Public Justice Review (PJR) explores in depth specific questions of public justice, equipping citizens to pursue God's good purpose for our political community.
Vol. 10, Issue 1:
Chelsea Langston Bombino (Contributing Editor)
2. Principled Pluralism: Essential to Advancing a Flourishing Faith-Based Nonprofit Sector
Stephen Monsma and Dr. Stanley Carlson-Thies
A vision of religious freedom for all is one where persons of all religious faiths, and of none, are free not only to worship or refrain from worship as their beliefs require, but also free to live out their faith as citizens active in the public life of the nation and in the faith-based organizations they have formed. This vision for our nation is based on a commitment to religious freedom, pluralism, and tolerance.
The result is a pluralist society: one where Catholics, evangelicals, Orthodox Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, nonbelievers, and others are free to live as citizens, health care providers, businesspeople, social-service providers, and public officials as led by their religious or nonreligious beliefs. Pluralism says that diversity such as this is to be expected in a free society and pluralism requires tolerance. Imposed uniformity is the opposite of freedom, pluralism, and tolerance, and we seek common ground where the beliefs, practices, and organizations of those of all faiths and of none are respected and their freedoms protected. Furthermore, a public realm that respects the diversity of belief and practice present in American society is ideal, rather than one that favors one group’s beliefs and practices over those of others.
1. Our Image-Bearing Responsibilities Require Protection of Diverse Civil Society Organizations
Chelsea Langston Bombino
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is both deeply personal and communal, meaning it applies to both individuals and institutions. Different elements of the First Amendment reflect something fundamental about what it means to be human. But American society is experiencing deep pluralism and people ultimately answer questions about what it means to be human through the lens of their sacred animating belief systems. These animating belief systems, or worldviews, are shaped by certain fundamental identities we have as individuals.
Many people have core animating beliefs that are explicitly shaped by spiritual values – what we hold most sacred. Everything, from what people eat, the products they purchase, the medications they take, and even civic actions – how people vote, what types of political activities they engage in, the types of policies they support or are engaged with, where they choose to donate their time or skills or money can all be influenced by animating beliefs. The First Amendment protects a series of fundamental freedoms and human exercises: freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, and freedom to petition the government.
A public justice framework allows for both individuals and institutions to fulfill God's design for them and, in turn, allows us to learn something about what it means to be created in God's image. A public justice framework also aims to ensure human flourishing. To do this, the government must ensure the ability of diverse individuals and communities – especially in our pluralistic society – to continue to flourish.
0. THE SACRED SECTOR AND PUBLIC JUSTICE: DIVERSITY IN THE PUBLIC SQUARE
Chelsea Langston Bombino, Contributing Editor
In our pluralistic society, the sacred sector–the diverse faith-based nonprofit sector–serves a crucial role in daily life, shaping citizens and bringing to bear public justice.
A new series from Public Justice Review called “Sacred Sector and Public Justice” will explore how diverse organizations within the sacred sector uniquely embrace what they believe to be their sacred purposes and identities. The series will begin by exploring the theological and philosophical principles undergirding why public justice requires supporting civil society organizations with very different purposes and precepts. The series will also explore the types of organizations that make up the sacred sector in America, and make the case for why a diverse society needs such a diverse sacred sector to meet the varied and unique needs of individuals and their communities.
This series will include articles from Contributing Editor Chelsea Langston Bombino, director of Sacred Sector, an initiative of the Center for Public Justice (CPJ), and director of the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance (IFRA), Stanley Carlson-Thies and Stephen Monsma, who co-authored the book entitled “Free to Serve,” Amy Coates-Madsen of the Standards for Excellence Institute, former CPJ President James Skillen in interview format discussing excerpts from his new book God’s Sabbath with Creation, a two-part article from John Larrivee, professor at Mount St. Mary’s University discussing the historical backdrop and practical implications of faith-based universities in forming civil society, as well as an article by Tricia Bosma, a 2019 CPJ Sacred Sector Fellow.
Vol. 9, Issue 5: Predatory Payday Lending: A Public Justice Problem
Stephen Reeves, Contributing Editor
8. Predatory Payday Lending: A Comprehensive & Faithful Response
In the mid-1990s, a new industry emerged offering relatively small loans at excessively high interest rates to borrowers struggling to make ends meet. Today, this industry sells the idea that payday and auto title loans can be a short-term fix for immediate emergency needs. In reality, these loans can result in long-term debt, and are regularly used to pay recurring expenses. The high cost of these loans routinely leads to a series of repeat borrowing or a cycle of paying only fees and interest without reducing the amount owed.
According to the Center for Public Justice (CPJ), “the principle of public justice recognizes that much of what contributes to human flourishing is not government’s task.” It also recognizes that “much of what contributes to human flourishing is government’s task. Government is authorized by God to promote what is good for human flourishing. This is often referred to as securing the common good–promoting the well-being of an entire society in right relationship with the larger world that God made.” To effectively make this a reality, Christian citizens, people of different faiths and of no faith background must work towards and advocate for legislative change on the local and national level.
In this final article of the Predatory Payday Lending series, Contributing Editor, Stephen Reeves outlines how the predatory payday lending industry grew in a time of declining morals, how people of faith and faith-based organizations responded, the responsibility of the government in relation to the issue, and what work remains ahead to help people flourish, promote public justice, and combat predatory payday lending.READ >>
7. Faith Leaders and Community Residents Respond to Payday Lenders in Missouri
Robert Reed and Bob Perry
The negative effects of predatory payday lending are becoming increasingly apparent as more and more people seek relief from the cycle of debt. Churches, social service agencies and other charitable organizations within the community often feel the impact of the predatory industry more acutely than other institutions. These are the places where people turn when caught in the grips of crushing payday loan payments and fees. Out of concern for members in the church who had been victims and out of civic, moral, and ethical convictions, an average-sized church in Springfield, Missouri, began working a program of guaranteeing replacement loans. In partnership with a local credit union and other supporters, the members designed a financial services product that would replace the payday loan with one at much lower interest rates. The church took a multi-dimensional approach to their program. Honoring the value and inherent dignity in all people, the program worked to create opportunities for success and flourishing, by providing loan replacements, a client education program and a public awareness campaign, rather than simply providing clients giveaways. The group also participated in advocacy efforts for greater regulation of high-interest lending and won some measures of relief for those crushed in the debt cycle.READ >>
6. From Adversity to Progress: A Community-Driven Movement to Reform Payday Lending in Texas
Pastor Steve Wells and Ann Baddour
Reforming payday and auto title lending has been an ongoing and difficult fight, particularly in Texas, where lending practices are a $5.2 billion business. In the face of challenges achieving reform at the state legislature, local leaders decided to take matters into their own hands and adopt an innovative effort to rein in predatory lending practices and promote a fair market. Starting in the City of Dallas–with the leadership of a local city council members and support of community-based organizations, faith leaders, and policy experts–an ordinance was passed to establish basic fair standards for payday lending. Thus, the city achieved what the state could not. This successful effort in one city inspired other cities to take action. Seven years later, 45 Texas cities throughout the state, on a bipartisan basis, adopted what became known as the unified ordinance–local zoning ordinances restricting payday and auto-title lenders. The effort is ongoing, with both legal and legislative attacks, but the broad base of support, built city by city, is persistent. The results of the movement are an improved market. Much work remains to be done, but the ordinance movement shows how government, in partnership with the institutions of civil society, can be effective when working together for the well-being of all citizens in the political community.READ >>
5. Combating Predatory Payday Lending: The Faith Community Responds
In Minnesota, like thirty-three other states, payday lenders can legally offer short-term, small-dollar loans to customers. Payday loans are marketed as helpful and useful tools to address unexpected financial needs. The loans, however, are made based on the lender’s ability to collect, and not the borrower’s ability to repay, so payday loans almost always create a debt trap. Organizations like Exodus Lending and the Center for Responsible Lending, along with coalitions including Minnesotans for Fair Lending and Faith for Just Lending, recognize that predatory payday lending is a community problem and a public justice issue. In this article, Executive Director of Exodus Lending Sara Nelson-Pallmeyer shares public justice principles, policy wins and the stories of those impacted by payday lending, and how concerned Christian citizens ought consider a public justice perspective regarding payday lending in their own community public justice response.READ >>
4. Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops: A Model for Community Action on Issues of Public Justice
Jennifer Carr Allmon
Usury has been a concern of the Church and civil society for millennia. This article outlines ten years of problems, strategies, wins, and losses in Texas as faith leaders and other concerned civic groups have fought for reasonable payday and auto-title lending reform at local, state, and federal levels. Payday and auto-title lenders have a similar business model: market high-cost emergency loans to desperate borrowers. For payday loans, borrowers provide lenders with access to a bank account or Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT), and automobile titles for auto-title loans. This predatory industry receives its revenue primarily from low-income working families. The loans are structured so that a borrower’s inability to repay increases the lender’s profit and deepens the borrower’s reliance on continued extensions of the loan — thereby creating a cycle of debt rather than incentivizing success.
Faith and community leaders in Texas have collaborated using a variety of strategies to address this cycle of debt. These strategies have been developed through a systematic process of gathering data, reflecting on the trends, developing local internal community solutions, and advocating for legislative change. The coalition efforts have been successful in passing local ordinances and state legislation, as well as making progress toward federal regulatory reform. As with all systemic change, the reforms are sometimes slowed down or even rolled back when the payday and auto-title industry lobbyists begin to exert their influence. Yet, advocates remain vigilant as voices for the working families targeted by predatory lending practices. The engagement processes and strategies used in Texas can serve as a model for community action on other issues of public justice as well.READ >>
3. Predatory Lending: A Framing Conversation
Michael Gerson, Katie Thompson, & Stephanie Summers
For some people, a vehicle breaking down is more of a nuisance than it is a crisis. But for others, a vehicle in disrepair sets off a chain of events that often includes missed time from work that results in lower earnings and greater financial instability often resulting in threats of homelessness and/or food insecurity. It is this need that payday lenders purport to fill, although there is clear and mounting evidence that demonstrates the industry’s predatory effect.
Those who are able to easily absorb the impact of a temporary financial shock have what Harvard University professor emeritus Robert Putnam calls “airbags”, that are immediately activated when financial crises strike. These so-called airbags are inflated by a person's social and financial capital that act as cushions when unexpected expenses arise.
But what are the right roles and responsibilities for the government and the institutions of civil society in protecting citizens who don’t have access to what Putnam called airbags? Former assistant to President George W. Bush and Washington Post columnist, Michael Gerson, Katie Thompson, program director and editor of Shared Justice, and Center for Public Justice (CPJ) CEO Stephanie Summers frame the issue of payday lending using normative Christian principles to view payday lending through a public justice lens.READ >>
2. That All Might Thrive: The Colorado Ballot Initiative Story
Nathan Davis Hunt
In 2018, a movement with faith leaders at its core known as the Financial Equity Coalition led a state-wide ballot initiative, Proposition 111 (“Prop 111”), that asked Coloradans to end predatory payday lending practices by lowering annual percentage rates from 160 percent to 36 percent. By doing so, they took on an industry earning $50 million in state yearly and followed an ancient Judeo-Christian tradition of standing against usury and all practices that enrich a few by exploiting the poor. This article provides the background context for Prop 111, including why national touted “compromise” regulations from 2010 continued to allow widespread financial injustice that particularly targeted communities of color. It explores theological and social cases for establishing healthy boundaries on payday loans and other financial products. Centrally, this article tells the ballot initiative story, and why fairness in lending holds such widespread popular support. The conclusion highlights opposing trajectories taken by Colorado predatory lenders and the movement for financial equity since the election—particularly the emergence of a multi-faith, politically diverse coalition that now holds weekly gatherings at our state capitol calling for an end to structural racism and the building of a moral economy.READ >>
1. Predatory Payday Lending: A Concern for Contemporary Christians
Payday loans are marketed and presented to the public as easy solutions to short-term financial challenges. What many borrowers do not realize until too late, is that the payday loans are easy to get into but are extremely difficult to get out of. This article invites readers to explore the challenges of people who have found themselves in the throes of predatory payday loans and the responsibility of Christian citizens to help address this topic. The good news is that it is possible to end the cycle of debt caused by predatory payday loans and there are individuals, organizations, and agencies doing the difficult work of advocacy and activism. Christian citizens have a moral and Biblical mandate to ensure that the image of God is honored in each person. Public Justice Review (PJR) editor Kerwin Webb, who has experienced the debt cycle caused by payday loans, defines payday loans, discusses the predatory nature and effects of the loans, and invites readers to converge at the intersection of public justice, Christian citizenship and Holy Scripture.READ >>
Vol. 9, Issue 4: The Returning Citizen: A Public Justice Perspective On Reintegrating The Formerly Incarcerated
Denise Strothers and Kerwin Webb (Contributing Editors)
7. Returning Citizens: Components Of A Successful Reentry An Interview With Dr. Dean Trulear Of Healing Communities
Harrold Dean Trulear, Ph.D.
Successfully reintegrating the formerly incarcerated into society is important for individuals, families, and the economy. Fwd.us is “a bipartisan political organization that believes America’s families, communities, and economy thrive when more individuals are able to achieve their full potential.” The organization’s website notes “our criminal justice system poses one of the greatest challenges confronting our country today.” Dr. Harold Dean Trulear, an ordained Baptist minister, Associate Professor of Theology at Howard University School of Divinity, and a returning citizen is also the National Director of Healing Communities is a nonprofit organization that assists churches and faith communities for the work of assisting returning citizens, and provides “a framework for a distinct form of ministry for men and women returning from or at risk of incarceration, their families and the larger community.” Dr. Trulear spoke with Public Justice Review (PJR) editor Kerwin Webb about the genesis of Healing Communities, the challenges with reintegrating returning citizens, and how one of the most important components of a successful reentry is a good social support network.READ >>
6. Preempting Incarceration: Restorative Justice for Disruptive & At-Risk Youth in High Schools
Suubi MondesirCriminal justice reform is a potent issue at this time in our history. Lawmakers, activists, and other community and faith-based groups are working to reverse the trend of human warehousing in the United States. This article will attempt to spell out the importance and reasoning behind why one approach, restorative justice, should be implemented in high schools for at-risk youth. By focusing on the needs of the victims, offenders, and the involved community, restorative justice in schools acknowledges the extenuating circumstances surrounding the student, and attempts to address smaller issues before allowing they turn into bigger problems, such as crime. Practices such as talking circles, mediation, and meditation can be implemented as an alternative to more disciplinary actions like detention, suspension, and expulsion. A public justice perspective recognizes that school administrators, teachers, parents, and students all play a role in creating a system that will maintain school discipline without placing students on a glide-path to prison. This article attempts to explain why implementing restorative justice practices in schools can engage a number of institutions and help reduce the number of eventual returning citizens. READ >>
5. Mass Incarceration and Families: A Shared Task of Healing
Collin SloweyMuch of the talk surrounding criminal justice reform is centered on theincarcerated population and returning citizens. These major social issues have major social ramifications, and the full effects of our prison crisis are actually far more extensive than most Americans probably realize. Political science student Collin Slowey reflects on a new report by FWD.us that reveals the depth and breadth of the wounds that mass incarceration has inflictedon American families. READ >>
4. Turning to the Community for Reentry Housing: Collaboration between Public Housing Authorities and Civil Society to Promote Reintegration
What can the average citizen do for the nine million men and women who are released from prisons and jails each year? Caring for returning citizens in a time of mass incarceration when the United States holds 25 percent of the incarcerated population and three out of four incarcerated people are rearrested within five years can seem to be a daunting and unrelated task for civil society. As issues of mass incarceration and reintegration are brought to the forefront of public discourse, it can be an easy tendency to look solely to the Bureau of Prisons to fix the broken transition from incarceration to freedom. However, being a neighbor to the returning citizens in our communities, churches, businesses, and neighborhoods is more essential than many realize. People of faith have a unique opportunity and responsibility to extend hospitality to returning citizens in the United States. Safe and supportive housing for men and women as they come home from incarceration is essential to their successful reentry. Improving the reentry process to keep returning citizens from returning to prison requires an integrated effort from individuals alongside government and civil society institutions.READ >>
3. Food Security for Returning Citizens in the 21st Century
Pastor Kimberly LuckThe subject of mass incarceration leads to discussions about finding ways to help individuals re-enter communities successfully. Pastor Kimberly Luck explores how returning citizens often face food insecurity and shows how food security can act as a means to reduce recidivism. Using a public justice framework, Pastor Luck shows how both individuals and organizations can advocate for changes in policies affecting returning citizens. Faith-based and community organizations can be part of the process by networking, sharing resources, and creating spaces for stories to be told. This interaction can become an educational opportunity for both returning citizens and the broader community. Returning citizens can share their experiences and give voice to their challenges while simultaneously learning about organizations, programs, and opportunities to become more food secure. As a result, collaborative groups that include returning citizens play a role in advocating for legislation and policies that value the humanity and welfare of all citizens, and promotes flourishing of returning citizens. READ >>
2. Overcoming the Mark of Cain: The Importance of Education in Reentry
Vicar Erich Kussman, M.Div.
There are countless groups and communities suffering from systemic oppression, and Christians must be ready to acknowledge and discuss this complicated reality in our society. Returning citizens – individuals re-entering society after periods of incarceration – can face insurmountable challenges as they navigate basic tasks, such as health care, applying for jobs, finding housing, pursuing education, or even exerting their right to vote. Criminal conviction seems to carry a life sentence for both the formerly incarcerated and their loved ones. The stigma of incarceration is arguably similar to the Genesis story of the mark of Cain, a curse given to him after he murdered his brother Abel. How can Christians, and civil society institutions, contribute positively to the flourishing of these “marked” men and women? Princeton Theological Seminary graduate, Vicar Erich Kussman, M. Div., writes about creative programs and strategies for supporting returning citizens, drawing upon his own experience serving 12 years in the New Jersey State Prison system. Erich shows how institutions in civil society can help returning citizens overcome the “mark” of incarceration, including a reduction in crime and recidivism, not to mention a restoration of human dignity.READ >>
1. Life after Incarceration: Maintaining Employment as a Practical Challenge Facing Returning Citizens
Denise Strothers and Kerwin Webb
The term “ex-con” or “ex-offender” is often used to describe an individual who has returned from a period of incarceration. It is common for those who are formerly incarcerated to face barriers related to securing housing, accessing financial aid for college, and even regaining the right to vote. But what happens after a person has paid his or her debt to society? What is the role of institutions in helping the formerly incarcerated resume “normal” life and perhaps even contribute to the common good? This series attempts to provide a public justice perspective on ways the government, concerned citizens, and civil society institutions can aid returning citizens. Bringing her ministry experience and seminary studies to the forefront, co-Contributing Editor Denise Strothers joins with PJR Editor Kerwin Webb to provide readers a robust discussion on the challenges and creative solutions related to supporting the formerly incarcerated. Among the contributing writers for this series are National Director for Healing Communities USA and Associate Professor of Applied Theology at Howard University School of Divinity Dr. Dean Trylear; Director of Operations for the Bail Project and 2016 Just Leadership USA Fellow Shelton McElroy; prison reform advocate Vicar Erich Kussmane (MDiv), who writes from his own experience serving time behind bars; and Abigail Stevens, an Eastern University economic development major, and recipient of CPJ's Hatfield Prize for student-faculty research. These writers share how civil society and governmental institutions might take steps to support the successful reintegration of returning citizens.READ >>