Moral vs. immoral banking

In an article titled “Where’s Your Church’s Money? : Banking for the Common Good,” in the September 21 issue of Christian Century magazine, Scott Bader-Sayre quotes John Calvin as saying that “Usury [i.e., lending at interest] almost always travels with two inseparable companions: tyrannical cruelty and the art of deception.” Calvin was willing to allow lending at interest, however, as long as such lending adhered to moral principles; thus, Calvin said that if you lend money to the poor, you should not get interest.

Calvin’s words seem prophetic in light of the recent banking crisis, which exposed the immoral and predatory practices of the banking industry. Bader-Sayre then asks, What can we do about this? He believes that part of the answer is that local congregations should place their money in places where it will do good, e.g., in banks that invest locally:

Few … have any lingering questions or qualms about usury. Perhaps we should still worry that interest as such fails to serve a good human economy. But given that there are faithful precedents for brokering just loans in service of real need and given our practically inescapable participation in an interest-based economy, the relevant question may not be “Should Christians* loan at interest?” but “What would it look like today to participate in lending and borrowing in such a way that it served human good and benefited all parties involved?’ Such a question might, in fact, lead us to more radical proposals for social change than would come from simply rejecting capitalism from the sidelines.

* Obviously, this statement also applies to religious liberals who are not necessarily Christians.

Bader-Sayre points us to an organization called Move Your Money, which is encouraging people to move their money out of the six biggest banks into local banks. Here’s a video from Move Your Money, featuring George Bailey and Mr. Potter:

The problem with local congregations moving their money into locally owned banks is that many congregations have become overly dependent on receiving high rates of interest in order to fund their operating budget. If our congregations are going to use their money responsibly, maybe we’ll all have to start giving 5% of our gross income to our congregations to support our moral goals.

6 thoughts on “Moral vs. immoral banking

  1. Doug Davidoff

    Good Lord, Dan, you are on a blogging streak! First it was male attire. Then it was fulfilling the purpose of the UUMA. Now it’s money, plain and simple. Me? I’m still dealing with the attire question: Windsor or four-in-hand?

    Admiring your blogging output and guts!

    — doug davidoff

  2. Thomas Perchlik

    Our congregation in Muncie has never, never, used interest to fund our annual operating budget. We do have interest bearing accounts but these support only special fund accounts that are only used for very rare, and particular, purposes.

  3. Amy

    If you’re looking for a bank that doesn’t encourage you to be a usurer, you need look no further than a Muslim bank. They take their religion’s commandments against usury seriously.

    They allow some interest as a repayment of risk, but are very strict about keeping it reasonable.

  4. Dan

    Doug Davidoff @ 1 — Four-in-hand.

    Thomas @ 2 — You write: “Our congregation in Muncie has never, never, used interest to fund our annual operating budget.”

    I wish more congregations were like yours. I also think there’s a cultural thing in the Midwest that leads to greater financial responsibility of this kind. Thanks for commenting!

    Amy @ 3 — Great idea, thanks!

Comments are closed.