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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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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Theology and Economy Update

For those of you who check in here now and then, you probably know that in 2009 a group of theological professors in North Carolina and South Carolina distributed a working paper, "Theological Reflection on the Economy."  It was an early step in a series of actions and campaigns through which faith communities have organized around economic justice in the current economic crisis.  Since that time, I have occasionally communicated with the group of professors about active campaigns, particularly the "10% Is Enough" work on usury pertaining to credit cards and other consumer interest.  This week, I sent a note to update them on the range of actions and campaigns in which North Carolina United Power has continued to organize in the past year and a half.  Here is an excerpt of the note I sent them.

Hey, folks,

A year and a half ago I was sending you lots of emails as we started work on a major organizing campaign dealing with economic justice issues.  As theological scholars and servants of the church, we recognize our responsibilities to follow Jesus in the task of serving the poor, offering ministry of relief, building ecclesial structures to reshape economic life in our neighborhoods, and seeking justice in the face of economic powers.  Thus, the theological reflection leading to the "Theological Reflection on the Economy" of 2009 was an exercise of our vocation which helped to provide grounding for faith-based people's movements which have gone many directions.  The document has been studied in churches, in minister's conferences, in seminary classes, and far beyond North and South Carolina. 

The paths of discipleship continue to open before us even now.  Let me highlight some of the work linked to our efforts of 2009.

1.  The "10% Is Enough" campaign in the Eastern US, London, and Berlin, has continued to bear fruit.  We did not convince banks to voluntarily cap credit card interest rates, nor did with convince Congress to cap consumer interest rates.  But we have built relationships with bank executives which are paying off in continued access and influence.  Moreover, leaders of the "10% Is Enough" campaign have met with Dr. Elizabeth Warren to help shape the Consumer Financial Protection Agency.  Caps on interest rates continue to be a lively topic, in part because of the strong work of MetroIAF, of which we have been a part.

2.  The "6% Is Enough" campaign to protect military families from predatory credit practices and foreclosure has been an overwhelming success.  This is a NC United Power campaign, and we have worked with Wachovia/Wells Fargo and Bank of America.  B of A held ongoing conversations with us for over a year.  Last summer they agreed to everything we were asking for, extending benefits beyond the legal requirements for nine months of protection from rising interest rates.  For several months, they were reluctant to admit publicly that they had changed their policies in response to negotiations with NCUP.  This month, in a surprise turn, CEO Brian Moynihan publicly thanked NCUP and Gerald Taylor for our work in this crucial area.  Our fellow signatory, Dan Rhodes, was present to meet personally with Moynihan, the first time he has met personally with members of our organization.

3.   The effort to bring justice to the foreclosure crisis has taken off in recent months, in part because of the attention that NC Attorney General Roy Cooper has given to foreclosure fraud as President of the National Association of Attorneys General.  For this work, NCUP (also going by the name IAF-SouthEast) has made partnership with People Improving Communities through Organizing (PICO), National People's Action (NPA-US), Alliance for a Just Society, and the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), all faith-based community organizing groups, stretching our organizing from the west coast to the east coast, from the Rocky Mountains to the midwest to the south.  We have met with key leaders, including Iowa AG Tom Miller and NC AG Roy Cooper, all the while keeping our efforts alive with Bank of America.  One summary of our proposals, "The Homeowner's Bottom Line," has gained significant interest, and most of its proposals remain on the table in the nationwide AG's investigation and potential settlement with the major banks to improve the foreclosure process.

4.  In conversation with a major funding organization (no funding yet) for theological education research, I have piloted a course at Shaw University Divinity School, "Pastoral Readiness for Economic Crises."  We covered financial literacy and financial freedom for pastors as well as a form of Christian formation for churches and their communities.  We looked at a wide range of theological sources on money, possessions, economics, and consumption from the earliest churches down to our times.  We looked at tools for churches to evaluate their relationships with banks that may or may not be serving poor communities.  We looked at models of community development, such as the Christian Community Development Association model of ecclesial politics of neighbor love.  Finally, we looked at faith-based community organizing.  With this trial run under our belt, I am hoping to work with some of you as partners in developing a proposal for adapting this sort of clergy training to other seminaries and to continuing education programs for current pastors.

5.  The predatory practices of payday lenders and car-title lenders will not die without a fight.  From Texas to North Carolina, from Mississippi to New Hampshire, strong lobbying efforts to open the door to astronomical interest rates on small dollar loans are alive and well in the state legislatures.  I've testified before legislative committees in Texas, mentioning you all and our work.  Just this past week, a bill was introduced in the NC legislature to reopen the door to usurious rates.  When there is the chance of ripping people off legally, there will always be people trying to do it.  Contact your legislator right away to stop the progress of HB 810.  South Carolina, having passed important reforms in 2009, seems not to have any pending legislation at this time.

On two matters I am seeking your response to moving forward with this work. 

First, . . . we are considering a clergy witness [at an upcoming event], with particular attention to dealing justly in the foreclosure crisis. 

The text of Micah 2:1-11 is directly relevant to this matter (not to ignore Isaiah 5:8-17).  The injustice of Samaria and Judah included coveting and seizing houses, ruining people financially (v2).  The powerful put people out of their homes (v9).  All the while they continue to practice the trappings of faith.  Predictably, they demand that anyone who might preach judgment against their greed should stop saying that stuff (v6).  The prophet says they only want a preacher who says, "Go on and get drunk.  Live it up!" (v11), while they "rise up against my people as an enemy" (v8). 

We hope we might gather 100 clergy and seminarians to speak a word of witness about the injustices of foreclosing on people whose financial security was destroyed by the greed, risks, and fraud of bankers, brokers, and insurers. . . . Details of when and where to meet will be forthcoming, depending on whether we believe we can gather an appropriate-sized group for witness.

Second, I will be trying to convene a meeting of some of you professors in late May.  If you would be interested in meeting for three or four hours to evaluate the course I put together and to brainstorm about expanding clergy training for economic life, let me know. . . .

For more information, see

News coverage of recent NCUP action:  here and here

Foreclosure Justice:  Homeowner's Bottom Line 

Broad Campaign for Financial Reforms:  Showdown in America

Against Usury:  10% Is Enough 

Military Families:  6% Is Enough 

Periodic updates on "earth as it is in heaven"




2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Your commitment to help elevate this economic crisis is to be applauded. I think that this effort has been successful. Don’t worry about the initiatives where total commitment has not been confirmed. Be patient who knows what can come out of your ongoing dialog. Keep your hand on the foreclosure advocacy plow. Dr. Broadway, sooner or later a change will come.



-Gordon McKinney

Shaun Harr said...

Thanks so much for bringing this class to Shaw Divinity School and for your commitment to those who have fallen victim to the rampant greed of the banking industry. You have empowered me to be a more responsible consumer and to share my knowledge with the members of my faith community. Please keep me abreast of any further action here in Raleigh, as I would be honored to participate.

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