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Sunday 31st August

Wednesday's reading and reflection group (2pm in the Hall) discusses lots of questions that emerge from the Bible passages coming up the following Sunday. I was particularly struck by the reference to not charging interest, in today's psalm.

Did you know that lending without interest is a strongly established practice within Islam the world over? Many banks and law firms now have special divisions for managing Islamic finance. The abhorrence of charging interest has its roots in ancient scripture, and became a central tenet in the Quran (written around the mid-7th century).

The literary caricature of the Jewish money lender has distorted our ideas of Jewish financial practice (one need only think of The Merchant of Venice or Oliver Twist). Curiously, it was the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages which forbade lending with interest, causing Christians across Europe to borrow from Jews, since they couldn't borrow from each other. The prohibition of charging interest on loans between Israelites is discussed in Exodus 22, Deuteronomy 23 and Leviticus 25 (foreigners are exempt).

Today, businesses charging extortionate interest rates on unsecured loans run a ruinous racket, as those who can least afford it are duped into making terrible financial decisions. Smooth-talking sales agents go door-to-door in struggling areas of our cities, signing people up with bribes and empty promises, especially as Christmas approaches. In the UK, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said he wants to put pay-day lenders (as they're known there) out of business, and the Church has encouraged credit unions to operate out of churches, to help people regain control of their finances. They even launched a special initiative called To Your Credit (makes very interesting reading at www.toyourcredit.org.uk).

There are so many ways our financial system is seriously messed-up. How might we (God's Church) present alternatives to the world's way of doing things?

Ellen