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Mike hopes to see the world turned upside down through local communities banding together for social change, especially churches which have recognized the radical calling to be good news to the poor, to set free the prisoners and oppressed, and to become the social embodiment of the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven. He lives with the blessed memory of his wife, in Durham, NC, and has three adult children living in three different states. He also shares his life with the Mt. Level Missionary Baptist Church in Durham, the faculty and students of Shaw University Divinity School in Raleigh, NC, and the faithful fans of Duke and Baylor Basketball in his neighborhood.

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Friday, October 02, 2009

10% Is Enough! It's Time to Listen to the Rest of Us!

Today, about 450 citizens from all over North Carolina converged on Charlotte to take a stand against the usurious practices of two large banks: Bank of America and Wachovia-Wells Fargo. This event is part of a larger campaign stretching across the country and to Europe known as "10% Is Enough." In NC, we also are standing up for military personnel and veterans who by law are not to be charged more than 6% interest on their loans, but this is seldom obeyed.

We gathered at Mt. Moriah Primitive Baptist Church to prepare for a march to the downtown headquarters of the banks. I was asked to give the opening remarks to explain our purpose for gathering. The following is what I said at the rally.

My name is Dr. Mike Broadway. I am an associate minister at Mt. Level Missionary Baptist Church in Durham, and a member of the strategy team of Durham CAN. I am also an associate professor of theology and ethics at Shaw University Divinity School, and one of twenty-five professors from institutions of theological education across North Carolina and South Carolina who have joined with the people of our churches and communities to speak up for economic justice and an end to the practice of usury.

I want to talk with you a few minutes about why we are here today. It could not be clearer in the teaching of the Christian Bible, the Jewish Torah, or the Islamic Qur’an that usury, the predatory, abusive charging of excess interest, is wrong. A system which creates a perpetual debtor class is contrary to our faiths. As Deuteronomy 15 and so much of the Bible teaches, There should be no one in need among you. Usury makes the opposite happen, creating poverty where it was not, driving people into need and desperation.

Let me begin by telling you a story. It is a story about the growing concern and desperation of average, everyday people who over the past two years or so have been waking up to find the waters of financial troubles rising in the streets, inundating their cars, flowing into their homes, drowning their banks and workplaces, and forcing them into their attics and onto their roofs in hopes of finding some possibility of rescue.

When the financial flood waters reached their peaks, high powered government officials announced a rescue, a bailout, and many people hoped against hope that they might see the waters recede and be able to move back into their homes. But weeks passed, and months passed, and the only people that seemed to be getting any help were the executives and bankers, the big insurance companies and financial speculators. Homeowners were still losing their homes. People with consumer debt were being charged new and higher fees, and dramatically higher interest rates.

Eventually it became clear to everyone why the levees failed and produced this flood of financial trouble of such epic proportion. The people who were running the major financial institutions, whose fiduciary responsibility was to maintain the safety of the financial system for all its participants, had ignored and even disdained their responsibility. Instead, they had been finding ways to boost their own short-term profits while pretending the long-term protection of the financial system would take care of itself. They continued to play their financial games of chance and pass their promissory papers of propped-up prosperity around the room, while the levees of protection and prudence were crumbling.

Now these same people who ushered in the financial crisis are hoping that the rest of us will conveniently forget the pain and suffering that they helped to cause. But we are not going to forget. We can’t forget. They are still putting the hurt to us every day, as if there is no standard of justice by which they must be judged. No, we won’t forget. Who can forget the pain of walking away from a home which had represented a family’s hope for the future? Who can forget the heartache and fear of a business or factory closing that takes away the prosperity of an entire community? Who can forget the monthly interest payment which cuts to the bone and cripples a worker’s future? Who can forget the bankruptcy proceeding that results from needed medical care when a person is uninsured or underinsured?

We have not forgotten. And today we want to remind those who think we will walk away with our tails between our legs that we will not forget how we got into this mess. It is time for them to face the people whose lives they have helped to throw in to turmoil. We will not submit to being a permanent debtor class. We will not grant you a permanent subscription to our future income. We will not accept a new social order of debt sharecropping, in which the executives of a few powerful financial institutions snatch the livelihood from the hands of the workers whose labor should produce abundance for everyone. We will not continue to do business with those who practice usury. It is time for a conversation about justice. The time for so-called talented experts to tell us so much mumbo-jumbo about the market is over. It is time to hear from the rest of us.

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