Christianity in Action

In the run-up to Christmas we have heard a great deal about Pay-day loans and complaints about the amount of charges on such loans. Two things I will say here, and you will probably agree with one and be upset by the other. The first is that the people taking out Pay-day loans are generally high risk and high cost for the loan company, because the amounts are relatively small and for a relatively short time and are advanced to people who are generally in economic difficulties. The second is that the rates are exorbitant.

So what is the church doing about all of this?

It seems a reasonable question to ask on Boxing Day, given that the biggest splurge of spending, whether people can afford it or not has just happened. Christmas is a Christian celebration. Poor parents feel the need to spoil their children one day in the year, and the choose Christmas. I do not believe that there is any non-heretical Christian in the world who would disagree. But the world has turned it into a time to let covetousness run riot and many people will be wondering how they are going to get through to the end of January. Some might even be wondering how they are going to get through to the New Year.

Should the church be doing anything about this? I suppose it depends on what you think church is for. If you see the church as a body of people who are going about this earth imitating what Jesus Himself did, then we need to remember that He physically healed people, he fed multitudes with very little resources, and he found money miraculously to meet His and Peter’s Temple Tax.

Do not get me wrong. Our first priority is to tell people who do not already know Him about Jesus. But we are reminded in James, chapter 2
15 Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. 18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that–and shudder. 20 You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?

James makes it clear we are not to walk by on the other side. Jesus had already told us who our brother or sister is in the parable of the Good Samaritan. Some have called Pay-day Loan companies legal loan sharks. I will not go so far as that, but if we go small small enough, can the churches do something by setting up small scale credit unions? Do we need a change in the law so that such small scale credit unions can be administered without having to jump though all of the same financial Services and Markets Act hoops that the big banks need to jump through? Are the churches willing to even ask? Will getting involved with poor people help the church? Will the church do this in a way that brings Glory to god?

The church of England have 26 bishops in the House of Lords, and at least one of them has sound business experience. Will they speak truth to power? Do they have the will? Time alone will tell.

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About UK Fred

A Christian who cares that the church in Britain conforms to societal demands, rather than transforms society. I am particularly concerned with the lack of support for marriage and the acceptance of divorce in the church. I also care that the body politic in Britain seems to be corrupt and in need of a good shake-up.
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11 Responses to Christianity in Action

  1. Jon Gleason says:

    Hello, Fred. Thanks for mentioning my blog on your earlier post.

    Three passages came to mind as I read your post. The first, from Galatians 6:
    10 As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.

    The second, from Ephesians 4:
    28 Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth.

    The third, from our Lord speaking in Luke 6:
    34 And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? for sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again.
    35 But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil.

    The first is a general statement but, in context, it particularly seems to have financial assistance in view. I take it to mean that, when I have opportunity / ability, I should help those in need, but especially other believers. The second tells me that one of the reasons God wants me to work is so that I will be able to give to the needy, and therefore I should order my finances accordingly.

    The third, to me, suggests I should not loan money, but rather give it. That suggests that I need to get involved enough in people’s lives that I know of their need, and know if it is real. If it is a real need, they really don’t need a loan, they need real help.

    It also means I shouldn’t give out money I can’t afford to give.

    Loans destroy relationships, gifts build them. If I give someone something when they are in need, and they later want to pay me back, I’ll accept it if they are really no longer in need. Either way, everyone is happy. If they are never able to give it back, it wasn’t expected, and their only obligation is gratitude. If they are able and don’t, I wasn’t expecting it anyway, so it is only a problem if their conscience troubles them. If they are able and do pay it back, then everyone is grateful and happy.

    Give, don’t loan. It seems better in so many ways.

  2. Availeth says:

    If I were a landlord, I would build in a surprise for my tenants to be revealed at a time of year like this when many may have felt so strained by finances and or holiday spending that they’d taken out a payday loan. I would (have) set the normal rent about 1/12th higher than necessary, and then surprise them with a rent-holiday for January (or for February, but not prior to Christmas). Can you imagine the relief and the joy over such a break as that!? Even better, if I could afford it, I would not have made the normal rent higher to cover the January gift. But it seems this kind of surprise could not be given every year though, or they would start to count on that and just be tempted to overspend.

    • Jon Gleason says:

      Interesting idea. If a landlord set the rent higher, and a tenant left before the rent holiday (say in November), then he would have been overcharging that tenant, who would receive no benefit from it. But he could, I suppose, just give a rent rebate when the tenant left, in that case.

      You are right, it couldn’t be done every year.

  3. ukfred says:

    Jon, I have no wish to stop churches giving, and we all know that we can always find good causes to give to. Like you, I would encourage churches to give generously.

    The way my mind was working was as follows. If a church starts up a small local credit union, it need not restrict depositors to members of the church and it can use this money to lend to those who would never accept a gift, often because of pride, but will accept an affordable loan. By keeping it on a small scale, there would be no large head office to fund and the church could use the surplus money of non-members to help more of those who would otherwise be caught in the grips of what have been described as legal loan sharks.

    • Jon Gleason says:

      I see what you’re getting at, Fred.

      We already have a local credit union that, as far as I know, virtually anyone can join:
      http://www.kingdomcu.co.uk/content.asp?contenttype=AboutUs

      It seems to me opening Pandora’s Box for a church to get involved in this. If you have funds on deposit that the savers can’t afford to lose, then you have a responsibility to assess whether people can afford to pay back the loan or not. Alternatively, the church could back the loans, so if the borrower defaults the church covers it, but then you have to assess whether the church can afford to give.

      I’ll tell you what, though, you have motivated me to look more into our local credit union. Not because I buy into a lot of the banker-bashing we see (no bankers forced anyone to borrow money they couldn’t pay back, there’s a lot of blame to go around), but simply because of the point you are making. If we can help people who are in need borrow at low cost when necessary, that is a good thing to do. So maybe I need to be encouraging our people to save with the credit union.

      In other words, I think it may be a bad idea for churches to start credit unions, but maybe it’s a very, very good idea for churches to encourage individual believers to join credit unions, or even to start them if there are none around.

      Thoughts?

      • ukfred says:

        @Jon Gleason

        I think that the differences between our views may have more to do with differences in our semantics than our eventual aim.

        I remain open-minded about the desirability of churches being involved in finance. Certainly many of our present insurance companies started in churches. Attending a Methodist church (No alcohol at all on church premises – even the communion wine is non-alcoholic) I find it amusing that many pubs are insured with Wesleyan Assurance, which started, guess where? At all costs the churches need to keep at the forefront of their consciousness that their mission is to preach the Word and they need to ensure that everything else they do is subordinated to and supportive of that imperative.

        I do not believe that we need to have everything specifically “Christian” for church members. A few people on the web are using the word “churchian” to describe those whose allegiance is to the institution of a/the church and not to the Saviour, and I fear that setting up church-based institutions alongside existing ones could encourage this “churchianity”. So let’s not anyone try to re-invent the wheel.

        I would certainly agree with you about encouraging believers to join existing credit unions where they exist. The main concern is that if people are terrified that tehy will not last until next pay day, because of the amount they have to pay back on their loans, they will not be able to hear the message of salvation that every church ought to preach.

        As my thoughts on this have developed, I have also wondered about Christians who have good skills of self-management being encouraged to be debt counselors with organisations like the Citizens Advice Bureaux. Just as I, in my job, am often the only Christian influence in the lives of some of my customers, so these counselors could be similarly out there in the world as salt and light.

      • Jon Gleason says:

        Good thoughts, Fred. The CAB idea is another good one.

        There was an unfortunate incident with CAB in Dundee a couple months ago. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-tayside-central-15494577. As with any other part of society these days, you’re going to run into some anti-Christian mindsets, and it can be strong in the CAB at times. I still think it is usually a good opportunity.

        People think that we want something from them, rather than wanting to give them something wonderful (the Gospel). Satan has used false teachers, television evangelists, and a lot of other things to keep them thinking it is all about Christians wanting their money (or to control them).

        If we’re looking for opportunities to serve like the ones you’ve mentioned, and especially to serve where they really have needs, and we actually do it with a servant’s attitude rather than a “I’ve done this for you so come to church with me” attitude, it helps break down that barrier, and that’s always a good thing.

        Thanks for the thought-provoking post / discussion.

      • ukfred says:

        If we do not serve, with the same attitude that Jesus himself had when He washed the disciples feet, then we are simply setting ourselves up for a nasty fall.

  4. Availeth says:

    Well, this is a thought-provoking discussion, but I have to add a negative tone on it. Fred, you said, “if people are terrified that tehy will not last until next pay day, because of the amount they have to pay back on their loans, they will not be able to hear the message of salvation that every church ought to preach” and “…Christians who have good skills of self-management being encouraged to be debt counselors”.

    Your whole idea is great, except — I for one would never go to a church-sponsored credit union, especially if it were associated with my own congregation. Most “Christians who have good skills of self-management” don’t have much patience or tolerance with compulsive, undisciplined, unfrugal people who are always in financial trouble. I would rather go to perfect strangers whose opinions I don’t care about than be accountable to brothers and sisters. In your original post, you referred to those who find themselves “in economic difficulties” or something like that. It was graciously put, but it’s more likely to be colored with judgment than with anything else.

    My former pastor was a wiz with money. He could have taught money-management courses. He had a reputation for stretching a dollar and for being wise and prudent and self-controlled. In fact, he was self-controlled and disciplined in almost every area, which is no doubt because a virtue like that in one area operates on others straight across the board. But I would never have revealed to him the full state of disarray in my budget, finances, bills — life issues about money. I Most of the time I’ve known in my heart of hearts that I’ve been struggling with merely pennies a few days before payday because of my own bad choices. Other times, I was blind to the behaviors and patterns of poverty, equally blameworthy although not seen so readily (by me).

    I think it was that same pastor who said the two subjects Jesus spoke about the most were Money and Hell — for sure, Money. Money is such a huge, sensitive issue, that I and others who are not good with it” (our euphemism for others’ more incriminating and not-untrue descriptions), would not want to venture into the light of Christian community to expose our failings, whether they are real needs or not. And yet, that is exactly what all of us need, isn’t it? To live in the light.

    • ukfred says:

      Availeth, you are right. I’m tempted to say bang on the money but that would be stretching the pun a bit too far.

      But yes, I can see where you are coming from. And you are right.

      The problem comes though, not from Christianity but rather from churchianity which I would define as letting the institution of the church be your master rather than an assembly of God’s people working to bring about His will in an area.

      Too many church people are too condemning. I know that it is glib and very easy to say, but we need to love the sinner but hate the sin. That means the church needs to get its act together to teach its members some hard facts about what it means to be Christian. It means, for example, being good, rather than being nice or being respectable. I can remember the shock when the respectable church secretary in the church where I grew up was convicted of embezzling a large sum of money from his employer, so we cannot say “We are better than you” to anyone..

      It means that you get your metaphorical sleeves rolled up and you get your hands dirty helping folks with the dirty jobs that they need help doing. It means taking time to teach young people who have been brought up in the care system how to cook and what sorts of food to buy so that they can make their Social Security money last until the next payment is available, which is impossible if you are eating pizza or burgers because you don’t know how to cook rice or a stew.

      Sometimes it means helping people to budget their money and knowing where they can get better value for money. One of the payday loan companies in the UK is offering loans with interest rates of over 2500%. Obviously if you can tell this person in need that they can get a loan from a credit union which charges about 15% they will be saving a fortune on interest, especially if there is a new baby and the washing machine has decided not to play any more.

      Jon Gleason got it right, above, when he said that perhaps the church shouldn’t so much start a credit union as encourage its members to save in a credit union so that low cost loans could be available to people who need them in the local area.

      Far too often church folks forget that we are just like everybody else; we too are beggars, but the difference is we know someone who is willing to give us bread. Thank you for reminding me of that fact.

    • Jon Gleason says:

      Well, my friend, I’m an imperfect stranger. Want to talk? πŸ™‚ Dave Ramsay’s Total Money Makeover might be a place to start. Not perfect, but not bad. Ultimately, as in everything, you make decisions. You can drift along making the same decisions you’ve always made, but they are still decisions.

      The failure to look for help in the Christian community usually boils down to pride. We would do better to keep boiling until the pride evaporates, too. (OK, I just quoted myself on that.)

      People (Christians) are bad with money because they still have sinful thought patterns. They don’t see money as belonging to God, and themselves as stewards / managers of His resources. They spend as they want, and don’t think how He wants them to spend.

      Ultimately, it is a love problem. To love the Lord your God with all your heart / soul / mind / strength is to be working out how each aspect of my life will look if I live it in love for God. To love the Lord our God with all our money doesn’t mean we’ll never spend on things to enjoy, but we’ll only spend on what He wants us to enjoy. And He doesn’t want us to enjoy things that leave us in debt to the world.

      We need to help each other get to the heart of the problem, and the problem is never money. Money problems are only symptoms of love problems. If we’re too proud to talk to each other, it’s going to be a lot harder to get to the heart issues, and if we can’t get to the heart, the best we’ll do is shift the problems to another area of life.

      Hope that helps a little.

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