According to New Jersey Pastor DeForest Soaries, there are more PayDay Loan stores in America then McDonald’s and Starbucks combined. Appearing to prey on African American communities, Soaries, who heads the First Baptist Church in Franklin Township, NJ, has made it his mission to respond to PayDay Loan stores in the form of boycotts.
The African American church has always responded to social injustices in our community, so it’s only right we take back control over our finances. Find out how Pastor Soaries is helping other churches become debt free (DFree), and his upcoming call to action day.
JET: What was the motivation to start “DFree?”
Pastor Soaries: In 2005 our church was 19 million dollars in debt, with a mortgage payment of $135,000 per month. Although our membership was strong and growing, we found ourselves having to make monthly decisions as to who got paid that month, because we had more debt than we anticipated. After having a conversation with my board about options, it became clear to me that our members were giving all that they could give and the proper strategy wouldn’t be to ask them for more money, but to help them reduce their consumer debt and live within their means. My assumption was if we helped our members get out of debt, they would be more than willing to help the church get out of debt.
JET: Do you believe the African American church has unintentionally dropped the ball when it comes to being good stewards over our resources?
Pastor Soaries: The church has failed to develop a strategy that is relevant to the economic fight of our people. The church used to have a strategy that was relevant to the social status of our people. In many ways, the Black church was formed as a response to social justice, discrimination, etc. Not only did the church develop a response, but the Black church is a response to blatant racism in Christianity. Churches have been consistent with having a strategy when it comes to the needs of Black people. However, what’s happening in the post civil rights era, is that churches have not developed a comprehensive strategy to respond to the economic realities of the modern age.
JET: How did you go about launching a campaign to boycott PayDay loans?
Pastor Soaries: I believe it’s the responsibility of Black churches to be as relevant today, to the needs of our people. I believe the number one need has to do with economics and finance. I didn’t start this to start a movement. I wasn’t trying to be national. However, we discovered that as our members were creating goals to get out of debt, many were stuck in these PayDay loans, which [is against the law] in New Jersey. You can’t set up a PayDay Loan store in Jersey, but our people were borrowing money online. If you’re up at 3 a.m. and you get an email asking if you need $500 cash, and you’re up because you’re broke, the easy answer is yes. In Jersey, people were paying $1500-2000 back, just to pay off a $500 loan.
JET: How are you educating more Black clergy around the country to address this issue in their communities?
Pastor Soaries: My book, Dfree: Breaking Free From Financial Slavery, highlights this information and there are resources on our website. I’m also leading up to a national day of action in 20-25 cities. On the same day, we’re getting African American clergy to take physical action. It can be in the form of a boycott, pickett, petition, etc. The African American church has always responded to social injustices. Now is our time.
Nikki Carpenter. Writer. Social Media Manager. Community Activist. www.nikkiandthecity.com.