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Focus Text: Isaiah 5:1-7
Let me sing for my beloved my love-song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; he expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes. And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem and people of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it? When I expected it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes? And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it. For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting; he expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!
Payday Lending Reform: Suggestions for Making a Comment to the CFPB, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Excellent resource includes a summary of the rule, a call to action for faith leaders to file a comment with the CFPB, and terrific suggestions about writing your own letter.
Scriptural Commentary on Isaiah 5:1-7
The Song of the Vineyard is a beautiful rendition of God’s mourning and anxiety over the moral decline and economic injustice prevailing in the city of Jerusalem and Judah at large. The song is introduced by the prophet, who announces a love-song on behalf of his Beloved, about his Beloved’s vineyard (v. 1). The vineyard, a metaphorical representation of Judah, was planted carefully, nurtured plentifully, and protected zealously (v. 2). The vineyard was planted with the expectation that it would produce grapes that are good for pressing, but despite the love and care invested in the vineyard, it produced only wild grapes (v. 2).
God next directly asks the audience to judge between the Creator of the Universe and the people of Judah (v. 3), “What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it?” (v. 4) The Creator does not wait for a response; in fact, God’s questions are entirely rhetorical. God instead proceeds to announce the judgment on the vineyard, “it shall be devoured…it shall be trampled down…I will make it a waste…” (vv. 5-6)
The words of the prophet in the fifth chapter of the Book of Isaiah speak volumes to our modern day and age. When, despite the abundance of resource and life that this planet has to offer, we still find billions of people starving, homeless, ill, and naked, we must be prepared to answer the question posed by our Creator in the Song of the Vineyard, “What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it?” How will we justify the disparity in possessions and wealth prevalent in our modern society? How will we explain away the image of multiple-storied mansions across the city from tattered homes of unroofed shelters? When God walks through His vineyard and asks, “Where is the fruit that I have planted?,” He will look for “justice” and “righteousness,” but will He only hear the agonizing cry of His beloved (v. 7)? Will He be appeased by the 1% who bring barrels of grapes while the 99% are left utterly robbed of their wellbeing?
This fifth chapter of Isaiah reminds its readers that though we are blessed with the abundant riches of the earth, we must reap with justice and equity, mindful of the state of our brethren and neighbors who are unable to reap for themselves. At the time of harvest, we ought to remain cognizant that the bounty before us is for all to reap. We reap what our Creator has sown for all to enjoy, and so we must reap in fairness and in righteousness.
Pastoral Reflection on Isaiah 5:1-7
The Injustice of Payday Lending
By: Susan Lupton, Senior Policy Associate at the Center for Responsible Lending
The Problem: Predatory Payday Loans Designed to Trap Borrowers in Debt
Over the last few decades, tens of thousands of payday shops have cropped up all across the country, often circling low income communities, communities of color, and until recently military bases.
These payday shops market their loans as a one-time “quick fix” for people facing a cash flow crisis. In reality, borrowers who take these payday loans are almost never able to repay the loan in full on their next payday and walk away. Instead they fall into a long-term cycle of debt paying 400% annual interest for months and sometimes years on end. This leads to a host of other financial problems: overdraft and bounced check fees, falling behind on other bills, and increased risk of losing their bank account and bankruptcy. Car title loans and high-cost installment loans are variations on the same theme.
Payday loans don’t solve a financial crisis. They create a new crisis every payday. Consider these North Carolina borrowers:
Arthur Jackson paid $5000 in interest to borrow $300. Mr. Jackson (name changed), a 69-year-old warehouse worker and grandfather of seven, went to the same payday shop for over five years. He paid over $5,000 in interest to borrow $300. His loan was flipped over a hundred times, with a $52.50 fee each time.
Lenny James ended up in homeless shelter while paying 521% interest. Mr. James (name changed) made about $600 a week and took out a payday loan to catch up on an overdue bill. Over a year later, with his loan flipped every two weeks, he had fallen deeper into debt, and taken a second payday loan to stay afloat. James lost his apartment and ended up in a homeless shelter. While he lived there, the payday lender continued to flip his 521% APR loan.
Anita Monti had to get help from her church to pay her rent. Ms. Monti went to a payday shop in hopes of finding a solution to a common problem — how to delight her grandkids on Christmas. Unable to repay the first loan, she took a second loan, falling deeper in debt. Monti could not afford the $820 it would take to pay off the two loans in full and get out of debt. After just four months, she had paid almost $1000 in fees, and still owed the $820 in principal. “I got a promotion and a raise, but I never saw any of that money,” said Monti. She finally went to her church to get help paying the rent, and to a consumer credit counseling agency to get help negotiating a repayment plan. It took Monti nine more months to complete these payments. “I felt like I was in a stranglehold each payday. After a while, I thought, ‘I’m never going to get off this merry-go-round.’ I wish I’d never gotten these loans.”
Payday & Other High-Cost Loans Illegal in North Carolina
Fourteen states and the District of Columbia, with over 90 million people, are payday free. Payday loans have been illegal in North Carolina since 2001. Though they operated illegally here for five more years, they were forced out for good in 2006. Online payday loans, 300% car title loans, and triple-digit interest rate installment loans are also illegal in North Carolina, due to our strong state usury cap.
According to recent research from the Center for Responsible Lending, North Carolinians save $457 million every year by not paying abusive fees to payday and car title fees — $255 million saved by avoiding payday fees and $202 million saved by avoiding car title fees every year. That is a lot of money in the pockets of families living payday check to paycheck.
Danger and Opportunity with National Payday Rule Just Released
On June 2, 2016 the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) – the federal regulator charged with assuring that financial services are fair – released a proposed national rule for payday, car title, and certain installment loans. Comments on this rule are due by October 7, 2016.
North Carolina has a strong interest rate cap with protections against loopholes and subterfuge. Since the CFPB is prohibited by statute to set an interest rate cap, by far the best way to regulate high-cost lending, it is extremely important that states maintain their rate cap protections.
This national payday rule would not preempt our stronger state interest cap. However, unless the CFPB strengthens this proposed rule, they will be putting a government seal of approval on triple-digit, unaffordable loans, handing the payday industry powerful ammunition in their fight to come back into North Carolina. We cannot afford to have payday back in our state.
What Do We Want in the Rule?
CFPB’s proposed rule includes a number of important provisions. It does not preempt stronger state laws, like ours in North Carolina. It focuses on preventing the debt trap, the most abusive aspect of high-cost lending. It includes a strong ability to repay standard, based on income and expenses. And, it includes a number of provisions to prevent lenders from evading the rule.
Despite these important provisions, we are deeply concerned that weaknesses and loopholes in the proposed rule sanction dangerous loan products and allow lenders to avoid the strong ability to repay standard. For example, the proposed rule allows six 400% payday loans without considering the borrower’s ability to repay the loans.
The best way to address abusive payday, car title, and other forms of predatory high-cost lending is to put an end to it once and for all, as we have in North Carolina. Payday, car title and other high cost lenders should be required to determine that the borrower has the ability to repay the loan, considering both income and expenses, on all loans. This is a common sense requirement that any lender should meet. Any rule that permits a lender to offer even one 400% loan, or fails to protect borrowers from the need to borrow one loan just to pay off the one before it, will not end the debt trap.
We must also ask the CFPB to help payday-free states like North Carolina better enforce our state laws against lenders making illegal loans in their states.
Your Voice is Critical
People of faith are making a difference. When CFPB Director Richard Cordray announced the release of the proposed rule, he singled out the advocacy work of the faith community:
“Perhaps most telling of all, we have held numerous sessions with a broad set of faith leaders. They have shared searing experiences of how payday loans affect the people they care for every day in their churches and synagogues and mosques. And they have described how these loans undermine financial life in their communities. In devising this proposed rule, we have been listening carefully, and we will continue to listen and learn from those who would be most affected by it. And we will take their comments into account as we go forward and work to finalize new reforms in this area.”
Payday Lending Reform: Suggestions for Making a Comment to the CFPB, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship
Quotes about Economic Inequality
Letters from NC faith leaders opposing high-cost lending
- United Methodist Church, NC Conference Letter of Opposition to NC General Assembly, January 2015
- Episcopal Bishops of NC Letter of Opposition to NC General Assembly, February 2015
- Southern Conference of the United Church of Christ Letter of Opposition to NC General Assembly, 2015
Contacts & Resources for Economic Inequality
Add your Voice to Stop the Debt Trap
North Carolinians strongly oppose payday and all other forms of high-cost lending. Please do not allow a weak federal rule to usher in a new wave of predatory lending in North Carolina and other states where payday lending is illegal.
- Have your faith organization sign the NC Coalition letter at http://bit.ly/2aoi42H.This is a letter for any NC organizations to sign. For more information, contact Susan Lupton at the Center for Responsible Lending at firstname.lastname@example.org or 919.313.8521.
- Ask your congregants to add their voice at http://stoppaydaypredators.org/nccoalition/.
- Send your own letter to the CFPB. Use this sample sample letter or write your own.