Back in the Medieval ages, some Franciscan monks from the Church decided to combat predatory lending by offering small loans to the poor. These monks weren’t looking to make money, but to help the poor have both their God-given dignity and an opportunity to provide for their families and make something in the world.
They decided not to ask for interest, but instead they asked that people leave some kind of collateral as a promise that they would pay the money back when they could.
They called these places “Montes Pietatis” or “Mount of Piety.” It proved to be a very effective model and led to great human flourishing for a few hundred years.
In fact, it was such an effective model that this institution still exists, but today we don’t call it Montes Pietatis.
Today they are known as Pawn Shops.
In the 1300’s when poor people would walk into Pawn Shops they were met by Franciscan friars who cared for them and in the name of Jesus had their best interest in mind. With all due respect to current day Pawn Shop owners, today the exact opposite is often true.
What had started off as a form of battling predatory lending became a way of predatory lending itself. And the difference?
I first read this story in the book, Mission Drift, where the authors Greer and Horst point out that the best thing a church can do is keep the Gospel the main thing. Of course there are many implications for the Gospel, and we must try to live them out, but we must never mistake the fruit of the tree for the root of the tree.
I grew up in poverty. I know and care about lots of people who are currently poor, but I’ve also seen plenty of people rise out of poverty and not have better lives, but just new addictions and greater access to their own destruction.I ‘ve come to believe that the best gift we share with each other is the Gospel and then because of the Gospel we learn to share life and our resources together.
I think it’s worth noting that despite the fundamentalist/liberal divide of the past 100 years, this was the original vision for the Christian faith. The first Christians didn’t argue about whether or not the Gospel was social, instead (and because of the Gospel) they created a new kind of society.
One built upon and sustained by the love of God.
This is what the world needs. It’s the most important thing a Church has to give the world.
Even those on the outside are beginning to recognize it.
The British atheist Matthew Parris wrote in the London Times a few years ago, “As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God.” Parris went to Africa and realized that his own beliefs were not able to solve the issues of corruption and poverty in the world. Here’s how he said it:
“[As an atheist] I’ve become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa; sharply distinct from the work of secular NGO’s, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa, Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.”
The Gospel has a lot of implications and mandates, and we must keep challenging ourselves to live those out, but we must also never forget that the best news the world has ever heard is still the most important part of what it means to be a church.