On Monday Nov. 16, Covenant hosted the Center for Public Justice (CPJ) to promote their new book Unleashing Opportunity: Why Escaping Poverty Requires a Shared Vision of Justice. A crowd of faculty, students and Lookout Mountain residents gathered in the chapel to hear Michael Gerson’s keynote address on predatory payday lending and the following panel discussion.
Gerson’s challenge summed up the night well. “Choose to help the poor by refusing to cheat them.”
Gerson, a CPJ Fellow, Washington Post columnist, and former presidential speechwriter, gave context for the book’s formation and explained one of the issues from the book, predatory payday lending.
Afterwards Stephanie Summers, co-author and CEO of CPJ, moderated a panel discussion featuring Stephen Reeves from the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Mark Bowers from the Chalmers Center, and Katie Thompson, co-author and editor of Shared Justice, an online journal dedicated to engaging young Christians in conversations about what it means to “do politics justly.”
The book was inspired by young adults who see only dysfunction in Washington and become libertarians by default, Gerson explained in his address. “Politics is not everything, but it reflects our view of human dignity,” he said. The theme of night was that the solution requires a partnership between government (both local and federal), business, and faith-based organizations.
The panelists stressed the need to equip both individuals and churches with financial stewardship training at all income levels, emphasizing the need for long term discipleship. The discussion included a biblical perspective on usury, the need for just short term credit, and the alternatives to payday lending that already exist.
“Our book was written with a millennial audience in mind. We want to inspire and equip college students to engage in these issues and the shared solutions they require. Each chapter provides an overview of the magnitude of problem, a framework for considering public justice solutions, and a feature story that spotlights men and women who have been affected,” says Katie Thompson, co-author. At the event, Thompson shared about her experience interviewing people who have suffered from payday lending.
Payday lending targets lower class communities and occurs in three different ways: lottery tickets, payday gambling and payday lenders. So far on their book tour the authors have found that most students have never heard of payday lending.
“Throughout the country, payday lenders routinely charge over 300% interest on loans that target low-income families and cast them into a debt trap. Once students understand the way the industry preys on the poor, it seems to be an issue they can't look away from. There's lots of ways to get involved, and our hope at Covenant is to show students tangible ways to advocate for change,” said Thompson.
Predatory payday lending is one of five sections of Unleashing Opportunity. Each section covers a different issue that is taking a toll on low-income Americans. The other four are early childhood, foster care to sex trafficking pipeline, juvenile justice and the graduation gap.
“The issues we cover in the book are heavy, complex topics. There is a serious temptation to see these issues as too messy, complex, and irreversible to get involved with. I think for many students, that perception applies to politics and government as well. But we believe that as citizens, we can't just look away because the issues are too big or complicated. Instead, how do we work for public justice, and ensure that government, the church, families, non-profits, etc. are fulfilling their unique roles and responsibilities,” said Thompson.
Students who attended the event Monday night received a free copy of Unleashing Opportunity if they signed up to receive information about Shared Justice.
According to their website, CPJ is an independent, nonpartisan organization devoted to policy research and civic education. CPJ’s purpose is simple: they seek to serve God, advance justice and transform public life by equipping citizens, developing leaders, and shaping policies.