by Adventist Today News Team
A growing number of churches from all denominations across America are moving their bank accounts from large banks to local credit unions. It is an admonition against sin by corporations, “greed and dishonesty that is destroying families” explains Ryan Bell, pastor of the Hollywood Seventh-day Adventist Church and national spokesman for the network of clergy and congregations.
The protest began with an incident in 2008 and has gained real momentum this spring. Mario Howell, pastor of a community church in Antioch, California, told the New York Times that in 2008 a 10-year-old girl named Jeanette shook hands after worship and told him goodbye because her parents were being forced out of their home. They were middle class, “a teacher and probation officer,” Howell remembers, and “lost their home to foreclosure.”
Robert Rien, the pastor of St. Ignatius Catholic Church in the same town, told the New York Times last week that “24 families from the 1,000 in his congregation were threatened with foreclosures. … These people were engineers, accountants, working in medical offices, in the building trades. No matter how they pleaded with the banks, they didn’t find any understanding. It was ruthless behavior.”
The Reuters news service has reported that banks foreclosed on churches in record numbers last year. Occupy Wall Street has been promoting Bank Transfer Day, according to The Huffington Post. Now the two dozen churches across the country that Pastor Bell represents have announced that they and some of their members and friends are moving more than $30 million from three of the largest banks; Wells Fargo, Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase.
It is a very small portion of the total deposits in these three banks, but it may be the tip of a much larger iceberg. The National Credit Union Administration has reported that deposits in credit unions doubled from 2010 to 2011. Credit unions are essentially nonprofit banks owned by their depositors.
In February, Federal and state officials announced a settlement with five the largest banks in the country totaling $26 billion to reduce the mortgages of one million families. The New York Times reported that a representative of Bank of America has met with representatives of the group of churches. “We value all of our customers,” he is quoted as saying, “and would prefer dialogue to divestiture.”
The pastors are calling for a “foreclosure sabbatical.” This is a concept rooted in Scripture. In Leviticus 25 God commands His people to let their farms lay fallow every seventh year and on the 50th year all debts are to be forgiven. The year after seven cycles of seven years is called the Year of Jubilee. Ellen White explains in her book Patriarchs and Prophets that these Old Testament rules were intended to banish poverty and insure social justice.
Pastor Bell told the New York Times that he has preached from Isaiah the prophet’s admonition “to loose the bonds of injustice,” connecting it to mass foreclosures. He is also quoted pointing out that this is more consequential than Christians who give up caffeine permanently or quit using Facebook for a few weeks during the traditional season of Lent.