Love the Banker, but Hate the Bank: A Plea for Tolerance and Understanding for Our Brothers and Sisters Involved in Usury

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Homosexuality, as we all know, is the sin next to banking.

We learn this in the Seventh Level of Inferno–the level dedicated to sins against nature. Usurers and sodomites are punished together there on hot sands, close to the mass murders, suicides, and others who pervert the natural order. Usury and sodomy are punished together because, as all Medieval Christians knew perfectly well, they were different sides of the same sinful coin: sodomy makes sterile that which nature made fecund (sex). Usury makes fecund that which nature made sterile (money).

Money cannot give birth to money–it is against God’s plan. God’s first instruction to fallen humanity was, “in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread” (Gen. 3:19). We must work for our sustenance. It is sinful to try to make money sustain us through interest. In the beginning, it was Adam and work, not Adam and VISA. The Bible is unambiguous about this:

Exodus 22:24-25: “And my wrath shall wax hot, and I will kill you with the sword; and your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless. If thou lend money to any of my people that is poor by thee, thou shalt not be to him as an usurer, neither shalt thou lay upon him usury.”

Deuteronomy 23:20: “Unto thy brother thou shalt not lend upon usury: that the LORD thy God may bless thee in all that thou settest thine hand to in the land whither thou goest to possess it.”

Ezekiel 18:17:That hath taken off his hand from the poor, that hath not received usury nor increase, hath executed my judgments, hath walked in my statutes; he shall not die for the iniquity of his father, he shall surely live.”

Psalm 15:5:He that putteth not out his money to usury, nor taketh reward against the innocent. He that doeth these things shall never be moved.”

In the world of the Bible, “usury” means all forms of interest. Charging your countryman interest was–like having homosexual relations or disobeying your parents–punishable by death. We can only mitigate this partially through contextual readings. It is possible that interest and banking were understood somewhat differently in a bronze-age, semi-nomadic society where most people’s wealth lay entirely in livestock. Moneylending might have had slightly different connotations in a society that didn’t actually use money. But God’s laws are the same yesterday, today, and forever. Changes in culture cannot alter the moral laws of nature and the universe.

And there will be no lending at interest in Zion or in the Kingdom of God. Usury is the business plan of Babylon. It has no place in a community where there are no poor among us and where we bear one another’s burdens because of our baptismal covenant, not because we hope for profit. Latter-day Saints know that we cannot in good conscious pursue activities that go against God’s design for the eternities.

However–and here is where we must have compassion and understanding–many people have been ensnared in a usurious lifestyle for reasons that are not for us to judge. About 5% of Americans, including a large number of Latter-day Saints, are employed by banks, mortgage companies, auto dealerships, credit card companies, and other financial services that have set themselves up in direct opposition to God’s laws. Many of these are our friends and family members. And it is incumbent upon us as their brothers and sisters to love and minister to them. We are a hospital for the sick, not a museum for the perfect.

That our society has chosen to abandon God and permit the lending of money for interest is regrettable, but it does not change our Christian responsibility to the truth or to our fellow human beings. Here are some guidelines that I hope you will follow with the bankers in your life:

  • Always teach correct principles. Usury is wrong because it perverts the natural order of fecundity and violates God’s direct commandments in the scriptures. We cannot tolerate even a wisp of sin, lest we become desensitized to evil and come to embrace it.
  • Stop doing things that cause others to be usurious. In much the same way that we have been instructed not to shop on the Sabbath, so that we do not force other people to work and violate God’s law, we should not use or accept the fruits of usury. This means that we should always pay cash for our houses and cars. We should not accept student loans for our education. And we should never use credit cards. And it goes without saying that we should never accept interest on any money that we invest. Every time we do this, we cause somebody to become a usurer.
  • Don’t make assumptions: We just don’t know if people are born with an inclination towards charging interest or if they become usurers through their environment. But it doesn’t matter. Our job is to love people, not to diagnose them.
  • Lead with compassion: Nobody who believes the Bible to be the word of God can deny that lending money at interest is a grave sin–but so are inhospitality, cruelty, and lack of compassion. To God it is given to punish; to us it is given to forgive all men. And that probably even means women.
  • Talk in ways that emphasize the person, not the occupation. If you have a relative who is a banker, don’t reduce him or her entirely to an occupation. Say, “my sister, who happens to be a usurer,” instead of “my sister the banker.” This will send the message that there is a difference between who people are (which always comes from God) and what they do (which may very well come from Satan).
  • Love the banker but hate the bank: Bankers are people, and not all bankers are irresponsible speculators who caused the great recession of 2008. And even those who are deserve the love and respect that we owe all children of God.

And finally, I cannot stress enough that we should welcome usurers into our churches as long as they agree not to lend money at interest in the foyer. Bankers should not use Church facilities for their usurious practices, and moneylenders should not discuss their occupation from the pulpit during talks, lessons, or testimonies. We cannot allow Church time or property to be used in any way that even appears to endorse the practice of usury, or our children might get the idea that banking is an acceptable occupation in the eyes of God.

But let us not allow our disdain for their evil practices to cause us to act disagreeably. We’re Mormons, by golly, and that means we’re supposed to be nice to everybody.

 

Comments

  1. Aaron Brown says:

    Is being a banker an immutable characteristic, or can it be changed? Surely, we must answer the latter! Why would God create in any of His children a predisposition to wickedness? It would thwart His designs, and indeed, even the entire Plan of Happiness!

  2. It’s a slippery slope to tolerating credit default swaps. You know that’s what’s coming next when we let this boundless social liberation take hold!

  3. where does MLM and essential oils fit in the circles of Hell?

  4. Mark Brown says:

    Both Hollywood and the liberal media portray usury as an attractive, glamorous lifestyle choice. The next thing you know, they’re going to want to be married in the temple and force us to ratify their aberrations by baking them a wedding cake.

  5. You are delightfully wicked.

  6. Brilliant!

  7. Mark, many, many bankers and other usurers are already married in the temple. I think what you mean to point out as the next step on their “agenda” is to force all of us to become bankers.

  8. The great tragedy of this superb and witty post by Michael is that the Biblical laws against usury actually have no small amount of actual cultural and socio-economic validity to them, certainly more than the laws against same-gender sexual relations.

  9. The thing that I like about this post is that it is pure doctrine.

  10. As the wife of an investment banker, I now fear for my husband’s soul.

  11. This was glorious! This was easily my favorite part: “We just don’t know if people are born with an inclination towards charging interest or if they become usurers through their environment.”

    On a semi-serious note: This is a perfect illustration of how God’s commandments can shift according to context and why we ought to follow the living prophet! In the same way that rules and standards for money lending might shift over time, so too the rules and standards regarding the nature of marriage and the family (polygamy, etc.) might as well.

  12. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    We should welcome usurers into our churches? We do more than that! We exalt them above all others. We place them at the heads of councils and entrust our fragile Missions to their stewardship. We are, perhaps, the most tolerant and accepting of all Churches.

  13. For those people we know who are bankers, you’re saying we should love them as they are but encourage them to refrain from engaging in usurious practices?

    (Very nice!)

  14. Please remember that there is a biological bases to exacting usury. About 10% of dolphins take a percentage from those they lend fish–it is called the ‘mackerel’s cut.’

  15. Brianne says:

    Thank you so much for this thoughtful post. I had no idea how to deal with the fact my brother in law is a banker, but now I realize I can still love him while not supporting what he does. Thank you for finally starting a dialogue about how to approach usury as a faithful mormon. I can now judge righteously and love righteously at the same time.

  16. This is good!

  17. Post of the Year?!

  18. Martin James says:

    We should follow the example of European governments where rates are even negative setting the example.

  19. Mary Lythgoe Bradford says:

    Yes–Post of the year! MY fave satire!

  20. g.wesley says:

    what RAF said, above

  21. Pure doctrine, undefiled

  22. Jason K. says:

    Brilliant, Mike!

  23. You may recall from your study of Church history, that one of the first things that Brigham Young did, upon entering the SL Valley, was to set up a bank, located directly across the street from the Temple. Look at the occupation of the persons called as General Authorities, Mission Presidents and Seventies. Over half of them were lawyers, bankers or presidents of companies.

  24. Brilliant.

  25. Jack Hughes says:

    “Are we not all bankers?”

  26. Except your analogy doesn’t hold as usury is defined as excessive interest charged, not no interest charged. (of course excessive is up for interpretation). Banks generally don’t charge excessive interest. (Credit cards excepted.)

  27. DeeAnn, that’s how we use “usury” today; that’s not what the Bible meant. There, it was merely the charging of interest. Even today, many Muslims believe that Islam forbids riba, which many understand as the charging or paying of interest.

  28. I have been a banker since my graduation from the Lord’s University in the mid-1980’s. Please help me understand what I need to do to make restitution for all those business loans I approved over the decades which charged interest.

  29. In a half of a generation, when bishops and stake presidents are weary of refusing recommends to people who have otherwise kept the commandments, but who have been making exclusive legal and lawful interest-bearing loans to a single business partner for many years, I am confident that our position toward usury will change. Because I don’t think we base our opposition to usury on the language of the Biblical prohibition, anyway. We understand as Mormons that these scriptures must be “translated correctly” in both a lexical and a broader communal sense. And we always give more credence to our current prophets than to ancient ones. However, we should not turn a blind eye to the fact some financial institutions, if not necessarily individual bankers, carry poison pills with agendas that truly are profligate, predatory and ultimately do undermine the broader economy. There are those whom openly advocate for loans to be bundled to multiple borrowers over the course of a business relationship and those that argue that business partnerships are an old-fashioned and outmoded relationship anyway, not entitled to special social treatment. Here’s to the day when we are truly defending and support marriage . . . er . . . business partnerships, regardless of whether or not they involve usury.

  30. Truly the Prophet Joseph was inspired when he founded not a bank, but an *anti*-bank!

  31. This is a valiant attempt to explain a doctrinally complex principle, but unfortunately I am afraid you have missed the mark. Through modern prophets we learn that the prohibition against usury is the Lord’s standing law of banking. Yet in biblical times, the Lord commanded some to practice banking. By revelation, the Lord commanded the prophet Joseph Smith to institute the practice of banking among some Church members in these latter days. For more than a century, banking has been practiced by a small number of Saints under the direction of the Church President.

    We do not understand all of the reasons for God instituting banking among his people. Banking violated both cultural and legal norms, leading to persecution and revilement. We do not know all of the reasons that the Lord instituted banking among the saints, though banking did result in “the raising up of capital among my people.” Banking was instituted carefully and incrementally by the prophet Joseph Smith. Banking challenged faith and provoked controversy and opposition, leading to the Saints being expelled from Kirtland. But many later testified of powerful spiritual experiences that helped them overcome their hesitancy to engage in banking. Banking participants were asked to keep their banking activities confidential, although they looked forward to a day when their banking would be openly acknowledged. Nevertheless, rumors spread. A few unscrupulous members of the Church used these rumors to seduce borrowers to join them in “spiritual usury” and land speculation. When it was discovered, the members were cut off from the church. The rumors prompted members and leaders to issue carefully worded denials that they were engaged in banking (Kirtland anti-banking society). Later, in Utah, the Church openly practiced banking through the establishment of Zion’s Bank.

    Banking has been a challenging practice among Latter-day Saints. Yet it did help “raise up capital” that is evident in the Church’s present financial stability. A substantial number of church assets can trace their financing directly to the faithful use of divinely-approved banking. But we should always remember that banking should only be practiced by revelation under the direction of the Church President.

  32. LOL!

    “We just don’t know if people are born with an inclination towards charging interest or if they become usurers through their environment.” – FTW!

    Do lawyers next.

  33. I recently read on the internet that Joseph smith set up a bank in Kirtland (or was it Nauvoo?) that had interest-bearing relationships with as many as two dozen customers. Now maybe some of them were old widows and did not involve the paying of interest, but some were as young as 14! And it seems totally implausible that an entire bank could exist without ever charging interest. My testimony was shattered on hearing this news. I hope that the church will come out with one of those gospel topics essays to help me make sense of these internet rumors of usury by our founding leaders.

  34. Kevin Barney says:

    Oops, that was supposed to be the SNL First Citiwide Change Bank clip (if someone could delete my immediately prior comment, I’d appreciate it):

    http://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/video/first-citywide-change-bank/n9701

  35. Thanks for this Kevin, one of my favorite shorts of all time (next to Happy Fun Ball).

  36. Leonard R says:

    The greatest irony of this post is that in early medieval Europe, this would not have even been viewed as humourous, but as truth.

    The earliest European banks were the merchant banks established by Jews in Lombardy, exactly because the Church, following scripture, forbade Christians from engaging in usury. And while Jews in priniciple were bound by the same scriptures, they were only bound against usury to fellow Jews, not Christians.

    And when Christians first started getting involved, they used a similar logic that some Muslims are using now – you sold a portion of the transaction being financed by the lending, rather than charging interest.

    And on a final note, given the Doctrine and Covenants language on the poor, equal in earthly things, etc., this post may actually be addressing the more serious issue.

    With all due love to our banker friends. :-)

  37. Wonderful post. I want to refer people to it. However, not Mormons so much. Within Mormon culture there is a very strong “time and place . . . follow the prophet of today” rationalization. It is obvious and explicit around polygamy, but I hear it also with respect to priesthood ordination and other changes that have a sharp before-and-after line. As a result, this kind of satire loses its punch. Logic, argument, and consistency are not much prized when you have an oracle handy.

  38. Davis Bell says:

    There must be some key difference between the two. Hmmm. What could it be?

  39. John McFerrin says:

    I develop fixed income analytical software for a living, and for years I’ve thought about posting Leviticus 25:36 somewhere in my office as a joke. I figure it would probably go over most people’s heads, alas.

  40. Help me, my Brothers and Sisters, for I am guilty of this sin and yearn to repent.

  41. Jack Perry says:

    The brethren have instructed us to love and reach out to bankers (because lord knows we couldn’t have figured that out on our own). “Hold them beneath you without hatred” was the admonishment L. Mon Ronson spewed at GenCon.

    But let us not forget that in order for God’s delicate plan (which can go wrong any minute now at the slightest deviation) to succeed, banks and finance institutions can loan you all they want, but in order to sustain The Plan, they must never collect…for the entire life of the loan.

  42. The parable of the talents cancels all of what you said out. Jesus clearly teaches that the person who invested was the best servant.

  43. Emily U says:

    I love, you, Michael Austin.

  44. A society of thieves cannot exist, there is no honor among them. And yet, nature seems to abhor a vacuum. This vacuum can exist in many different ways.

    With usury, we’re talking about one thing, at its root: diverse weight and measure. Both are an abomination. This kind of inequality is the responsibility of both the buyer and the seller. To subject oneself to usury is often seen as ignorant and to subject another is often seen as apathetic.

    If one sees something like usury being commonplace, by common consent, so to speak–then it is a moral failing on all parts. And to think, oh well I’m innocent of this, is to exclude oneself from all moral failings. Without charity, we have nothing of real value.

    Proverbs 20 is an excellent representation of the king being a type cast for the Father, and divers weight and measure being a type cast for a wild card, be it from usury to priestcraft. The economy is like a tree. It can withstand many assaults, but if its roots are infected, nothing can save it. If a society places all of its value into its ability to repay debts, lacking a base valuation set upon a tangible unit for its currency, then what person is not faced with the challenges that arise for them, therein? In which case, should we hate everything we profess, or should we be prudent and weed out our lawns?

  45. This was great! Do murder next! Let’s contextualize that to an antiquated and ancient Hebrew norm that we shouldn’t be asked to follow in our more enlightened day.

  46. Finn McGowan says:

    “Jesus clearly teaches that the person who invested was the best servant.”
    Not all income is usury, my brother. Some people actually develop their talents.

  47. that is correct — investing in business ventures is not synonymous with usury, derivatives, or credit default swaps.

  48. “This was great! Do murder next! Let’s contextualize that to an antiquated and ancient Hebrew norm that we shouldn’t be asked to follow in our more enlightened day.”

    Happy to oblige: The Old Testament institution known as “the ban”–which required the Israelites to murder every single living thing in a foreign village, including women, children and animals–is an antiquated and ancient Hebrew norm that we shouldn’t be asked to follow in our more enlightened day.

  49. Right. But really, I’d like to commit murder and not feel bad about it, so if you could go the other way with the whole silly 10 commandments business, I’d really appreciate it. I mean, if everything in the Old Testament can just be ignored because usury turned out not to be a thing, it would make my life a lot easier. Heck, using that rubric, can I just disregard the whole New Testament because women don’t cover their heads anymore? I mean, if Paul was wrong about that in the same way Moses was wrong about usury, then for heaven sake, I don’t think I should have to love my neighbor, right? If I’m understanding the OP, if anything in the Bible can be chalked up to culture then all of it should, right?

  50. Many Muslim countries still follow the ban on usury–they have developed elaborate banking systems to avoid the collection of interest.

    And they may be right. A quick review of Jesus’ teachings suggests that greed and wealth were (are?) a far greater concern than sexual sin. Which should be of worry to a Church that collects property as though it were playing a game of Monopoly. (I mean the Catholic Church, of course, who did you think I was referring to?)

  51. Nice satire; unfortunately, it’s ineffective against those of us that hold that fractional-reserve banking is an evil that should be abolished.

    (If a person has to fork up $10 for every $10 loaned, why are banks allowed to hand over $1 and make the other $9 up out of thin air).

  52. Reblogged this on Latter-day Thinking.

  53. There are serious moral and economic issues here, but that is not the point of the original post or most of the comments.

    Payday loans and credit cards are crippling many families and individuals. This is a real and serious problem. Many of the commenters are jesting at scars that never felt a wound. One of my sons with an MBA told me he was at a conference where a credit card executive said that his company hoped to control as much of a family’s income as possible for as long as possible. In the 80’s and 90’s we had the savings and loan crisis with associated junk bonds, fraud, mismanagement, and the outright failure of about a third of America’s S&L’s. The great recession of 2008 can be traced directly to toxic assets created and sold by banks. From loan originators to rating agencies to giant investment banks, the whole system had systemic failures ranging from mismanagement to dishonesty and corruption. No wonder the movie Despicable Me featured The Bank of Evil. The government response in 2008 was a bailout of historic proportions, and moral hazard be damned. And the bailout worked, after a fashion, at least so far, aided by ZIRP!

    Sam Brunson ignores all this (though he surely is aware of it) when he answers DeeAnn (July 13) in a legalistic way about the Old Testament. Of course, readers of this blog should know that Christians in general and Latter-day Saints in particular are not expected or required to observe the Law of Moses. Then again, a serious discussion about ways in which we differ from or agree with Old Testament economics (assuming the economic history has been transmitted and understood correctly) or Muslim economics and why or why not was not the point of the original post, and to that extent it could be viewed as—how to put this delicately–dishonest.

    To Latter-day Saints, the ideal is the United Order, but we are now living lesser laws in a wicked world. We need to be reminded of that periodically and from time to time read about the merchants in Revelations 18 and the burning of Babylon. But as I said, a serious and honest discussion about how to get to the United Order from where we are now and how to live as best we can in the world’s current economic system (which we did not create and which we have little ability to change) was not the point of the original post. At what point does this satire merely become part of the PC thought prison? See http://thoughtprison-pc.blogspot.com/