By Bishop Charles Leigh, Apostolic Catholic Church
Yesterday I listened to the pain and desperation of a young mother whose husband’s paycheck had been garnished by a subsidiary of CitiBank. In light of the current corporate bailout, I could not help but recall Jesus’ description of a very similar situation in Matthew 18, as well as the reaction of the kingdom to such behavior. In the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant, after having his own very large debt cancelled, the debtor then had another servant thrown into prison for the inability to repay a small debt.
The bailout has thus far proved itself to be nothing less than another opportunity for the banking interest to practice unmitigated greed. Instead of using the money given them to reopen retail credit markets, they have generally used the windfall to acquire other banks and financial institutions. Many of bailout beneficiaries, including CitiBank, continue to operate highly profitable predatory subsidiaries such as check cashing companies, payday loan companies and title loan companies that exploit the poor.
Each day more families, even those with young children, are being put on the street. Modest homes are being foreclosed at an alarming rate. The wages of the poor are being garnished like never before to pay judgments obtained by bailout beneficiaries. Instead of protecting the poor, the courts are continuing to facilitate these atrocities.
In the area around our Tampa Church, many families live in tents while several dozen boarded up foreclosed homes stand empty.
The Church cannot remain silent in the face of such suffering in our midst! To do so would make the Church irrelevant. To do so would be to forget the priorities and example of Jesus. To do so would be to deny the presence of God with the suffering poor. In its greatest periods, the Church, instead of simply accepting the worldly order, has always challenged the secular order at point after point. Look again at the 17th chapter of Acts. It says that the early Christians were looked upon as subversives who were turning the world from Caesar to another king, Christ. Consequently, it was said of them, “These are the people who have turned the world upside down”. If they had listened to the words of Jesus’ mother in the Magnificat they would have known this all along.
This bishop, with the approval of church leaders of various denominations, asked that a moratorium be placed on the foreclosure of owner occupied homes under $70,000 in value until the benefits of the bailout could trickle down to the working poor. No positive response has been received.
I believe God’s poor should wait no longer for OUR response. The Church must stand in solidarity with them. I will be attending several foreclosure hearings each week and telling the judges and lawyers that what they are doing is wrong. I also plan to stand between the families and the police as a non violent witness when families are evicted from modest foreclosed homes. I urge you to follow this example and to join with me. It is possible that if it takes twenty or thirty sheriff’s deputies to carry out one eviction, perhaps the authorities and the banks may be moved by publicity to slow down the process and make an effort to renegotiate predatory mortgages.
Bishop Leigh is president of the board of the Florida Council of Churches.