By / May 22

When you hear the phrase “payday loans,” what words and ideas come to mind? Helpful? Useful? Timely? Or words with a more negative connotation like harmful, predatory, and immoral? These are some of the responses given by a group of Christians that took part in a recent survey titled American Views on Payday Loans. The survey of one thousand Christians from 27 states was conducted by Lifeway Research and is part of a larger project sponsored by a coalition of faith-based institutions called Faith for Just Lending.

The responses to this and other questions included in the survey were split and have changed to a surprising degree in the last several years. For instance, since 2016 the percentage of respondents who view payday loans as “helpful, useful, and timely” has doubled, and 34% of Christians living in one of these states “have obtained that type of loan themselves” (also doubling since 2016).

The reason for these changes is mixed. Yet, whatever the reason, Christians would be wise to explore what payday loans are and why they can be so morally and materially problematic.

What is a payday loan?

Barrett Duke writes that payday lending “is the term used to describe the practice of lending small amounts of money to people, usually $350 or less, for two-week periods (i.e., until their next payday). In return, the borrower pays interest on the loan when it is due at the end of the loan period.” 

A payday loan, therefore, is a relatively small amount of money (though surely it doesn’t seem small to those being forced to borrow) that is lent to people to see them through to their next payday. As Duke acknowledges, a short-term loan like this “can provide an important service,” but the terms of the loan often lead to more difficulty on the part of the borrower. In fact, the loans are often predatory in nature. And according to the Center for Responsible Lending, there are more than 20,000 payday loan shops providing these loans in the United States today.

Why are they sometimes called predatory?

Payday lending is a business that preys on the most financially vulnerable among us and those who are most in need of help. 

The Center for Responsible Lending calls payday lending a practice akin to “modern-day usury,” a word defined by Merriam-Webster as “an unconscionable or exorbitant rate or amount of interest.” While the authors of this guide recognize that “lending can empower those in need,” they also warn that “lending can be used to exploit those in need.” In too many cases, payday lending is used for the latter. 

Part of what makes payday lending predatory is the outrageous interest rates that are pinned on the loans—rates that are often veiled by the use of unclear financial speak. Duke uses the example of a $350 loan borrowed at 15%. These terms may sound reasonable to a borrower, “except that this [15%] is the two-week rate, not an annual rate. On an annual basis, that 15% two-week loan is actually provided at a 390% annual interest rate,” which is just shy of the “typical payday lender charge [of] 400%.” 

In addition to the high interest rates and unclear language, payday loans are typically eligible for renewal when a borrower is unable to repay the loan in full. In this scenario, a lender will renew the loan, provided that the borrower pays the interest that’s due. Using Duke’s example from above, on a $350 loan borrowed at 15%, a borrower would pay “the $52.50 [in] interest and extend the loan for two more weeks at another 15% interest,” rolling the unpaid total into the new loan. 

And this is a cycle that can continue almost indefinitely. It’s a business model that profits from borrowers’ inability to pay back their loans and traps them in an ongoing cycle, metastasizing their dues and eventually saddling them with a sizable amount of long-term debt. 

Why should Christians care about predatory payday lending?

Christians should care about predatory lending because its practices exploit and take advantage of our neighbors, whom we’ve been commanded to love. In the Old and New Testaments, Scripture is clear that God’s people should not tolerate injustice, should serve and care for those who are marginalized, and where possible, put a stop to the injustices perpetrated against them. 

Finding themselves in a “tough financial hole,” many of our neighbors “have attempted to use payday loans to dig themselves out.” Unfortunately, what they often find with payday loans is not that they’re digging themselves out but digging themselves deeper. For example, “the typical payday borrower pays back $793 for an initial $325 loan” and, on average, “takes out 9 loans a year.” Frequently, these loans lead to more difficulty, more hardship, and more vulnerability for borrowers.

Predatory lending affects not just individuals, but families and entire communities. Cumulatively, it’s an industry that as of 2010 collected $3.5 billion every year in fees alone (i.e., interest and other fees), making it increasingly difficult for borrowers to make ends meet, for families to put food on the table, and for whole communities to thrive. Christians should care about payday lending because it’s a system that fundamentally “undermines the dignity of borrower[s] when [their] failure leads to success and profit for the lender.” Predatory lending is an issue of biblical justice and human dignity.

How have the SBC and ERLC engaged with this issue?

In 2014, messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting made their opposition to the practice of predatory payday lending clear by passing a resolution that: 

  • denounce[d] the practice of predatory payday lending as contrary to God’s design for human relationships;” 
  • urge[d] churches, employers, and other concerned individuals to provide viable solutions for meeting short-term financial needs within their local communities;” 
  • call[ed] on governing officials to investigate current payday lending abuses in their communities and institute just regulations and policies that terminate the practice of predatory payday lending;” 
  • and “admonish[ed] those who are engaged in the practice of predatory payday lending to consider the great damage they are causing in the lives of vulnerable people and to adopt a just lending model.”

To that end, the ERLC has long sought to shed light on the predatory nature of payday lending. From writing Issue Briefs like the one referenced above to serving as a member of the Faith for Just Lending coalition, the ERLC recognizes “these practices should be regulated to restrict this industry’s ability to prey on the poor among us” and advocates for policies (like South Carolina’s Senate Bill 67) that seek to do just that. Recognizing that predatory lending is an issue that directly concerns human dignity, the ERLC has made the support of payday lending regulations one of its 2023 policy priorities.

By / Jul 1

Last week, the House of Representatives voted 218-208 to repeal the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency’s (OCC) 2017 ‘True Lender’ rule. Republican Rep. Glenn Grothman (WI-06) voted to pass this bipartisan Congressional Review Act (CRA) aimed at the OCC’s misguided rule. The bill now heads to President Biden’s desk for his signature or veto. 

The 2017 OCC rule allowed payday lenders to partner with out of state banks, thus evading state interest rate caps in their own state. This partnership is known as a “rent-a-bank” scheme, which allows banks to “rent” their name to lenders in an outside state in order to avoid consumer protection laws. The rule states that these partner banks operated as the ‘true lender’ and originator of the loan, so though the consumer and the payday lender are in one state, their state laws did not apply to the loan. The Congressional Review Act allows Congress to repeal rules promulgated by a federal agency, such as this 2017 OCC rule. 

The ERLC has long applauded states’ efforts to curtail unjust lending practices in their states. Currently, 19 states and the District of Columbia have 36% interest rate caps. We believe that these common sense consumer protection laws should be respected rather than undermined by federal regulation. Predatory lenders should not be granted a loophole from state laws that promote responsible and honest lending practices and that represent the will of the voters of those states. 

As the Southern Baptist Convention affirmed in 2014, “predatory lending fails to respect the dignity of the person created in the image of God and interferes with human flourishing.” To learn more about the harms of payday lending and why Southern Baptists oppose it, read the ERLC’s explainer here

Six years ago, the ERLC joined the Faith for Just Lending Coalition (FJL) to advocate for an end to the payday debt trap. FJL has been working since the 2017 OCC rule was first proposed to oppose its implementation and released a statement yesterday applauding the House for its vote to repeal the harmful rule. 

The ERLC is grateful to both chambers of Congress for taking action to roll back this harmful regulation. Predatory lending is out of step with God’s design for financial relationships, and we celebrate this progress toward ending the payday debt trap. 

The ERLC will continue to advocate for legislation that curbs payday lending, including for the re-introduction of the Veterans and Consumers Fair Credit Act (VCFCA). To learn more about the VCFCA and why the ERLC supports it, read our issue brief here. The ERLC is proud to have advocated for the repeal of the OCC’s ‘True Lender’ rule and we urge President Biden to swiftly sign it into law. 

By / May 14

Last night, the Senate voted 52-47 to repeal the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency’s (OCC) 2017 ‘True Lender’ rule. Republican Sens. Lummis (WY), Collins (ME), and Rubio (FL) voted to pass this bipartisan Congressional Review Act (CRA) aimed at the OCC’s misguided rule. The bill now heads to the House of Representatives for consideration. 

The background 

The 2017 OCC rule allowed payday lenders to partner with out of state banks, thus evading state interest rate caps in their own state. This partnership is known as a “rent-a-bank” scheme allowing banks to “rent” their name to lenders in an outside state in order to avoid consumer protection laws. The rule states that these partner banks operated as the ‘true lender’ and originator of the loan, so though the consumer and the payday lender are in one state, their state laws did not apply to the loan. 

The ERLC has long applauded states’ efforts to curtail unjust lending practices in their states. Currently, 19 states and the District of Columbia have 36% interest rate caps. We believe that these common sense consumer protection laws should be honored, and not undermined by deceptive regulatory definitions. Predatory lenders should not be granted a loophole from state laws that promote responsible and honest lending practices. 

The average annual interest rate on payday loans in states without an interest rate cap is 391%. This unfair and exorbitant interest rate traps families in cycles of poverty and debt, leading many to rollover their payday loans eight or nine times. 

Calling for an end to payday lending

Scripture speaks clearly against usurious lending practices. A just nation protects consumers from exploitive business relationships and regulates lenders to ensure just treatment. As the Southern Baptist Convention affirmed in 2014, “predatory lending fails to respect the dignity of the person created in the image of God and interferes with human flourishing.”

These values prompted the ERLC to join the Faith for Just Lending Coalition (FJL) and advocate for an end to the payday debt trap. FJL has been working since the 2017 OCC rule was first proposed to oppose its implementation and released a statement yesterday applauding the Senate for its vote to repeal the harmful rule. 

Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, Sen. Sherrod Brown (OH), conducted a hearing on the CRA and cited FJL and ERLC’s advocacy on this issue: “a broad, bipartisan coalition is asking Congress to overturn the OCC’s harmful True Lender Rule. That support includes […] the Southern Baptist Convention […] and other members of the Faith in Just Lending Coalition.”

Every sector of public life has a role to play in ending payday lending. This includes individuals who should steward their money well, churches who should help financially struggling families and individuals, and governing authorities who should regulate consumer loan interest rates. 

The ERLC is grateful to the Senate for passing such an important bill to curb the proliferation of payday lenders across the country. Predatory lending is out of sync with God’s design for financial relationships, and we celebrate one small step in ending the payday debt trap. 

The ERLC will continue to advocate for the repeal of the 2017 OCC ‘True Lender’ rule as the CRA moves to the House of Representatives, and President Biden’s desk for signature.

By / May 13

Jeff Pickering and Brooke Kramer are joined by the Rev. Dr. Gabriel Salguero to discuss why Christians should care about ending the payday debt trap and how the Faith for Just Lending (FJL) coalition is advocating against payday lending. Salguero is the pastor at The Gathering Place, a Latino-led multi-ethnic Assemblies of God congregation in Orlando and also the president and founder of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition (NALEC).

“Payday lending is a form of economic predation and grinds the faces of the poor into the ground. As Christians, we are called by Jesus, by the prophets and by the apostles to care for the poor, individually, and also about the way social and political and corporate structures contribute to the misery of the impoverished. Groups across this diverse coalition don’t agree on every issue in the public square, but I am happy to work together on this issue to stand against unchecked usury and work for economic justice, human dignity and family stability.” — Russell Moore

Guest Biography

The Rev. Dr. Gabriel Salguero is pastor at The Gathering Place, a Latino-led multi-ethnic Assemblies of God congregation in Orlando, Florida. Salguero is also the president and founder of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition (NALEC), a coalition of several thousand evangelical congregations in the United States. He was the former Director of the Hispanic Leadership Program (HLP), and the Institute for Faith and Public Life at Princeton Theological Seminary. Salguero has been named as one of the nation’s most prominent Latino evangelical leaders by the New York Times, NBC Universal, Univisión, and many other outlets. In addition, his leadership on issues of young male education and criminal justice reform has been featured by the Discovery Channel and the Oprah Winfrey Network. Rev. Salguero has served on the White House Faith-Based Advisory Council, the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), and the National Advisory Council of the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance. Salguero holds a BA in Spanish and History from Rutgers University, and M.Div (magna cum laude) from New Brunswick Theological Seminary, he pursued a Ph.D in Christian Social Ethics at Union Theological Seminary, and holds a Doctorate in Divinity from Eastern Nazarene College. Rev. Salguero lives together with his wife, the Rev. Jeanette Salguero and their two sons in Orlando, Florida.

Resources from the Conversation

By / May 13

The ERLC opposes unjust lending practices that exploit the vulnerable, are predicated on consumer loss, and trap families in cycles of debt. Payday lending serves as a significant contributing factor to the economic struggle for many Americans. The practice of providing short-term cash loans at unreasonably high interest rates forces families and individuals to make financial decisions that are often impossible to recover from. Southern Baptists are opposed to predatory lending practices that target financially unstable persons. Any lending practice that intentionally uses and exposes vulnerable individuals is unacceptable and should be strictly regulated by government protections.

Scripture strongly condemns usurious and exploitative lending practices. Recognizing the dignity of every person extends to business and financial relationships as well as interpersonal ones. As the Southern Baptist Convention affirms, “God is opposed to those who take advantage of the weak, poor, and vulnerable” and “predatory lending fails to respect the dignity of the person created in the image of God and interferes with human flourishing.”

Currently, 19 states and the District of Columbia have implemented interest rate protections to prohibit predatory lenders from exploiting vulnerable Americans. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC)’s “National Banks and Federal Savings Associations as Lenders” rule overrides existing state protections by legalizing predatory lending even in states that have prohibited it.

The OCC‘s rule allows non-bank lenders to partner with banks as the “true lender” and evade state interest rate caps. Lenders can charge unfair interest rates regardless of existing state protections under the OCC’s “true lender” rule. 

The average annual interest rate on payday loans in states without an interest rate cap is 391 percent. This high-cost lending often traps families in cycles of debt that leave already impoverished families with crippling debts. The payday lending industry exploits individuals with financially desperate situations. The industry’s business model is predicated on borrower failure and specifically targets vulnerable people. Predatory lenders should not be granted a loophole from state laws that promote responsible and honest lending practices. 

The ERLC strongly opposes the OCC’s “True Lender” rule as it undermines state authority, threatens existing consumer protections, and allows predatory lenders increased access to financially vulnerable Americans.  

By / May 13

The ERLC opposes unjust lending practices that exploit the vulnerable, are predicated on consumer loss, and trap families in cycles of debt. Payday lending serves as a significant contributing factor to the economic struggle for many Americans. The practice of providing short-term cash loans at unreasonably high interest rates forces families and individuals to make financial decisions that are often impossible to recover from. Southern Baptists are opposed to predatory lending practices that target financially unstable persons. Any lending practice that intentionally uses and exposes vulnerable individuals is unacceptable and should be strictly regulated by government protections.

The average annual interest rate on payday loans in the United States is 391 percent. This high-cost lending often traps families in cycles of debt that leave already impoverished families with crippling debts. The payday lending industry exploits individuals with financially desperate situations. The industry’s business model is predicated on borrower failure and specifically targets vulnerable people.

The Military Lending Act prohibits loans exceeding an annual interest rate of 36 percent to active duty military members. These consumer protections will serve to ensure just lending practices in the United States. The Veterans and Consumers Fair Credit Act (VCFCA) would extend the Military Lending Act protections to all Americans, including veterans and military families.

The VCFCA would provide a federal annual interest rate cap of 36 percent to all Americans. Currently, 19 states and the District of Columbia have implemented interest rate protections to prohibit predatory lenders from exploiting vulnerable Americans. The VCFCA would not preempt any existing state protections and would extend the Military Lending Act to all Americans nationwide.

Payday lending is an unjust business practice that takes advantage of consumers and traps them in cycles of debt. A just government has a responsibility to prohibit predatory lending behaviors and to protect the “weak, poor, and vulnerable” under its authority. The ERLC urges Congress to swiftly pass the Veterans and Consumers Fair Credit Act.  

By / Apr 11

WASHINGTON, D.C., April 11, 2016Barrett Duke of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission will join other leaders from a diverse coalition of faith-based institutions Wednesday, April 13, at 1 p.m. ET for a press call to discuss the findings of a new LifeWay Research poll and a Faith for Just Lending report.

The Faith for Just Lending report, The Collateral Consequences of Payday Loan Debt, will describe congregations and borrowers experiences with payday and car-title loans. The report and the LifeWay Research poll on the same topic will be released Wednesday.

“The predatory business model of the payday lending industry puts it in direct violation of the Bible’s teaching, said Duke, ERLC vice president for public policy and research. Scripture makes it clear that God condemns activity that takes advantage of the poor and the desperate. We must insist that the payday lending industry’s predatory behavior is reined in.”

Payday loans, with annualized interest typically exceeding 300 percent, are legal in 30 states around the country and are coming under increasing scrutiny from federal and state policy-makers for causing long-lasting financial problems for families.

When: Wednesday, April 13 from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. ET

Where: All participants interested in joining the call please RSVP to [email protected] for call in details.

Who: Press Call Speakers Include:

Dr. Barrett Duke, The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission

Dr. Galen Carey, National Association of Evangelicals

Rev. Dr. Cassandra Gould, Missouri Faith Voices, PICO National Network

Rev. Dr. George Mason, Senior Pastor, Wilshire Baptist Church

Gordon Martinez, Faith in Texas, PICO National Network

The Southern Baptist Convention is Americas largest Protestant denomination with more than 15.8 million members in over 46,000 churches nationwide. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission is the SBCs ethics, religious liberty and public policy agency with offices in Nashville, Tenn., and Washington, D.C.

To request an interview with Russell Moore

contact Elizabeth Bristow by email at [email protected]

or call 202-547-0209 Visit our website at http://www.erlc.com

Follow us on Twitter at @ERLC

By / May 28

Earlier this month the ERLC joined other faith organizations in forming the Faith for Just Lending Coalition. The purpose of the coalition is to raise awareness about families in financial crisis and how high-cost lending negatively impacts them. One industry that frequently takes advantage of the poor and others in financial distress is payday lending. Here are five facts you should know about payday lending:

1. Payday lending (also known as payday loans) is the term used to describe the practice of lending small amounts of money to people, usually $350 or less, for two week periods, i.e., until their next payday. In return the borrower pays interest on the loan when it is due at the end of the loan period.

2. Because they are short-term loans, the borrowers aren’t always aware of the actual rates they are paying. For instance, when the lender offers a $350 loan for 15%, that two-week loan is actually provided at a 390% annual interest rate.

3. If a typical payday loan of $325 is rolled over eight times, the borrower will owe $468 in interest; to fully repay the loan and principal, the borrower will need to pay $793. The rollover of existing borrowers’ loans every two weeks accounts for three-fourths of all payday loan volume, with the typical payday borrower remains in payday loan debt for 212 days of the year.

4. The average payday borrower has nine transactions per year. 90 percent of the payday lending business is generated by borrowers with five or more loans per year, and over 60 percent of business is generated by borrowers with 12 or more loans per year. Loans to non-repeat borrowers account for just two percent of the payday loan volume.

5. Since its inception in the 1990s, the payday lending industry has established more than 22,000 locations that originate an estimated $27 billion in annual loan volume. Nationally, there are more than two payday lending storefronts for every Starbucks location.

Image source: Taber Andrew Bain

By / May 14

WASHINGTON, D.C., May 14, 2015The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention has joined other faith organizations in forming the Faith for Just Lending Coalition. The purpose of the coalition, announced today at a press conference on Capitol Hill, is to raise awareness about families in financial crisis and how high-cost lending negatively impacts them.

Organizational leaders who signed on to the initiative urged churches and faith-based organizations to empower individuals to steward their resources by modeling responsible stewardship. Leaders also encouraged just lending and called for an end to the exploitation of households and families through the payday debt trap.

While the organizations represented differ in practices and doctrinal beliefs, they are unified regarding the fact that just lending is not only an economic issue, it is a matter of human dignity and the biblical command to love ones neighbor.

ERLC President, Russell Moore, commented on the Faith for Just Lending Coalition.

“Payday lending is a form of economic predation and grinds the faces of the poor into the ground. As Christians, we are called by Jesus, by the prophets and by the apostles to care for the poor, individually, and also about the way social and political and corporate structures contribute to the misery of the impoverished. Groups across this diverse coalition don’t agree on every issue in the public square, but I am happy to work together on this issue to stand against unchecked usury and work for economic justice, human dignity and family stability.”

Barrett Duke, ERLC vice president for public policy and research, spoke at a Faith for Just Lending press conference today where he said:

Today our country is awash in payday lenders taking advantage of people in financial distress. Under the guise of offering a helping hand in times of financial emergencies, payday lenders often pile on greater financial burdens than the ones they solve. Since these companies refuse to operate in a responsible manner, government intervention is crucial. We cannot sit by idly while some of the poorest among us are preyed on by people simply looking for a quick buck with no regard for the devastation they cause in the lives of others.

Other Faith for Just Lending Sponsors include:

National Association of Evangelicals

Cooperative Baptist Fellowship

National Baptist Convention USA

National Latino Evangelical Coalition

To learn more about the Faith for Just Lending Coalition, visit lendjustly.com

The Southern Baptist Convention is Americas largest Protestant denomination with more than 15.8 million members in over 46,000 churches nationwide. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission is the SBCs ethics, religious liberty and public policy agency with offices in Nashville, Tenn., and Washington, D.C.

– END –

To request an interview with Russell Moore

contact Elizabeth Bristow at 202-547-0209

or by email at [email protected]

Visit our website at www.erlc.com

Follow us on Twitter at @ERLC

By / Nov 22

Catching a fish is a fairly simple act. You catch a fish by disguising the hook in something it likes to eat. The fish becomes so excited about the prospects of getting a good meal that it bites first and looks later. Many fine meals have landed on my plate by that simple act of subterfuge.

 Regrettably, this practice isn’t used only to catch fish. It also works on desperate people. Today the practice of baiting the hook to catch the unsuspecting has been honed to a science by some unscrupulous people involved in the practice of so-called payday lending. In payday lending the lender offers to the desperate person what looks like an easy way out of his or her momentary financial dilemma: take out a loan and pay it back in a couple of weeks, with a little bit of interest. The bait is too good to pass up, and the next thing the unsuspecting borrower knows is that he or she is paying that little bit of interest every two weeks with no end in sight, in some cases paying out 360 percent in annual interest.

Lending money at obscene levels of interest to those who demonstrate no ability to repay that money can only be described as a predatory activity. The practice of payday lending violates multiple biblical teachings. In what follows, I will use only the first four chapters of the book of Genesis to demonstrate that payday lending as it is practiced by most businesses today is an affront to man and God. Here are four reasons to oppose payday lending:

1. Human dignity. Genesis 1:26-27 tells us that humans are created in God’s image. In fact, humans are the only species mentioned in the creation account as being created in the image of God. While scholars are divided in their opinions of what this “image” is, they are agreed that it means humans share something of the divine not possessed by any of earth’s other creatures. That affords them a unique dignity by virtue of their very existence. Human dignity leads us to insist that humans be treated as people of inestimable worth regardless of their social, economic, physical, or any other condition. The predatory activity involved in much of payday lending fails to respect the dignity of the person created in the image of God. It treats fellow humans as prey rather than fellow image-bearers.

2. God’s design. God’s expectations for humanity at creation were very high. The book of Genesis states that He gave humans authority over all creation as His stewards (1:26-31; 2:15). They were in partnership with Him in tending to the needs of creation. The expectation was that they would work together to achieve this task. That calling still exists. We are still intended by God to play a part in the respectful stewarding of His creation. Adequately achieving that task requires a mutual beneficence among humans that empowers each person to fulfill his or her potential. The predatory practice of much of payday lending actually interferes with human flourishing. It holds some in a perpetual state of impoverishment for personal gain. There is no partnership for mutual benefit here. Not only do fellow humans suffer as a result, but God’s design for human stewardship of His creation is affected as this predation crushes people.

3. Human nature. It didn’t take long in the biblical narrative for humans to rebel against God’s plan for them. Chapter three of the book of Genesis describes humanity’s rebellion against God. The result of their rebellion brought them separation from God and one another (Gen. 3:7-19). It produced a selfishness that saw fellow humans as objects to be used for personal gain rather than subjects with whom to enjoy rich, mutually beneficial relationships. Predatory payday lending represents some of the worst of fallen human nature at work. Greed for material gain is the ultimate value in this practice. Other humans are no more than objects for personal enrichment.

4. Social responsibility. Chapter four of the book of Genesis introduces us to God’s expectation of human social responsibility. After Cain has killed his brother Abel, God asks him where his brother is. Cain responds with the devastating, revelatory question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen. 4:9). The answer is so obvious that God does not even bother to answer. Cain was indeed his brother’s keeper. Jesus developed this point further by reminding us that we are each other’s neighbors. As such we have a responsibility to assist each other (Luke 10:30-37). 

There is no room for predatory behavior in God’s plan for human relationships. In fact, where this does occur in Scripture, God makes sure to eventually balance the scale. So, for example, the people of Israel plundered their Egyptian masters upon their departure from Egypt (Exod. 3:21-22). On a more universal level, God calls on people to be just in their business dealings with each other. He calls for just scales and fair prices (Lev. 19:35-36; Prov. 11:1). He denounces usurious lending practices on multiple occasions (Exod. 22:25-27; Lev. 25:35-37; Neh. 5:1-13). 

God is not opposed to profit. Jesus even spoke well of it (Matt. 25:14-30). But God is opposed to those who take advantage of the weak and vulnerable (Exod. 22:21-24; Deut. 24:10-22; Zech. 7:8-14). There is no other way to describe predatory payday lending than oppressive. Its very business model is based on the inability of the borrower to ever be free of his or her indebtedness. Business must operate with a heart if it is to be respected as a valued member of society. It must see itself deriving a reasonable profit because it contributes to the well-being of those it serves, not simply deriving as much profit as possible because it manages to plunder an unsuspecting public. 

Chapter four of the book of Genesis also introduces us to part of the solution for dealing with predatory payday lending — the civil magistrate. The chapter reveals God’s commitment to regulating broader human relationships. After God confronts Cain over his murder of Abel, he condemns him to a life of wandering. Cain complains that God’s punishment is too great. He fears that “whoever finds me will kill me” (4:14). In response, God says that He will exact a heavy penalty from anyone who kills Cain. In this interaction, we can see the seed of God’s institution of the civil magistrate. He is placing boundaries on how humans are to treat one another. 

God instituted government to help humans live together in harmony. Even if humans were not fallen and sinful, we would still need government to help us organize our lives together. But because of our fallenness, government is essential. As the Apostle Paul states, government’s task is to reward good and to punish evil (Rom. 13:1-7). The divinely ordained task of government is to help humans live within God’s moral standards. Government should not abuse this authority, but it must intervene at times. 

Predatory payday lending exhibits all of the features that make government intervention necessary. Its business model elevates greed as the ultimate value. It devalues humans and puts the very economic system of free markets that have pulled more people out of poverty than any other system known to man at risk of rejection by a public that is tired of being taken advantage of and treated as nothing more than cattle. When people fail to act responsibly toward each other, government is there to ensure the balance.

At times, people may need some emergency financial assistance. Those who make this type of service available are in a high-risk activity. Consequently, to cover their higher risks, they must charge a higher interest rate. But surely there must be a limit to this risk management. A lender should not be able to take advantage of a person’s plight for predatory gain. Some reasonable regulations should be adopted that will ensure that lenders work within appropriate limits and that guarantee borrowers are not trapped in an endless debt spiral that drives them further into the poverty from which they are desperately trying to escape.