Wednesday, November 23, 2011
The Oklahoma City meeting of the New Baptist Covenant concluded with a press conference to address the predatory nature of payday lending. Here's the statement I gave: We called this press conference to express our disgust with the exorbitant fees and interest rates that payday lenders are charging the poorest and most disadvantaged members of our community. We are particularly incensed that Oklahoma Native American tribes are using their “tribal sovereignty” to shield online payday lenders from legislation and litigation that attempts to limit the ability of payday lenders to prey on the poor. Ancient Israel had a lot stronger regulation on loans than we do. The Mosaic law prohibited charging “your brother” interest and all the tribes of Abraham were blood brothers. For Hebrews it was only permissible to charge interest to “a foreigner.” (Deut. 23:19-20) The early Christians, considering each other brothers and sisters in Christ, extended the Deuteronomic prohibition against usury to all who shared their faith. Charging interest to even those outside the faith was viewed as a form of theft and harmful. The great Roman Catholic Theologian Thomas Aquinas, wrote:
The Jews were forbidden to take usury from their brethren, i.e., from other Jews. By this we are given to understand that to take usury from any man is simply evil, because we ought to treat every man as our neighbor and brother.(emphasis mine)During the Reformation, when the modern economic system began to develop, John Calvin interpreted the scriptures prohibiting usury to forbid only “biting” usury – interest taken from the defenseless poor. He allowed interest bearing loans to be made to brothers and neighbors and made the amount of interest that could be charged a matter of conscience. At that time nobody thought that more than 5% interest was conscionable. In Geneva, those who charged more than 5% interest would lose their principle and would be required to pay a fine. Over time consciences have become more pliable. In Oklahoma, state law limits the interest rate on personal loans between unlicensed individuals to 10%. Interest rates can exceed 10% if the individual is licensed by the state to make consumer loans. We are convinced that the interest rates now being permitted to payday lenders are unconscionable. Today, what our forefathers called “biting interest” is commonplace and the “defenseless poor” are being forced to pay the highest interest rates -- rates up to 400% per year. Rates that trap them in debt and put a strain on the benevolent and charitable activities of our churches when they come to us for assistance to provide for the basic necessities they can no longer afford because payday lenders have robbed them of their limited incomes. Baptists associated with the “New Baptist Covenant” movement are giving notice that we intend to stand firmly against the financial exploitation of disadvantaged members of our community by payday lenders. We also are giving notice that we intend to work diligently to encourage our state legislators and our business community to create programs, products and policies that will ensure that low income Oklahomans have access to affordable credit.
Posted by Bruce Prescott at 8:31 AM
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
A couple people have asked that post the invocation I gave at the Institute of Interfaith Dialog's Friendship Dinner and Awards Ceremony last night. Here it is: Lord God, Thank-you for this opportunity to come to the table of fellowship with friends of other faiths. We are grateful for the relationships we are making with each other and with you. We acknowledge that you created us, that you sustain us with your loving presence, and that you have brought us together to work together to preserve peace and promote understanding in our communities. Thank-you for the love and concern of the Institute for Interfaith Dialog and those who organized this gathering and share the vision of an Interfaith Peace Garden. May your peace be upon them. Thank-you for the love and concern of those who have come to participate in this time of friendship and fellowship. May your peace be upon them. Thank-you for the nourishment that we are about to receive for our bodies and most of all, thank-you for the nourishment we are about to receive for our souls. We celebrate our diversity today -- knowing that, ultimately, we all pray for the day when the whole world will come together around a common table of fellowship and friendship. May your peace be upon all humanity. Amen.
Posted by Bruce Prescott at 3:57 PM
Monday, November 07, 2011
Podcast (27MB Mp3) of Dr. Bruce Prescott's 11-6-2011 "Religious Talk" radio interview with representatives of the Oklahoma Sponsoring Committee. I talk with Melodie Garneau of Mayflower Congregational Church, Doug Holstead of St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church, Jim Tappan of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, and Lead Organizer Kristen King. We talk about the mission, purpose and social justice work of the Oklahoma Sponsoring Committee.
Posted by Bruce Prescott at 3:47 PM
Friday, November 04, 2011
Oklahoma City Meeting of the New Baptist Covenant II Nov. 17-19, 2011 St. John Missionary Baptist Church in Oklahoma City will host the second ever gathering of the New Baptist Covenant. American Baptists, Cooperative Baptists, Free Will Baptists, Missionary Baptists, National Baptists, Progressive National Baptists, Southern Baptists and other Baptists from across the spectrum of ethnic backgrounds will be uniting for a special time of worship and work. The Nov. 17-19 meeting will be part of the second gathering to celebrate the New Baptist Covenant movement which began with a historic meeting at Atlanta in 2008. That meeting brought 15,000 Baptists from 40 different Baptist denominations and groups together. As many as 30,000 to 35,000 people are projected to participate in the New Baptist Covenant II meeting which will be coordinated from the anchor city of Atlanta and broadcast live to simultaneous worship services in regional meetings across the country. Former president and first lady Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter and other prominent Baptists will speak live by satellite. Each regional meeting will feature “live and in person” their own slate of speakers, choirs, musicians, workshops, and breakouts. The Oklahoma City meeting will feature the Ambassador Concert Choir on the evening of Thursday, Nov. 17. John Reed, pastor of Fairview Baptist Church in Oklahoma City and President of the National Baptist Convention of Oklahoma, will be the keynote speaker on the morning of Friday, Nov. 18. That afternoon St. John will offer screenings and panel discussions of the documentary films “Gospel Without Borders” about immigration and “Beneath the Skin” about racism. There will also be opportunities to hear sermons by Dr. Lee Cooper, Pastor of Prospect Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, Dr. Tim Eaton, President of Hillsdale Freewill Baptist College, Rev. Todd Littleton, pastor Snow Hill Baptist Church in Tuttle, Dr. Wade Smith, pastor of First Baptist Church in Norman, and Dr. Charles Johnson, pastor of First Baptist Church of Desdemona, Texas. Other workshops include sessions about what is wrong with Oklahoma’s payday lending law and a Spanish language breakout on immigration law and procedure. For additional information, visit our website: www.newbaptistcovenant.org
Posted by Bruce Prescott at 10:53 AM
Tuesday, November 01, 2011
Last week, while speaking at Oklahoma City University, Bill Moyers recommended the book "A Paradise in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster" by Rebecca Solnit. I got the book and read it. I think it is essential reading for everyone involved in ministry -- if for no other reason than that the book is filled with stories that would make good sermon illustrations. Solnit scours accounts of how people have reacted in disasters over the past 100 years. She finds a lot more evidence of selflessness, altruism, civility and joy (yes, -- joy) than for selfishness, malevolence, incivility and despair. Below are a few quotes that will give you a flavor for the insights she uncovers. You'll have to read the book if you are interested in the stories she brings to light.
Since postmodernism reshaped the intellectual landscape, it has been problematic to even use the term human nature, with its implication of a stable and universal human essence. The study of disasters makes it clear that there are plural and contingent natures -- but the prevalent human nature in disaster is resilient, resourceful, generous, empathic, and brave .(p. 8). . .
Disaster offers temporary solutions to the alienations and isolations of everyday life: "Thus while the natural or human forces that created or precipitated the disaster appear hostile and punishing, the people who survive become more friendly, sympathetic, and helpful than in normal times. The categorical approach to human beings is curbed and the sympathetic approached enlarged. In this sense, disasters may be a physical hell, but they result however temporarily in what may be regarded as a kind of social utopia." (p. 108). . .
"Disasters provide a temporary liberation from the worries, inhibitions and anxieties associated with the past and future because they force people to concentrate their full attention on immediate moment-to-moment, day-to-day needs within the context of present realities." (p.115)
Posted by Bruce Prescott at 3:14 PM