Saturday, June 23, 2012

Lighthouse Christian Books and Lightning Check Advance

In Holly Springs, Mississippi, about 30 miles south of Memphis, there is a KFC that serves a lunch buffet. Although much of the buffet is standard KFC fare, there are, in addition, some lovingly prepared culinary delights, including: Cinnamon pudding (a bread pudding with peaches, raisins, cinnamon, and lots of white "frosting"), stewed tomatoes, deep fried gizzards and livers, giant pickled jalapeƱo peppers, and deep fried zucchini.

I discovered this on a trip across Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia. Such surprises await at almost any exit off the interstate, even sometimes in chain restaurants. You just have to look, and above all else, not stop at exits that are clearly Tony suburban.

Across the street from the KFC (I should mention that this KFC is also a Taco Bell, although the Taco Bell portion of the restaurant was, shall we say, under-utilized), I took this picture:

Yes, this is, as the sign says a dual purpose retail establishment--Lighthouse Christian Bookstore AND Lightning Check Advance. Go ahead. Take your time. Do the double and triple and quadruple take I did. Then read on.

I admit to all my readers that a) I have never frequented a check advance or pay day loan establishment, ever, and b) I never frequent Christian bookstores (with the exception of a Christian bookstore in Decorah, Iowa, but that store has a Thomas Train table in the front window, and it is just down the block from Mabe's Pizza, so we have been there for obvious reasons).

Since I don't frequent either of these types of stores, and since they evoke a rather strong reaction from me, the combination of the two casts, like a black hole, more darkness than light. When I first spotted read the sign, I was astounded, then amused, then stunned, then thoughtful, then repentant, all by degrees.

Here's why: I am judging a store by its cover. I don't actually know what the store is like. It was closed when we were eating lunch (the trucks parked in front are apparently there to frequent stores to the left and right). For all I know, the check advance is offered pro bono as a Christian ministry. And perhaps the Christian bookstore carries NRSV translations of the Bible and lots of works by Robert Jenson. I wouldn't know.

My stereotype of these types of establishments... Christian bookstores mostly sell kitsch, junk with a Christian patina, and they place on their shelves Christian literature I neither read or like, and mostly disagree with. Not exclusively, but predominately. Check advance outlets offer advances on checks that are usurious and unChristian, and add an even greater burden to the already difficult financial situations of those who utilize them.

However, it is very possible this particular store avoids these stereotypes. Probably not, but there's a chance. 

Furthermore, the juxtaposition of the two offers the opportunity for some intriguing self-searching queries:

1) Shouldn't one form of Christian ministry be pay day loans and check advances? Why do I immediately assume that the combination of Christian bookstore and check advances is an oxymoron? In fact, the presence of such establishments in any community is proof of the failure of the church as a whole, which should be on financially sound enough footing to offer financial assistance to its members and others in need, frequently and liberally.

2) Is my strident judgmentalism on this topic something of which I repent until such time as I either make use of a check advance location out of necessity, or spend time getting to know at least one person who owns an establishment such as this?

3) Should I shop in Christian bookstores, but then ask them if they carry material I would actually purchase, thereby increasing the likelihood others would have access to the Christian literature I cherish?

4) Similarly, what I am doing personally to make sure that pay day loan establishments are regulated in a manner similar to banks, so that if there is interest, it is at a non-usurious level?

For those interested in books on usury, I recommend Reforming the Morality of Usury, by David W. Jones. Reading it will forever disabuse you of the notion that the church never changes its position on something it had steadfastly stuck its heels in regarding, and furthermore will awaken readers to a sense of the Christian ethical issues that attend banking and loans at interest.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous2:20 PM

    This is very interesting, and has provoked some thought for me. The fact that payday lending/check advance companies are so prevalent speaks to the need for quick access to cash for people who have exhausted other means of gaining credit and are not even living paycheck to paycheck or have that unexpected event that has exhausted their resources.

    I am not very knowledgeable about this issue, but it seems to me that outlawing them all together will simply push those who are really in need to even worse ways to meet immediate needs. Having said that, I do believe that as church, as the Body of Christ in the world, we have a role to play in advocating for regulation of this industry that protects people from the predatory practices of many of these businesses. The Wikipedia article on payday loans points to a Dallas Morning New report that 'in 2008 the U.S.'s largest payday lender, Advance America, "made $4.2 billion in payday loans and charged $676 million in interest and fees." And "Cash America, a pawnshop operator and payday lender based in Fort Worth, recorded net income of $81 million last year – a 132 percent increase in just four years – on total revenue of $1.03 billion."'

    So the big picture is, how do we work towards a more just society where people don't need to turn to predatory lenders and those who do lend money do so according to fair practices. What can we do to meet the needs that are here and now? I don't have full answers, but I wonder if as church, we can figure out how to set up resources for people in our communities with immediate needs that also helps them to work their way out of the holes they are in. How about an alternative form of payday loan estabishment that is not driven by profit and mixes in education and support in helping clients to no longer need the services of the establishment. The concept of micro-loans has been gaining a lot of attention. I wonder how we can use those ideas.

    Okay, call me a dreamer. I am fine with that, but we need to start somewhere. Maybe being jarred by the juxtaposition of a Christian bookstore and a check advance business being co-located in the same establishment is a start.