By, Roberta Oster, Communications Director for the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy
— Armed with quotes from scripture and posters that read, “All Faiths Believe in Justice,” faith leaders and activists have been taking to the streets across Virginia to protest the scourge of predatory lending. Chanting “Stop taking advantage of the poor!” they are calling on Virginia legislators to regulate unscrupulous predatory lenders who charge more than 300% interest on payday and car title loans.
For the past few weeks, activists organized by the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy (VICPP) have been holding prayer vigils on the sidewalks in front of payday and car title loan stores in Yorktown, Roanoke, Falls Church, and two shops in Richmond.
Virginia has become the East Coast capital of predatory lending where the typical car title loan borrower takes out a loan of $1116 and has to repay more than $2700. “These lenders are preying on the poor who are forced to take these loans during a financial emergency, and they often become trapped in a cycle of debt and despair,” said Rev. Kelly Bayer Derrick, Assistant to the Bishop of the Virginia Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. “Many lose their homes and cars and wind up homeless. This is against what our faith traditions teach us and this must stop!”
Payday and car title lenders in Virginia advertise “short term” loans, but borrowers often spend months and even years in debt. The lenders have the power to access a borrower’s checking account or take a vehicle title as collateral. They use this leverage to trap borrowers in a cycle of unaffordable debt. The Virginia Interfaith Center is working with the Virginia Poverty Law Center and other partners to support bills: SB 421 by Senator Mamie Locke and HB789, by Delegate Lamont Bagby, calling for Comprehensive Predatory Lending Reform.
Four vigils were held on Sunday, Feb. 2nd. In Richmond, 10 people prayed with Rabbi Gary Creditor (Rabbi emeritus of Temple Beth-El) and Rev. Jeanne Pupke (First Unitarian Universalist Church) outside of a car title loan store. Near Virginia Commonwealth University campus about 12 people including students, a grandmother with two grandchildren, and congregants from the Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church were led by Rev. Katie Gooch, Director and Campus Minister at the Pace Center at VCU and Kim Bobo, executive director of VICPP.
In Roanoke, Julia Greer and Peggy Lootens, members of St. Marks United Methodist Church in Daleville, led the prayer service. They organized 15 community members from several different churches including Methodists, Lutherans and Church of the Brethren. In Falls Church, Ken Speicher of Mt. Olivet United Methodist Church and Anne Murphy prayed with congregants from St. George’s Episcopal, Lewinsville Presbyterian, and Our Lady Queen of Peace Catholic Church.
The organizers call upon legislators in the upcoming General Assembly to enact laws to protect hardworking families from predatory lenders. VICPP has created a sign on statement (link here) calling for reform. The statement will be shared with legislators. Please sign the statement and if you want to host a prayer vigil, contact email@example.com for a copy of the prayer litany and fact sheets.