow.
The first two sections of this booklet therefore leave us with a challenge: how are we to respond to this call to action in ways that are realistic, faithful and effective? The final trio of essays map out some practical answers. Selina Stone and Tom Chigbo describe the work being done by churches involved in Citizens UK. Their essay explains how Christians have been working with people of other faiths and none over the last four years to campaign for yesterday’s victory on capping the cost of credit.
As Justin Welby has reminded us, however, legislation is only one part of the response. While he has helped to change the legal framework for payday lending, the Archbishop has also highlighted a range of other actions being taken by local churches. These include supporting and counselling people already snared by loan sharks, and promoting ethical alternatives. In the final two essays, Tom Sefton, Bethany Eckley and Philip Krinks offer two complementary proposals which will help churches in their work for a more responsible and mutual lending system. They show how a combination of traditional credit unions and new forms of social enterprise can help the poorest access the finance they need at a cost which is more bearable – and they indicate ways in which local congregations can contribute to this process.
We hope that this publication will prove a thought-provoking and useful contribution to the debate around this hugely important issue. As the Bishop of Stepney says in his foreword, our prayer is that it “will help us to be more faithful and effective signs of God’s Kingdom, and followers of Christ the Servant King – who came to preach ‘good news to the poor’ and freedom to all who are oppressed.”