Friday, July 16, 2010

On usury

I was reading an article about the passage of the finance reform bill yesterday and a strange little phrase grabbed my attention. Here it is:

"Usury laws were set aside."*

Usury! There's a word I haven't heard in a while! You know what usury is? Well, yes, it's the charging of interest on loans. You know what else it is? It's an abomination!

Check out Ezekiel 18:13 -- If a man "takes advanced or accrued interest, shall he then live? He shall not. He has done all these abominable things; he shall surely die; his blood shall be upon himself." I haven't heard much call for the execution of bankers or other lenders--at least not on Biblical grounds.

I saw a great quote from N.T. Wright today, from his final sermon as Bishop of Durham: “It’s fatally easy to imagine that all my prejudices are theological convictions and that all your theological convictions are mere prejudices." I think it also can be true that we can have a mix of things, holding both a theological conviction and a prejudice at one and the same time, each reinforcing the other.

When what we are reading in the Bible assists our pre-determined theological conviction/prejudice, it jumps right out at us. What I find more fascinating and much harder is seeing the theology that doesn't jump out at us. Because the world around us (or our own preconceptions) makes it seem so darn normal. Like interest rates.

Oh how I wish people had been walking around these past few years with signs saying "God hates usurers! Ez. 18:13" What a different conversation the church would be having if we were as concerned about that abomination as we were about who's sleeping with whom.

*BOY do I know nothing about usury laws in the U.S., but here is (perhaps) the relevant information from the not-always-reliable Wikipedia:

Each U.S. state has its own statute which dictates how much interest can be charged before it is considered usurious or unlawful...However, there are separate rules applied to most banks. The U.S. Supreme Court held unanimously in the 1978 Marquette Nat. Bank of Minneapolis v. First of Omaha Service Corp. case that the National Banking Act of 1863 allowed nationally chartered banks to charge the legal rate of interest in their state regardless of the borrower's state of residence.[31] In 1980, because of inflation, Congress passed the Depository Institutions Deregulation and Monetary Control Act exempting federally chartered savings banks, installment plan sellers and chartered loan companies from state usury limits. This effectively overrode all state and local usury laws.

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