Time to Throw the Payday Moneylenders out of the Christian Conservative Temples


I can’t vouch for their underlying research, but two professors just completed a study showing a strong correlation between the number of payday lenders in localities in the US and the prominence of Christian Conservatives (h/t The Consumerist).

Payday lenders, creditors that charge interest rates averaging about 450 percent, are more prevalent in Conservative Christian states, according to a new study coauthored by University of Utah law professor Christopher Peterson. The study, which is based on the most comprehensive database of payday lender locations yet compiled, maps a surprising relationship between populations of Christian conservatives and the proliferation of payday lenders.

“We started this project hoping to find out more about the spatial location of payday lenders and were surprised when a pattern reflecting a correlation with the American Bible Belt and Mormon Mountain West emerged,” said Peterson, who conducted the research and coauthored the article with Steven M. Graves, an associate professor of geography at California State University, Northridge. “The natural hypothesis would be to assume that given Biblical condemnation of usury there would be aggressive regulation and less demand for payday loans in these states, but ironically, the numbers show the opposite is true. It’s sad that states with a pious and honorable religious heritage now disproportionately host predatory lenders.”

Peterson and Graves’ article, titled “Usury Law and the Christian Right,” is forthcoming this Spring in the Catholic University Law Review. It profiles states all around the nation examining the unprecedented spread of payday lenders during a time of growing Christian engagement in the political process. “A generation ago, populist Christian leaders were among the most aggressive opponents of usurious lending. But today many Christian leaders take large campaign contributions from the credit industry and no longer support the Biblical injunction against usury in public life,” Peterson said. [my emphasis]

In the context of primary discussions about how President Hillary or President Obama will fix Bush’s clusterfuck economy without turning the US into Argentina, I find this detail really fascinating. The people preying on the financial insecurity of working people are also some of the people bank-rolling the preachers who give Republicans moral cover for their immoral ways.

All the more reason to make this kind of predatory lending illegal.

Update: Here’s what PastorDan has to say about this (see his h/t to selise, too):

Now, correlation is not causation, of course. Even if it were, none of these are perfect correlations. But my hunch is that with a little investigation, we’ll discover this study describes the cultural creep of Southern mores hitting a roadblock in the Northeast and in a few other places with effective usury laws on the books.

To the "faith and politics" point, though, it seems to me that the best use of these maps might be to suggest places for local reform of lending practices. There’s no reason why states like Michigan or Wisconsin should have anywhere near as many payday operations as they do. We have the political and religious resources to put an end to that form of predation. It’s the right thing to do, and it’s a great springboard into a broader progressive economic agenda.

Speaking from MI (and PastorDan is speaking from WI), I’d love to see us have the resources to put an end to predatory lending… 

71 replies
  1. dakine01 says:

    Did they also correlate the placement of military installations and the pay day loan facilities? Since there are also a large number of military installations in the same areas.

    • emptywheel says:

      From the paper:

      Again confirming past research, the race and poverty correlations with payday lending were strong and statistically significant.113 But, to our surprise, neither race nor poverty proved as highly correlated as our measure of conservative Christian political power. Stating these relationships in a different way, other things being equal, the political power of Conservative Christians within a state is a better predictor of payday lending severity than either race or poverty. (30)

      I’m not equipped to evaluate the statistical analysis of this. I’m also slightly suspicious of the way they defined christian power centers as coinciding with evangelicals and Mormons. But they at least claim there’s a closer correlation with Christian Consevatives than with poverty.

    • tekel says:

      Poverty, or lack of education. I’d like to see this cross-referenced with % of population that (a) smoke cigarettes and (b) lack a high-school diploma (or, you know, basic knowledge of algebra, but I’ll settle for the diploma as a proxy, even in South Carolina).

      • bmaz says:

        Tekel – How things going for you up there? I can’t find the studies easily on teh Google that I wanted to refer you to; they are older and pre-internet. They are certainly available online I should think, just not finding them easily. At any rate, as you probably know, there has long been an incredibly strong correlation between socioeconomic status and smoking/tobacco use. That has always been the case; but my understanding is that, in the US and other first order countries, it has become even more pronounced in the last couple of decades. Here, here and here are a couple of more recent things that would appear relevant to your question. I doubt that he is still there, but back in the mid 90s there was an associate/researcher at Dickie Scruggs’ office that was a walking talking encyclopedia on this kind of stuff and had all the studies and papers etc. to back it up. Really, just as important as the correlation/linkage on this is the issue of how it has been engendered and perpetuated by targeted through predatory marketing and advertising by the tobacco producers.

  2. selise says:

    chris hedges has been making the argument that the so-called christian right movement is fueled by despair – including economic despair. if he’s right, then the correlation is not surprising, as the presence of payday moneylenders could be a sign of economic hardship. here’s an example of the kind of thing hedges has been writing:

    The engine that drives the radical Christian Right in the United States, the most dangerous mass movement in American history, is not religiosity, but despair. It is a movement built on the growing personal and economic despair of tens of millions of Americans, who watched helplessly as their communities were plunged into poverty by the flight of manufacturing jobs, their families and neighborhoods torn apart by neglect and indifference, and who eventually lost hope that America was a place where they had a fut


    • trianarael says:

      And the progeny of the incestuous marriage between the Christian Right and the Republican Party is George W. Bush.

  3. phred says:

    Mornin’ EW — Interesting post. I’m curious how they determined their “Christian Power Index”. I find it very surprising that North Carolina and Georgia are in the bottom group, while South Carolina is in the top group. Similarly, the low rank of Arkansas compared to its neighbors is also a surprise to me. Is it based on total numbers of “Christians” or their donations to campaigns? The fact that there is more “Christian Power” in Washington state than in Georgia and Arkansas is pretty surprising.

    Secondly, I’m curious how they define “Christian”. I’m particularly interested in this point given the bit of the quote you emphasize above “a generation ago, populist Christian leaders… but today many Christian leaders…”. Do the authors of the study lump all Christian denominations together (e.g., Catholic, Greek and Russian Orthodox, Anglican, Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, United Church of Christ, etc. etc. etc.) or do they distinguish between them to some degree?

    This is important because in modern parlance “Christian” is now synonymous with the Evangelical movement. Many of the mega-churches are independent from main-line denominational organizations. I would argue that a generation ago, Christian leaders represented those main-line denominations, where I would bet now, the “Christian” leaders that the authors refer to are the high roller mega-church Evangelicals, who, as Charles Barkley pointed out quite eloquently, exhibit few, if any, traditional Christian values.

    • emptywheel says:

      I’d love of you looked at the study–my biggest regret about grad school is I never got a good course in Stats.

      And as I suggested, yes, I’m a bit suspicious of their defnition of CPI. They’re looking at evangelical and Mormon.

      • phred says:

        My pleasure : ) I just downloaded it. I’ll be out for a bit, but I’ll take a look at it later this afternoon…

        They’re looking at evangelical and Mormon.

        I figured. I really wish people would stop referring to these folks as if they actually represented Christianity as a whole. Sigh. That’s a rant for another day though…

    • BooRadley says:


      OT, “usury” is one of the fundamental evils in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament), the New Testament, and throughout the history of Xtianity. For centuries Xtians were never allowed to lend money at interest. So the next time some fundy tells you how dedicated they are to scripture or that dogma doesn’t develop, ask them about usury.

  4. northcoaster says:

    WOW. Fascinating read. Wonder how much tithing these credit moguls make to the fundie churches also? By spreading their influence in this manner the money lenders and mind benders become one and the same pot.
    And didn’t I read that ‘Huckleberry’ is tied to a major Televangelist under investigation for running a pyramid racket?

  5. klynn says:

    Lots of states have been working on this and both political parties are responsible for taking campaign contributions…Reps a little more than Dems…

    Here are some good examples of this issue being taken on (posted below).

    I think the bigger problem in evangelical circles is the idea of, theology of “abundant living” when living faithful lives. The “God’s reward” homily for the faithful. Unfortunately, many living at financial risk levels desire to believe they are living a faithful, abundant life.

    This language within working class and at-risk groups is dangerous and has misguided many.




  6. spirilis says:

    I had to leave the Catholic Church. Not because of the pedophile priests but because the church elders let them in and then let them stay. I’m afraid that the wolves have taken over the Protestants as well. Gods, guns and money. We’re down to a one legged stool.

  7. PJEvans says:

    That stripe up the cener of CA is an area which is mostly conservative in politics and religion, and also mostly poor (and till recently, mostly rural/small town). It’s our hotbed of narrow-minded folks.

    I’m wondering about those states: are there branch banks in those states, do they have ATMs all over, is there something else going on like severe restrictions on opening accounts or hours of operation? (I ask also because VA and SC are so clearly different from their neighbors that there must be state laws involved.)

      • PetePierce says:

        There have been recent class action suits against the payday lenders in Georgia launched by the former governor and his law firm in different counties in Georgia and in federal district court.

        Often the reputable banks who are licensed in states will front for the payday lenders. In Strong v. Georgia Cash America Inc. et al., case no. 1:04-cv-02611-WSD in the Northern District of Georgia, the most significant cause of action was that Cash Americahas been making illegal payday loans in Georgia in violation ofGeorgia’s usury law, the Georgia Industrial Loan Act andGeorgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.

        CSB Community State Bank made the loans operating through Cash America’s locations. Cash America was the real lender, and was operating without a license. The Payday lender’s lawyers will often try to circumvent civil suits by moving to force the plaintiffs into arbitration.

        That’s how the try to circumvent payday lending laws and it has been one of the causes for action of recent law suits against the payday lenders.

        Analysis of payday lending law

        Ga. Supreme Court Upholds Payday Lender Conviction

        • freepatriot says:

          There have been recent class action suits against the payday lenders in Georgia launched by the former governor and his law firm in different counties in Georgia and in federal district court.

          frickin liberals

          I say we stone these bastards, like we used to …

          /freepi brain fart


  8. klynn says:

    Tried to send a post that addressed where the campaign dollars go from payday lenders and their associations. Seems gone in the tubes…

    I think we need to be careful in drawing the evangelical Christian republican relation in terms of predatory payday lending institutions. Dems take their campaign contributions too. The study should also be looking at other stats in those states…

    Edwards was the only one I know of who had a clear policy on payday lending (outlaw it).

  9. Rayne says:

    Fascinating and timely. Been wondering how it was that as our economic conditions worsened in Michigan, more of these payday loan shark outfits popped up like mushrooms. There’s one that went into the same plaza with a new Walmart — how convenient — and located right next to the freaking bus stop.

    • emptywheel says:

      I emailed pastordan (from Street Prophets) about this. He raised WalMart as a corollary, too. He said he’d look closer later today. I eagerly await both what he and phred have to say about the whole paper.

  10. BooRadley says:

    OfT, but I couldn’t resist, Scalia is always thumping his chest about “cafeteria catholics,” who pick and choose their doctrine. That means Anthony hasn’t had sex since his wife lost the ability to conceive. According to Pius XI (not to be confused with Pius XII who watched in quiet support of silence as Hitler enacted white supremacy laws and then implemented the Final Solution) in his 1930 encyclical, Casti Connubi, procreation is the ONLY reason for married couples to engage in sex.

    OT, Roman Catholic bishops frequently complain that Roman Catholics do not show enough “forgiveness” for priests who routinely engage in sex with underage boys in almost all cases victims. Yet these same bishops condemn to hell Roman Catholics who remarry after divorce, without an annulment. Annulment is just an expensive theological trick to get the institutional church off the hook. In order to obtain an annulment, you pay a lot of money to say you lied to the priest who witnessed your marriage and that you were basically nuts at the time you claimed you were giving “consent.” If you’re well connected, such as Giulani, you can get a lot of annulments. Then per Sara at tnh, Giulani’s law firm can get rich helping the institutional Roman Catholic Church screw the nuns out of their retirement funds.

    • Minnesotachuck says:

      More interesting asides about Pius XI & XII. He’d had an anti-Nazi encyclical drafted (Humani Generis Unitas) that had been ready for issue in late 1938, but was being blocked by the Vatican Secy. of State, one Eugenio Pacelli, for fear of pissing off Hitler and Mussolini. It was relegated to oblivion when that same Pacelli was elected Pope Pius XII following Ratti’s (Pius XI) death in February, 1939, a passing that was rumored to be of other than natural causes.

      • BooRadley says:

        Thanks very much for your comment.

        He did manage to get this published:

        “Mit Brennender Sorge.”

        From wikipedia

        Mit brennender Sorge (German for “With burning anxiety,”) is an encyclical of Pope Pius XI, published on March 10, 1937 […] The encyclical dealt with the condition of the Roman Catholic Church in Nazi Germany, and criticized Nazism. The encyclical was addressed to German bishops and was read in all parish churches of Germany. Pope Pius XI credited its creation and writing to the Cardinal Secretary of State, Eugenio Cardinal Pacelli, who later became Pope Pius XII.

        [insert IMHO, this sentence is false. Pacelli was an ardent anti-semite and owed his popularity to denouncing “the Jews.” The rest of the wiki article seems accurate.]

        There was no pre-announcement of the encyclical, and its distribution was kept secret in an attempt to ensure the unhindered public reading of its contents in all the Catholic Churches of Germany.

        Some passages stated:

        “Whoever exalts race, or the people, or the State, or a particular form of State, or the depositories of power, or any other fundamental value of the human community—however necessary and honorable be their function in worldly things—whoever raises these notions above their standard value and divinizes them to an idolatrous level, distorts and perverts an order of the world planned and created by God; he is far from the true faith in God and from the concept of life which that faith upholds”
        “This God, this Sovereign Master, has issued commandments whose value is independent of time and space, country and race. As God’s sun shines on every human face so His law knows neither privilege nor exception. Rulers and subjects, crowned and uncrowned, rich and poor are equally subject to His word. From the fullness of the Creators’ right there naturally arises the fullness of His right to be obeyed by individuals and communities, whoever they are. This obedience permeates all branches of activity in which moral values claim harmony with the law of God, and pervades all integration of the ever-changing laws of man into the immutable laws of God.”
        “None but superficial minds could stumble into concepts of a national God, of a national religion; or attempt to lock within the frontiers of a single people, within the narrow limits of a single race, God, the Creator of the universe, King and Legislator of all nations before whose immensity they are “as a drop of a bucket” (Isaiah xl, 15). “

        Somewhat unusually, but vitally for symbolic and practical reasons, the encyclical was written in German and not the usual Latin of official Roman Catholic Church documents.

    • WilliamOckham says:

      Coorelation only suggests causation. The paper doesn’t suggest causation, it argues that we should expect a negative coorelation. States with a strong tradition of religious-based legislation should have strict limits on usury. From a sociohistorical perspective, this is correct. Usury was a dominant issue in Christian political thought for hundreds of years (it has often been THE dominant political issue in Christendom). I’ll offer an argument for causation in this case based on my understanding of what the Christian right really represents. I’ll leave that for my next comment.

      • JTMinIA says:

        You didn’t, explicitly, argue causation. If my inference is incorrect, then please take my comment as a mere warning that it came across that way to someone is sympathetic to your point of view, which suggests that those not sympathetic would have an even stronger reaction.

        There are myriad potential third variables. I would be very surprised if the relationship did not turn out to be spurious. I know from other studies that the correlation between military bases and pay-day lenders, for example, is as strong or stronger than this one. And, in that case, interviews with the lenders made it very clear why.

        • emptywheel says:

          Let’s see. I state explicitly that I can’t vouch for the study itself (though I’m hoping phred, who has a lot more expertise in stats and data analysis than I do, will shed some light on it). I also (in the thread) express doubts about the way the professors define their Christian Power Index. I use the word “correlate” specifically.

          I do, of course, say that this correlation is one more reason to urge the elimination of such lenders in an effort to fix the economic troubles of this country. But that follows an assertion about the loans the payday lenders make to conservative Christian legislators. I’ll stand by that–if a predatory industry is getting ahead by supporting conservative hypocrites, all the more reason to target it, both because it’s predatory but also because it provide the financial support for a particularly heinous type of politics.

          You simply can’t say I’m making a causation argument. I explicitly presented this as a correlation, not a causation.

          • bmaz says:

            I have a question. One that I suppose I ought to be, you would think, answering instead of asking; but , nevertheless, here goes. So, what happened to usury laws? I know growing up and into my adulthood (not quite sure when they went away) Arizona, like most places, had a general usury law, I could be wrong about the numbers, but i think it was originally 18% and then 21% right before it disappeared. Where did all these laws go? Was it the explosion of MasterCard and VISA into credit vehicles for the masses instead of just the financially elite and upper middle class?

            • emptywheel says:

              There’s actually a section of the study that reviews the changes in usury laws. I didn’t read it too closely, but they did get loosened and only now, in some states, are they being reined in again.

              • Minnesotachuck says:

                IIRC, the usury laws started going away as a part of the Volcker Crunch and the easing of banking regulations that began in the early 80s, and which ultimately led to the S&L crisis, etc. But this is probably gross oversimplification compounded by the decaying neurons of age.

        • bmaz says:

          So what you are saying is that predatory lenders locate their business outlets near military people, poor people and uneducated people; i.e. those so desperate and downtrodden that they will turn to such craven and morally criminal loansharks lenders? The poor, the uneducated and the military; three groups of citizens that Bush, Cheney and the current Republican/Conservative power structure doesn’t give a rat’s ass about and willingly screw over at every opportunity. That is entirely consistent with the general implications of this post.

  11. BayStateLibrul says:


    I don’t know about you, but at midnight tonight, I’m crawling into my
    bunker in the backyard.
    I’ve invited our neighbors over to celebrate with Beer and Wine.
    I’m leaving this world on a buzz.
    We, who are about to die, salute Roy Blunt


    • BooRadley says:

      Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO) was doing the same thing Prime Buzz:

      “They seem more interested in scoring political points with contempt resolutions and investigating baseball players than protecting our national security,” Bond said. “Perhaps if Al-Qaida were actually on steroids, then the House leadership would be more interested in dealing with them.”

  12. JohnLopresti says:

    Candidates for partly similar maps: rust belt states, blue law states, right to work states. And now that we have a Scotus AJustice espousing merits of slapping jailed persons, how about a map of all states in which there is a majority of families who utilize corporeal punishment of children. Other socioeconomic factors also come to mind. In the field of environmental toxicology often one sees that economically deprived populations usually are the ones whose domiciles are closest to poisonous pollution.

  13. Redshift says:

    I suspect a climate of hostility to business regulation in general has more to do with it, and Christian conservatives and payday lenders both tend to be more common in the regions where that is true, but only one is necessarily cause-and-effect.

    Interesting development on this front in Virginia — before this year’s session, a Republican lawmaker unexpectedly came out in favor of limiting payday lenders, a good compromise bill has been created, and it looks likely that they’ll actually be reined in this year.

    (If this happens in the first year that Virginia goes for a Democrat for president since LBJ, I still wouldn’t draw a cause-and-effect relationship with declining influence of the Christian Right. *g*)

  14. freepatriot says:

    bout time somebody thought of USURY

    most of the homophobe knuckledraggers got no clue about usury

    if the bible says it’s bad, why do so many born again christians no know this

    cafeteria christians anybody ???

    this is the other shoe that Sir Charles didn’t mention

  15. JTMinIA says:

    There was a bill to limit the rate charged on credit cards to 30%. Yeah, that was to be the limit. But it didn’t come close to passing in the Senate. http://www.senate.gov/legislat…..vote=00020 Obama was one of those who voted against it. Clinton, for some reason, voted for it. Good for her,

  16. PetePierce says:

    My faves are the commercials growing in frequency the last year by the Payday lenders “Borrow responsibly” brought to you by your ‘friendly’ payday lenders with the 300% interest rates that prey on those who can least pay them. Payday lender lobbies are huge in many states–and even when they get curtailed or outlawed, they often come back with legislation to get up and running.

  17. freepatriot says:

    I’m not sure that “micro-lending” is the solution we should be looking for, but it does provide a GLARING example here

    if America really was a “Christian” nation, couldn’t we find a way to create a community funded loan operation to put the usury companies out of business ???

    a guy in India just got a Nobel Prize for developing the micro-lending idea in India. Why can’t we do stuff like that here ???

    cuz being a repuglitard is a direct obstacle to being a christian

  18. emptywheel says:

    From the study:

    However, in recent decades, traditional American legal response to high cost consumer loans has corroded. At least two factors facilitated the slackening in usury law. First, the Supreme Court sparked a new era of federal preemption of state usury limits by granting national banks the authority to export high interest rate limits from states such as Delaware and South Dakota throughout the country.100 And second, high inflation during this period caused prevailing market interest rates to rise, shrinking the potential profit margin separating lenders’ cost of funds and their legal limits.101 Instead of creating temporary exceptions to ancient usury rules, or allowing interest rate limits to float with an index of prevailing rates, a few legislatures repealed their limits altogether. Other legislatures have become more receptive to statutes that grant permission for lenders to lend at prices that would have shocked earlier American generations. It was into this new breach in the wall of traditional American usury law that payday lenders began flowing at the end of 1980s and early 1990s.

  19. WilliamOckham says:

    Here’s my argument for how the rise of the Christian right played a causal role in the explosion of legalized loansharking (which is what payday lending is). There are two important issues. How did the payday lending come about and why do states with more Christian right political influence have more payday lending than other comparable states (controlling for socioeconomic factors like poverty and race)?

    The rise of payday lending required substantive changes in the usury laws in every state. The initiating event was a Supreme Court decision in 1978 that allowed national banks to undercut state usury laws. The Christian right didn’t play any role in that, but payday lending was still governed by state usury laws. The way the laws were changed varies significantly between the states. One of the authors of the paper under discussion analyzed the evidence here.

    In that paper, Peterson introduces the concept of salience distortion. This is a measure of the difference between the nominal usury rates in the legislative language and the real usury rates expressed in the APR measure defined in the Truth-in-Lending Act. Salience distortion is essentially a measure of how dishonest the usury laws are in a state. Some states (like Delaware and Idaho) simply eliminated interest rate caps altogether. There’s no salience distortion in that. Others, like New York and North Carolina, reflect the interest rate caps in a completely straightforward way (i.e. what you see in the legislation is the true rate). Most states, however, hide the true interest rates behind fees and other dodges. That’s where things get really interesting. The paper I linked to above allows us to compare how deceptive state legislation is.

    States where the Christian right had substantial influence in state legislatures during the time the usury laws were changing have the most deceptive usury laws (this is not quite what the study measures, but I’m pretty confident that this is the case). The more dishonest the law is, the more payday lending a state has. The paper argues that this can be explained as a common pyschological phenomenon (the way humans assess risk). While I agree with that notion, I will go a little further on theological terms.

    [If you aren’t interested in Christian theopolitical issues, you may wish to skip this paragraph, that’s ok with me.] The nature of the Christian message (summed up as “Love your neighbor as yourself”) is inherently subversive. It undermines all the existing power structures in favor of an ethic that empowers the powerless and removes all the advantages of the powerful. Any nominally Christian poltical movement is forced to choose between wielding its power and staying true to the Christian ideal. As soon as a nominally Christian movement makes peace with the existing power structure it is perverted into an antichristian tool of oppression. Hence, we have the so-called Christian right supporting usury, imperial war, torture, and government lawlessness. I don’t mean this as a condemnation of the rank and file Christian right. Jesus of Nazareth reserved condemnation for religious and political leaders who claimed to follow God while doing the following:
    Oppressing the poor or powerless
    Engaging in usury
    failing to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, comfort the sick, or visit those in prison
    engaging in tribalism (disenfranchising any group or class of people whether on racial, ethnic, class, or behavioral grounds (even sexual behavior))

    To sum up, the more influence the Christian right has, the less Christian the usury laws will be because the the accomodation to power requires deceit and dishonesty.

    [Stepping back out of the pulpit] None of this should be surprising. The poltical concerns of the Christian right have little or nothing to do with traditional Christian beliefs. It’s a movement to express a particular set of cultural concerns. To gain power and influence it has allied itself with big money interests. The Christian right gives moral cover to predatory lenders in exchange for support for its cultural agenda.

    • readerOfTeaLeaves says:

      I suspect the relationships are more intriguing than the authors report. I’ve only read the research Summary, but it appears that the authors are categorizing ‘evangelicals’ as a fairly homogenous group. I don’t think that is accurate. Consequently, although the research shows correlations that are extremely intriguing, it would be even more fascinating if the authors were able to dig a bit deeper.

      To expand upon my point: I think that Wm Ockham is trying to shed light on the fact that the term ‘evangelical’ is currently undergoing some quiet, profound transformations in the US. Those of us who may not be part of the evangelical movement really need to pay attention, because what Friar Wm is pointing toward is extremely important, IMHO.

      I’d phrase it this way:
      There are Evangelicals, and then there are evangelicals.
      There are Evangelicals whose faith structures how they view the world. And then there are (small ‘e‘), evangelicals who are quite happy to find a nice church that doesn’t ask too much of them.

      For the latter, ’small e’ group, church is a social experience, but not a spiritual experience. They don’t want to get dirty working on a Habitat for Humanity project in some hot, dusty, inconvenient place. They’re “religiousish”, but not all that spiritual.

      Several of my acquaintance are ‘big E’ Evangelicals: their faith is at the core of how they live their lives. These people volunteer at food banks, give disproportionate amounts of their income to charitable causes, and volunteer for things like Habitat for Humanity.

      For a cluster of reasons not relevant to this thread, I’ve become intrigued by changes that I’ve observed in the political conversations and attitudes that I’ve seen among my evangelical acquaintance — none of whom would condone loansharking or payday lending.

      I first started to notice the shifting attitudes after Hurricane Katrina, and they’ve seemed to shift further as the Iraq War has become associated with torture, oil company profits, and corruption. Every one of these things is abhorrent to the Evangelicals that I know.

      Some of the Evangelical critiques of government failures have been couched in Biblical language, which makes it difficult for those of us ‘on the left’ to really grasp what they are saying. (My own Biblical allusions are limited, but I’ve been given a brief ‘tutorial’ or two. Or three. Or four….) Recently, I’ve heard: they are utterly fed up with the Republican party, they are also fed up with the Democratic party, disgusted by corporate irresponsibility, and angered by the degree of corruption in biz and government.

      FWIW, until fairly recently, I thought that the Republican coalition was unraveling into two main groups: (1) moderates and fiscal conservatives, and (2) the ‘power coalition’ of neocons, militarists, cronies, corporatists, evangelicals (including Armeggedonists). I now see the unraveling taking a different configuration, and payday lending is one symptom of the forces that are breaking up the “Republican coalition”.

      I don’t know what (besides economics) is behind the payday lending locations – this is certainly a very interesting study. And it also speaks to the growing prevalence of ‘financial services’ and economic inequalities in the US over the last 20 years. However, I don’t think payday lending locations should be ATTRIBUTED to the populations of evangelicals. There is probably something more important that this research study hasn’t yet been able to plumb.

      Last week I happened to hear an excellent edition of Warren Olney’s “To The Point”, on the topic of “What’s Happening to the Religious Right?”
      (Podcast available at the link, and it is well worth the time of anyone who might be interested.)

      Basically, that program confirmed other ‘mumblings and mutterings’ that I’ve been picking up on my anecdotal, personal radar: many evangelicals are fed up with the ‘Moral Majority’ bellicosity-driven wedge issue politics. One of the most articulate guests on Olney’s program was Jim Wallis, who I seem to keep hearing about. Wallis mentioned that young evangelicals (and also older evangelicals) are very concerned about social justice, about the environment (’caring for God’s creation’), and about a host of topics that are frequently raised at FDL, at Digby’s, at TPM, and at EW. Wallis’s comments were very consistent with what I’ve heard from my far smaller group of contacts.

      Last week, I purchased a copy of Wallis’s just-published “The Great Awakening“, and I’ve been riveted. Wallis is saying something that the left is also saying, “Politics is broken.” But he’s also saying much more; he’s pointing to a transformative social agenda that is focused around seven principles, starting with “God hates injustice”. He’s pointing out that the kinds of politics, and the ‘narrow, politicized religion‘ that the Conservative Right (Falwell, Roberts, etc) sold the evangelicals didn’t work. Evangelicals increasingly recognize this fact, and they have left the “Moral Majority” politicized religiousity as a failure — and as a perversion of what Jesus’s teachings were actually about. (Wm Ockham points this out in his comment above — the teachings of Jesus are fundamentally radical, and anti-empire in their focus on ‘the poor’ and ‘the least of us.)

      Politics is broken, and they became broken in part because one faction allowed themselves to politicize religion for their own grandiose purposes. Those people might very well support payday lending outfits. But the Evangelicals that I know would not approve, and would work for tighter regulations (I can almost hear one of them saying, “Throw those usurous Pharisees out of the temple!”).

      Wallis’s observations struck many chords with me, because they confirmed, (and helped explain) much of what I’m also seeing; people see politics as broken, the Christian Moral Majority as ‘false witnesses’, and they’re working from the bottom up to create some new mechanisms to advocate for more social – and economic – justice.

      Wallis is saying something quite similar to what E.J. Dionne is now saying (”Souled Out”), and their analyses are consistent with what Paul Hawkens says in “Blessed Unrest” (another book that has 5 rOTL stars, FWIW ;-))

      I’ll take phred’s word for the experimental design and quality of analysis in the research study, but I’d also like to ’second’ Wm Ockham’s cogent: “correlation is NOT causation.” To attribute payday lending as somehow acceptable to evangelicals would be, IMHO, extremely faulty logic. Payday lending is a symptom, not a cause.

      If the research could dig more deeply, I suspect that it would reveal the payday lending as a symptom of economic injustice, which is a symptom of failed government. Although some ‘little e’ evangelicals might not be troubled by payday lending, the committed ‘big E’ Evangelicals would find it reprehensible, and view it as a symptom of a world in which too many people value money more than they value their own humanity. Look at the way that government has valued money — Wallis is articulating that government budgets need to be viewed as MORAL documents, and through that lens, payday loan outfits are a symptom of a society that values usury above livable wages.

      This looks like a really intriguing preliminary research study, and I hope these people get more funding to dig deeper.

      I suspect the authors of this stuey would discover that the ‘real Evangelicals’ would use payday lending as “Exhibit A” to argue that in a just world, payday lending outfits would have no reason to exist.

  20. JohnLopresti says:

    Much of Reagan’s legacy was similar to the neoUserer’s predation upon the poor; another monetary sphere infused with modern disregard for the economically marginal participant in liquid transactions is the lax oversight by the comptroller of the currency in guaranteeing bank websites are aligned chronologically with month-end statements of account, where again fees are imposed by a computer algorithm and are notoriously obfuscatory. While in the topic of hypocrisy of enunciated value systems, consider this recent OffTopic report concerning vote caging, which contains a nice section reviewing former Scotus chief Justice Rehnquist’s early work applying literacy tests to the uneducated at AZ polls when he was a young party activist. Although his approval to the Scotus post was contentious in congress, it was a tidal striation, seemingly a statement by congress that the quick modern pace would permit ignoring a known background of treading outside electoral laws to achieve a political win for affiliates.

  21. phred says:

    EW — sorry for taking so long to chime back in here. Just to answer my original questions above, they measure Christian Power in terms of ranking states according to: 1) per capita density of Evangelical Christians and Mormons, 2) voting score of federal Representatives and Senators by state determined by 3 conservative Christian political action groups, and 3) average statewide Congressional delegation voting record on social/cultural issues published online by Poole and Rosenthal.

    It’s certainly an interesting paper. There is nothing wrong with their statistics, so far as they go, but they are not on very solid footing with their conclusion that “our findings should serve as conclusive proof that conservative Christian Americans are a prime demographic target of the payday lending industry.”

    I don’t believe they have proved this at all. They premise this work on the notion that there ought to be an anti-correlation between Christians and predatory lending. Historically that would be certainly true which they summarize nicely right up to the time of John Wesley, but then they pretty much skip a couple hundred years of theology which I found odd. They note John Wesley was very influential on conservative Christians, true, but he was also very influential among mainline Protestants. And further, I’m not entirely sure that their usage of “conservative Christians” in the context of Wesley is the same as it is in the definition of their Christian Power Index (Evangelicals and Mormons only).

    The problem I have with this is the authors don’t even attempt to address what emphasis the modern Evangelical movement places on usuary (my guess would be next to none, or at least it is so far down their list of worries as to not matter in the ballot box). In which case I’m not convinced the correlation they claim actually exists.

    As most of us here know, the modern Republican Party is an unholy alliance of social conservatives, “fiscal conservatives” (I would like proof of that someday, but I digress), libertarians, and business interests. The fact that the latter has used the former 3 to win elections, yet do little on their respective agendas, has a lot to do with why the party is coming apart at the seams. There is simply nothing in the paper to suggest that usuary is a major subject in the Evangelical movement (I have no idea one way or another). The fact that usuary laws serve business interests strikes me as the more interesting correlation here.

    So this exercise reminds me of the old example of how not to look at data… If wolves howl more at the full moon, and the tides are higher at the full moon, then one could obtain a perfectly good correlation between howling wolves and the tides, yet entirely miss the key piece, which is the moon. I think this paper is a bit like that.

    To return to their claim that Christian conservatives are a target of payday lenders, this would be better supported if they included a breakdown of the socioeconomic status of these people. Typically lower income people go to payday lenders, are Christian conservatives disproportionately lower income? Maybe, but they don’t show that.

    Further, in creating their Christian Power Index, they use voting scorecards, ratings by conservative Christian Groups. Unfortunately, these are only available for federal government officials, not state officials. They acknowledge this limitation, and state that they have to assume the federal rankings are applicable to state level officials. One would assume then that the states with a high CPI are states represented by Republicans, the party of Christian conservatives. Yet, when you look at the top 30 districts for predatory lending (Tables 3, 4, and 5) which define “districts” three ways, by State Upper House, State Lower House, and U.S. House of Representatives, you will see that all three ways of looking at the data show Democrats lead Republicans (20 to 10 for the two State Houses, and 17 to 13 for the US House). I’m just guessing, but I bet the Christian Conservatives behind the CPI are in the swankier Republican parts of the states in question, while the districts “benefiting” from “more flexible lending practices” are in the minority/low-income Democratic districts. Just a hunch (but no data).

    I do think it is an interesting paper and an interesting approach. I just wished they presented more data on other factors. To be fair to the authors, they may have looked into these things, but in the interest of space didn’t show them. It’s a pretty long paper, perhaps they didn’t want to make it too long. And I hate to give anyone a hard time who is doing good work to highlight the disaster that deregulating banks and payday lenders has wreaked on our economy. I really like what they have done so far, I’m hoping they will dig even deeper into the data. I also hate to find fault with anyone who so clearly exposes the hypocrisy of those who claim to adhere to “literal” interpretations of the Bible.

    • emptywheel says:

      Thanks. As I said, I had those suspicions. Though I would change your formula for what makes up the “conservative” movement right now:

      Corporatists and cronyists (used to be the same thing but the former have given up all belief in markets and, frankly, capitalism)
      Christian conservatives

      They get libertarians for free because we–aside from people like Russ Feingold–are too incompetent to court them.

      And really, it was more like the corporatists invested in two ideologies that would serve as beards for their goals. The neocons to put a pretty face on old-fashioned imperialism, and the CCs to give the poor some reason to come out and vote.

      In which case, yeah, the corporate agenda would be the moon, wouldn’t it.

      • phred says:

        I agree with that. And I think the Republicans are in a world of hurt because true fiscal conservatives, free market folks, and libertarians have been totally screwed by the Republican establishment since at least Reagan, if not earlier. The social conservatives have gotten a handful of judges, but mostly lip service, which apparently is leading to some serious discontent in the ranks (can you say Huckabee? I knew you could ; )

        So yeah, the corporate agenda is the moon ; )

      • NelsonAlgren says:

        Too incompetent to court people like Megan McArdle? I know not all libertarians are like her, but people like her can never wrap their heads around the fact that Republicans want to take away your liberties, and that their economic policies lead to ruin.

      • phred says:

        My pleasure : )

        By the way, thanks for your earlier compliment, too. I was hoping you would pop in, because I figured you would like my earlier comment. Appreciated yours too…

  22. prostratedragon says:

    It happens that Grameen Bank, which M. Yunus founded, has begun some ventures in Queens, NY among immigrant women there. According to the articles, they are also researching the possibility of doing or facilitating other kinds of lending to lower income people here.

    It’s likely to be an interesting challenge for them to define their markets as they branch out. In Bangladesh, the original mission was extending credit to micro- or home-based enterprises. That’s a different thing than consumer lending, such as the payday sharks, with the notion of people building a livilihood from the microloans surely one reason the idea has been so captivating.

    One has often heard of smaller businesses in the inner city, especially, that founder on the inability to get smallish loans that probably are nevertheless above the microloan scale. It would be interesting to see whether committment techniques could be found to serve this market through a well-capitalized bank.

  23. ProfessorFoland says:

    Expanding a little on phred’s excellent analysis…

    The statistics of the paper all boil down to the result that the correlation between CPI and payday lending is 0.56. Everything else is interpretation.

    The correlation coefficient they report, 0.56 (Spearman, not Pearson!), comes with an uncertainty (standard deviation) of about 0.1. That is, with 68% certainty it’s between 0.46 and 0.66 . As EW points out they also observe lesser correlations with quantities such as poverty, but never give the magnitude of those correlations. If those others are in the neighborhood of, say, 0.46, then it’s impossible to conclude that the correlation to the CPI (Christian Power Index) is really larger.

    Furthermore, to isolate the purely christian component, they really ought to control for obvious known correlators–in this case, poverty and percent-non-white–to really measure the christian component.

    As phred mentioned, their CPI is made up of three components. There should really be a discussion of (a) how they chose the weighting (equal, in their case) and (b) the correlations to the three individual components of the index. Sometimes you think you’re correlating to some combination of things, but in fact you’re mostly just correlating to one thing. The correlations among the three factors themselves should also be mentioned.

    A couple of things in presentation would never get by me if I were a referee. First, they show an amusing plot of # of McDonalds – Payday lenders. They should really normalize the total number of one to the other. Not a serious mistake, but kind of an amateur one.

    More serious is that Figure E is the key one to demonstrate the correlation. If you look at it (and have some experience looking at such things), you will instantly say to yourself, “there’s NO WAY that correlation coefficient is 0.56!” It turns out they plot rank vs rank rather than payday lending concentration vs CPI. Given that they measure Spearman and not Pearson correlations, it’s actually the right thing to do. But it begs the question: why measure correlation from ranks and not simply the quantities they have? Visually, ranks generally expand the central portion and compress the ends of a distribution, making it nearly impossible to judge in a figure whether they’ve actually measured the correlation correctly. (Put another way: that plot would be practically visually indistinguishable if the correlation were 0. That’s not the case for Pearson correlation.)

    I do have to say–normally when I read a paper like this, I find at least one absolute howler of a mistake that just makes me stop reading and conclude it’s all garbage. That didn’t happen with this paper–there are questions and some important things left out, but nothing made me think that their correlation of 0.56 +- 0.10 was wrong. The lack of controlling for other known correlators does, however, make me think the interpretation of that coefficient may be overdone.

    • emptywheel says:

      Thanks for this–really helpful. One thing I FELT like they were doing was stretch to include Mormons along with eastern evangelicals. There’s obviously very few payday lenders in Mormon states, but then population is much less dense. Is that why they were doing the ranking?

  24. ProfessorFoland says:

    I can only speculate about why they used rankings. The most generous (and probably most likely correct) reason is that rankings automatically contain a quick-and-dirty way to normalize the data into the same units in a relatively fair way. (”Quick-and dirty” and “relatively fair” are, if you can’t tell, my way of saying, “not really the best way”. But that doesn’t necessarily make them wrong, only more subject to error.) It’s my understanding that rank-use is much more common in the social sciences, so there may be elements both of “the referees will understand this” and “we don’t really know the pitfalls in the other way” in the choice. The least generous (and I put it out there merely to be complete) reason could be, “that’s all we know how to do in SPSS.” My impression is that they’re better than that last.

    As to the Mormons–that’s a choice they simply have to defend. It means that they’ve demonstrated not a “correlation between payday lending and mainline christians” but a “correlation between payday lending and a particular linear combination of mainline christians and Mormons.” As far as I can see there’s nothing statistically invalidating in it, but merely something that muddies the interpretation.

    To me the biggest interpretation question comes in their failure to control for poverty and non-white populations, two quantities already well-known to correlate to payday lending. The question really is, once you control for those, is there a statistically significant residual correlation? Their response to this is that their CPI is a better predictor than either one of those. That response isn’t really sufficient, leaving unanswered two specific questions: (1) is it still better than the combination of the two? and (2) is the amount by which it is better statistically significant?

    • phred says:

      Professor, I agree entirely with both your comments above. From their methods section they looked at various interesting measures, per capita densities of payday lenders, ratios of payday lenders to banks, and those ratios as a function of various scale voting districts. But they didn’t show any of these data. Instead the only map shown (Figure B) is the point data of payday lenders, uncorrected for any other factors. They then essentially fold all their weighted data into their ranks, but there is no quantitative analysis of precisely what they represent.

      EW, rotl, and WO, I agree with all of you that their choice of Christian groups of interest is frustrating. The blurring of terms as they get filtered through the media from the groups to whom they have real meaning is lost on those unfamiliar with such terms.

      For example, when I was a kid, my dad always made a very clear distinction between conservative Christians and fundamentalists. At that time, evangelicals were a different group entirely. Yet, political operatives managed to make all three one and the same in the media, which has led to a tremendous distortion in the public imagination of not only those groups, but Christianity as a whole. Mainline Protestants might just as well not exist from the media depiction of people of faith, while Catholics have simply been pushed aside by the “Religious Right” juggernaut. Yet, I really think this simplistic narrative is wildly inaccurate.

      To some degree I think the premise of the paper here is misguided because of the muddled view of the distinctions between mainline Protestant Christian theology with respect to historical attitudes toward usuary and the expectation of the modern political “Religious Right” movement to share those historical attitudes. As rotl pointed out quite eloquently there are profound distinctions between traditional evangelicals and the modern political evangelicals, yet that is just the tip of the iceberg in wildly varying religious interpretations and values, all of which influence Christian voters as a whole.

      • WilliamOckham says:


        I give them some credit for the way they handled the history of Christian theology on usury. The truth is their history stopped where it did because the issue became largely irrelevant. You would be hard-pressed to find anyone who discusses the issue outside the context of the viewpoints Bentham laid out in 1787. The traditional view won the day and the issue faded.

        On the surface, it really is surprising that a political movement partakes in the mythology of an explicitly Christian founding of the country would allow the repeal of usury laws supported by the founding fathers and the Bible, especially if the payday lenders victimize the members of that movement (something the data suggests, at least). I pointed to the other paper because I think it’s more important than the statistical analysis. The deceit with which the usury laws were undermined in the “Bible belt” is telling.

        • phred says:

          I see what you’re saying about the history WO, but that is actually the point I was trying to make about the flawed premise. I don’t think the Evangelicals talk about usuary much, if at all. So the premise of the research that Christian conservative political power should be anti-correlated with the dismantling of usuary laws is irrelevant. Usuary isn’t a high priority for the Christian conservative movement, they don’t vote on that issue in particular, so one ought to look elsewhere in the Republican Party for the motivation behind the revision of those laws. I suspect you will find it in the corporate deregulation camp instead.

          Also, the data in the paper does not show that the payday lenders victimize members of the movement. They do show that in states where the federal delegation gets a high rank on conservative social issues (from several sources) that those states have permissive regulation of lenders. However, the majority of districts most affected by those lenders are represented by Democrats. That suggests the voters who are targetted by payday lenders do not support the Christian conservative political agenda, because they in fact elect Democrats in those districts, even if the state as a whole has a Republican majority.

  25. azureblue says:

    and note teen pregnancy rates, too. The version of Christianity in the poor states is more akin to cultism- use of fear and exploiting of ignorance. It also serves as a rationale for being poor- ”reward in heaven” ”God will see you through hard times”, God is testing your faith”, ”It is God’s will”.

    But watch, as people with better education (and a more tolerant and enlightened version of Christianity) move into those states as the trend reverses itself.

  26. klynn says:


    As one who formally worked in the housing projects of Washington D.C., the major piece missing from this picture would be banking/credit union stats for the areas noted on the map (they should have included it on their graph since they gathered the data). In low income and poverty stricken neighborhoods, few banks will venture in and offer banking services. So, an individual in such a neighborhood has difficulty with something as simple as cashing a check. If there is a bank, many have a difficult time just saving a minimum amount of cash needed to open an account in order to have the ability to cash checks. Many of the payday centers “sold” themselves to “risk” and low middle class neighborhoods through the service of check cashing. Then they introduced the idea of “getting your $$ earlier” to make ends meet. Locally owned businesses LOVE PayDay centers because of the increase in cash flow to their businesses. Yet, a community does not get stronger with the presence of a PayDay center because no one can begin to start saving money. Savings which could help stabilize “at risk” neighborhoods.

    Often times the only way a bank makes it’s way into a “risk” area is through the formation of non-profit banks organized by local neighborhood coalitions. This can be a difficult process; although, there are some “bright lights” of successful examples around the country -especially the South Bronx.

    Now, as for the relation of evangelical churches. The churches providing the most outreach in the neighborhoods I worked in happened to be evangelical churches followed by the Catholic, Mennonite, Lutheran, American Baptist, AME Zion, and Episcopal Denominations.

    The large evangelical mega churches would sink vast volunteer and material resources into the neighborhoods I worked in often partnering with a “store front church” only to lead to the opening of an urban mega church. The unfortunate aspect of all of this is that the churches focused on education and many aspects of urban development but were slow to addressing financial institutions in regards to urban development. In the meantime, the PayDay loan centers grew fast in such regions, when the greatest services which outreaches could have focused on would have been community development banks. Additionally, the theology of “abundant living” through faithful living is a dangerous theology to pitch in at risk neighborhoods – a pitch often heard from evangelical leaders. When one lacks basics, the language of “abundant living” gets interpreted as material abundance and not the spiritual/internal import of “abandance.”

    As for making the relationship between the data the researchers posted and politics, I have difficulty with their premise. Yes, Reps take a more proportional amount of $$$ from PayDay lobby groups but Dems still take some $$$ too…and both help set lending policy on the state and federal level…

    You might enjoy this blog post:


    And the National Institute on Money In State Politics has this:


    This study aside, we as citizens really need to put pressure on the Dem candidates to refuse $$$ from ANY preditory lending lobby of any kind. Especially, payday lenders.

    My comments are not the result of analysis of this study or any stats I have gethered. Simply my experience in urban development and working with churches in such efforts.

    If Sen. Obama was smart, he would tap his own urban development experience and shut down payday and preditory lending and focus on urban development banking organization…

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