Who Cares What the Bible Says About Gays? Look What It Says About Banks!

The second-century Apocalypse of Peter surveys the eternal punishment that God delivers to people according to their crimes. In his visit to hell, Peter saw blasphemers hanging by their tongues, murderers bitten by snakes, liars with fire in their mouths, the greedy rolling on stones that were razor sharp and red hot, transvestites and lesbians thrown off a cliff repeatedly, and apostates roasted.

Here’s the punishment for those who charge excessive interest on loans:

And in another great lake, full of pitch and blood and mire bubbling up, there stood men and women up to their knees: and these were the usurers and those who take interest on interest.

(The Apocalypse of Paul changes the punishment to consumption by worms.)

Who says that religious studies can’t be fun?

The Bible says nothing about two loving homosexuals wanting to get married—see my recent post here—but it says plenty about usury. (Usury can be either charging excessive interest or charging any interest on a loan.) Why get in a lather about vague statements about homosexuality in the Bible when it’s quite explicit about usury? Shouldn’t the Christian anti-gay crowd focus their attention here instead?

The Old Testament declares lending with interest sinful

The vision of hell from the Apocalypse of Peter isn’t in the Bible, but all the sins that it discusses are there, including usury. Here’s how Ezekiel describes an evil man.

He defiles his neighbor’s wife. He oppresses the poor and needy. He commits robbery. He does not return what he took in pledge. He looks to the idols. He does detestable things. He lends at interest and takes a profit. Will such a man live? He will not! Because he has done all these detestable things, he is to be put to death; his blood will be on his own head (Ezekiel 18:11–13).

There are a few special cases.

  • Jews can’t take interest from poor Israelites (Exodus 22:25, Leviticus 25:35–7).
  • They can’t take interest from any Israelites, but it’s allowed for foreigners (Deuteronomy 23:20).
  • The same laws apply to resident foreigners as to Jews (Numbers 15:15, Ex. 22:21, Deut. 10:19, Lev. 19:33, and others).

(This clear distinction between “us” and “them” is also present in the rules for slavery. For Jews, it was indentured servitude; for non-Jews, it was slavery for life.)

The Old Testament makes clear that, aside from foreigners, lending with interest is forbidden.

Christian thinking on usury

Wikipedia summarizes the progression of thinking about usury within Christianity. First, clergy were forbidden from engaging in usury in 325, though it was defined as interest greater than one percent per month. Next, this prohibition was extended to the laity. In the Middle Ages, things became more strict.

[The Third Lateran Council in 1179] decreed that persons who accepted interest on loans could receive neither the sacraments nor Christian burial. Pope Clement V made the belief in the right to usury a heresy in 1311, and abolished all secular legislation which allowed it. Pope Sixtus V condemned the practice of charging interest as “detestable to God and man, damned by the sacred canons and contrary to Christian charity.”

Usury today

Ignoring what the Bible says, we’ve made banking (including lending with interest) a central part of our modern economy, but the problem of immoral lending still exists. Predatory lending is lending with unfair or abusive terms.

Payday loans are another issue. According to the FDIC, “The typical charge is $15 to $20 per $100 advanced for a two-week period, resulting in an APR [annual percentage rate] of nearly 400%.” A Muslim player on the Newcastle United soccer team refused to wear his club’s jersey because the sponsor is short-term loan company Wonga, which charged interest rates of up to 6.56% per day.

Payday loans have declining in the U.S. to $3.3 billion in interest payments per year, though economics and policy drove this, not Christian outrage.

The Obama administration recently announced plans to regulate the industry. The National Association of Evangelicals has (finally) commented on the problem.

Consistency, please

As you may have guessed, lending with interest isn’t a primary issue for me. I am outraged when powerless people are gouged by excessive interest rates, but that isn’t on topic for this blog. What does concern me is consistency. How can you rely on the Bible to support a stand against homosexuality and not be anti-usury? It’s not like usury existed thousands of years ago but doesn’t in our modern economy.

Christians may say that this anti-usury thinking in the Old Testament doesn’t apply anymore. Fair enough, but then why imagine that any anti-gay sentiments in the Old Testament apply?

We cannot know that Santa definitely doesn’t exist.
This is technically true. 
But what’s your best guess? 
Go on. Be bold. 
— Ricky Gervais

(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 7/24/13.)

Photo credit: Wikipedia

 

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • busterggi

    Someone unjotted that tittle apparently.

    • adam

      Nice!

  • Anne Fenwick

    Did you know that this issue was at the root of the truly ugly relationship between Christian Europe and its Jewish minority for centuries and formed the basis for all kinds of oppressions, discriminations and occasional genocides?

    • Jim Jones

      I was told that the story of the Venetian Jewish moneylender Shylock, in William Shakespeare’s play The Merchant of Venice, was based on a real case. Except the moneylender was Christian and the borrower Jewish in reality!

    • Jonathan Morgan

      Quite so: the Jews provided a valuable service (money lending) that
      Christians weren’t supposed to, and earned little but hatred for it.

      • evodevo

        On top of that, when the nobility got too far in hock to the Jewish bankers, they would instigate a pogrom and burn out the ghetto, thus cancelling their debts. Talk about robber barons!

    • epicurus

      And when I read people from “the old days” go on about Jews running the banks and being so involved in the money system I think “well of course, you didn’t allow them to do anything else, and banking was the dirty work the church didn’t like.” They couldn’t be in the trades, or own land, so what else were they going to do. It’s probably a bit more complex than that, but I think that’s the gist of it.

  • DanD

    Not to mention the whole “Jesus and the Moneychangers” is relevant, and is much more than the Gospels have to say about homosexuality.

    I’ll have to add this one to my usual “Jesus on Divorce” arguments on the subject.

    • sandy

      Great observation DanD! Jesus came, or he believed he came to fulfill the law of the old testament not abolish it…Mathew 5:17. Jesus had this thing about money and probably because he was dirt poor (piss poor comes later). Rich people must give their money away for they have no chance to get to heaven. Money is evil. So when he sees the moneychangers and no doubt lenders (with interest) he loses it as they are evil men disobeying the Law. Too bad they had more clout then him and end of story…not quite…he becomes a martyr and legend.

  • I remember back in HS reading the entire Bible all the way through and finding all these passages banning the charging of interest (sometimes just excessive interest and sometimes just charging interest on other Christians). At the time interest rates were quite high so it was easy to find examples of excessive interest. This didn’t seem to bother anyone else but as it was in both the old and new testaments good little Baptist boy that I was I found it troubling. But I guess that’s part of the Bible that Christians now conveniently ignore.

  • Tony D’Arcy

    Now just why am I reminded of the “sub-prime” loans which surfaced in Chicago in 2008 ?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mzJmTCYmo9g

  • Sophia Sadek

    Why is it that the children of successful banking families prefer to do anything but follow in the footsteps of their parents? Many have complained that finance is a horribly dull profession.

  • Jonathan Morgan

    Good point. Really goes along with the Biblical focus on protecting the widow and the orphan (vulnerable groups who can be preyed on by payday loan providers and plenty of other nasty practices). James 1:27, for example.

  • macaroonie

    I can explain this. Atheists like reason, right? Well, it’s okay to not be consistent, because reasons. You’re welcome!

  • epicurus

    I’m working though a Great Courses lecture series on the history of India which I came across in my local public library, and on the Pakistan section, if I remember correctly, the professor said Islamic banking in Pakistan doesn’t allow the charging of interest. Instead, banks and the people who invest in them become part owners in the companies they lend money to, and share in the profits (and I would assume loses).
    http://www.thegreatcourses.com/courses/a-history-of-india.html

  • Ignorant Amos

    The archbishop of Canterbury attacked payday lenders in July 2013, claiming that they had destroyed lives and that he wanted to “compete Wonga out of existence”.

    However, Justin Welby said he was very embarrassed when it was revealed less than 24 hours later that the church had an indirect investment in Wonga, despite having added payday lenders to its list of prohibited investments.

  • eric

    Another, similar issue with an equally long history: “just war” and Christian attempts to change violence (in God’s name) from theologically verboten to theologically praiseworthy. Okay, the usury case is more likely to gain traction with mainstream Christians since historically the RCC was opposed to usury for many more hundreds of years. In contrast, they decided early on that violence was okay. Still, my layperson’s impression is that Christianity has many more and bigger pacifistic sects compared to anti-bank sects. Which means a mainstreamer is more likely to be confronted by real-life people who disagree with that violence interpretation vs. the usury interpretation.

    • I agree that anti-usury is not a thing, and that’s the point. Does the Christian care about the Bible? Apparently not, because they’re not following the anti-usury thing. Or: can the Bible be pushed and pulled to adapt it to modern concerns (that is: the modern ideas rule, and the Bible falls in behind)? Then ignore what it says about homosexuality, just like you do about usury.