By / May 29

Seeking justice and righteousness, especially for those who are most vulnerable, is fundamental to our faith and an essential part of Christian living. God directly commanded us to seek justice through the prophet Micah, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (6:8 ESV). 

The Biblical Call for Justice

Throughout Scripture, God calls his people to care for the vulnerable and to seek justice on behalf of our neighbors. As God gives the Law to the Israelites, he instructs them to care for the poor (Lev. 19:9-10, 23:22), to welcome immigrants and refugees (Ex. 22:21; Lev. 19:33-34), and to be fair in their financial dealings (Lev. 19:35-36). The prophets carry on these themes of justice and often indict the people of Israel for their failure in this area. Isaiah directly admonishes the people that caring for and fair treatment of the vulnerable is an essential part of faithful worship.

“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard” (Isa. 58:6-8 ESV).

In the New Testament, Jesus says of those who are his sheep, “‘For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger and you took me in; I was naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you took care of me; I was in prison and you visited me’” (Matt. 25:35-36 CSB). Later, in James, we are instructed as to what true faith entails: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (1:27 ESV).

Areas of Advocacy 

It is this clear mandate from God that both defines and motivates our advocacy for justice. Though injustice and tragedy run rampant in our fallen world, God’s people are to work for the good of our neighbors to push back the darkness and lift up the vulnerable. In our advocacy for fair and impartial judgment and equitable treatment of the unfairly marginalized, we bear witness to a God who is the ultimate just Judge, who deeply cares for the oppressed, and who proclaims a gospel that saves all who believe without partiality.

Immigrants and Refugees

Within our larger advocacy for immigration reforms that uphold ideals of dignity and fairness, the ERLC has strongly advocated for Dreamers, young immigrants who were brought to the United States by their parents, at no fault of their own. These Dreamers, who often have known no other home than the U.S., face continual uncertainty and potential future deportation unless Congress can deliver a solution allowing them to remain here legally. 

Additionally, in recent years, the U.S. refugee resettlement program has been devastated, along with the network of nonprofits and service providers that support resettlement. The U.S. has largely abdicated its role as a refuge to the vulnerable at a time of historic levels of refugees and internationally displaced people worldwide. The ERLC is deeply engaged in advocating for the rebuilding of this safe and legal program to restore our country’s legacy as a beacon of hope to those fleeing persecution.

Criminal Justice Reform

In 2018, the ERLC advocated heavily for the passage of the historic First Step Act, which worked to reduce recidivism in prisoners, prevented the shackling of most pregnant prisoners, and made other important steps toward a more compassionate criminal justice system that maintains public safety. Since then, the ERLC has continued to advocate for the RE-ENTER Act and the EQUAL (Eliminating a Quantifiably Unjust Application of the Law) Act. 

The RE-ENTER Act would allow eligible individuals with federal convictions to apply for a certificate of rehabilitation from a district court, attesting to a law-abiding future and a commitment to successful reintegration into society. The EQUAL Act would remedy the disparity in federal sentencing for crack and powder cocaine related crimes that unjustly and disproportionately targets people of color. 

Predatory Lending

Payday lending is the term used to describe the practice of lending small amounts of money to people for two-week periods, until their next payday. The average annual interest rates on these short-term loans is 391%, often leaving already impoverished families with crippling debts. These unjust lending practices are exploitative and predicated on consumer loss, trapping families in poverty. In response, the ERLC is advocating for the Veterans and Consumers Fair Credit Act that would extend the same lending protections currently established for Active Duty military members under the Military Lending Act to all consumers, including veterans and their families. 

While Christians can have good-faith disagreements on the contours of our nation’s policies, the Bible is clear that all image-bearers are worthy of dignity and respect. As we face injustice in our world, indifference is not an option afforded to believers. God has called us to fervent prayer, advocacy, and service for all our neighbors. It is ultimately in this work that we will experience a taste of his kingdom on earth.

By / Feb 11

A record 31.4 million American adults plan to bet on Super Bowl LVI, a 35% increase from 2021, according to new research by the American Gaming Association. While half that number is casual bets among friends, 18.2 million will place traditional sports wagers online, at a retail sportsbook, or with a bookie. This is an increase of 78% from the 2021 Super Bowl.

For the past several years Americans have been increasingly exposed to predatory gambling, the practice of using gambling to prey on human weakness for profit. Unfortunately, rather than protect the vulnerable, state governments are colluding with the profiteers to exploit ​​their citizens. For-profit gambling, or commercial gambling, is illegal unless granted special legal exemption by the government — which many states are increasingly willing to provide. 

Until three years ago, Nevada was the only state in which a person could legally wager on the results of a game. But in 2018, the Supreme Court ruled that a federal ban on sports betting was unconstitutional. The vote in the case of Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association was 6-3, with Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and Sonia Sotomayor dissenting. That decision opened the floodgates for legalized sports betting. 

Currently, 45 million Americans can legally wager in their home state. The states where sports betting is currently legal are Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wyoming, and Washington D.C. North Carolina and New Mexico have limited sports betting via tribal casinos. Mississippi also allows online sports betting, but only on-site at licensed casinos. Maryland, Nebraska, and Ohio are likely to legalize sports betting by the end of 2022 or early 2023. 

Because of these changes in state law, gamblers across the U.S. can wager on various sports competitions at a sportsbook. Over the past few years, advertising for sportsbooks such as FanDuel, Caesars, and DraftKings has become ubiquitous in states that allow sports betting. The advertising is prominently displayed on subways, buses, and buildings and heard constantly on radio and television. According to research, 106 million American adults (41%) recall advertising related to gambling in the past year — an increase of 32 million people (12%) from 2020. 

The human cost of predatory gambling

States are reaping the benefits in the form of increased tax revenues. But the human cost is largely being ignored. According to experts, federal and state governments still devote few resources to tracking and treating people with gambling problems.

“It’s this ticking time bomb,” said Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling. “We have to take action now, but the problem is almost impossible to quantify.”

State governments continue to legalize predatory gambling despite decades of research that it is destructive to their communities. For instance, the National Gambling Impact Study estimated the lifetime divorce rates for problem and pathological gamblers were 39.5% and 53.5% respectively; the same rate for non-gamblers was 18.2%. And a study that looked at the spread of casino gambling in 300 Metropolitan Statistical Areas found that the presence of a casino reduces voluntarism, civic participation, family stability, and other forms of social capital within 15 miles of a community where it is located.

According to a study by the University at Buffalo Research Institute on Addictions, the poorer the neighborhood, the higher the risk for problem gambling. In areas with the highest “neighborhood disadvantage” — determined by census factors such as the percentage of people who were unemployed, received public assistance, and/or live in poverty — more than 11% were problem gamblers, compared to just 5% in neighborhoods ranking in the top fifth of economic advantage.

Numerous studies demonstrate disparities in health and health services including problem and pathological gambling among ethnic and racial minority groups. Overall, gambling activities appear to be frequent among ethnic and minority populations with rates ranging between 12.9 and 87%. The prevalence of gambling disorders have been reported as low as 0.3% in Hispanics and as high as 58% in South East Asian refugees. 

One survey ​​found that Black Americans spend nearly twice as much on lottery tickets as do white or Hispanic respondents. The average reported expenditure among Blacks was $200 per year, $476 among those who played the lottery the previous year. Black men have the highest average expenditures. Poor Americans also spend a larger percentage of their wealth on lottery tickets than other households, leading to a reduction in spending on other activities. During the time 21 states implemented a state lottery, household expenditures declined 2.4% for expenses not related to gambling. The implication is that households spent that money on lottery tickets rather than on other goods and services.

Without the legal, administrative, regulatory, and promotional advantages provided by state governments, predatory gambling would not be spreading so quickly into mainstream American life as they are today, and would likely still exist only on the fringes of the society.

How Christians can respond

Christians should care about the effects of predatory gambling on their neighbors. Governments are entrusted with seeking the welfare of their citizens, not exploiting their weaknesses. There are several things you can do to help stop the spread of this type of gambling: 

  • Ask state legislators to oppose any expansion of gambling and/or to roll back current laws authorizing legal gaming. Find the contact information for your state legislators and call or write them directly.
  • Persuade local governments to enact regulations that prevent legalized gambling companies from targeting vulnerable groups, such as minorities, the elderly, and the poor. Be on the lookout for gambling related initiatives, and show up to meetings to express your opposition.
  • Promote awareness within their churches and communities about the harms of predatory gambling. ERLC has produced a free, downloadable bulletin insert for use by your church on Anti-Gambling Sunday. 
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.