As an ELCA Lutheran pastor, I don’t normally find myself protesting iconic symbols of our nation, but recently found myself on the stairs of the Department of Justice in Washington D.C., much less being led away in handcuffs in solidarity with the protesters. But there I was on May 20, standing with 500 evicted homeowners and their supporters on the steps of the Justice Department to protest the lack of justice in the foreclosure crisis.
Before I really understood what the foreclosure crisis was all about — and before I had had a chance to meet homeowners who had been foreclosed on and evicted through little or no fault of their own — I was like many Americans. As a decent steward of my own finances, I had told myself that anyone in trouble just bought more house than they could afford. They should have been more careful or more disciplined. Just get a better job, I thought.
But as I began to listen, really listen, I heard that an extraordinary number of people experiencing foreclosure were people swamped with medical bills. Others had lost their jobs in the recession. The ruined economy cost them their livelihood. One had never missed a payment, but the note was called in when the value of the home collapsed. The home was seized.
Another pattern jumped out at me; in the process of losing their homes, many people were told lies at some point about what banks were up to with regard to their mortgage. “Dual tracking” is the technical name for it. It is when banks say one thing in customer service while at the same time pursuing another path in their legal department to evict.
Making matters worse is the fact that not one banker of a large national bank has been jailed for ruining the economy and the housing market through fraud and deception. For me, as a Christian, this violates the law of love, the Commandments, the example of Jesus and the basic decency of the golden rule. When fraud upon the people is ignored, the people are at the mercy of whatever the banks care to do to them.
So while the jolt of a taser knocking me backwards over a concrete planter and the sharp squeeze of cuffs while being hauled toward Precinct One in Washington was not something I had pictured for that day, I was proud to face arrest with 26 other brave homeowners.
It has never been a goal in my life to be locked up, but my sense of violation of everything decent led me to welcome it if it would expose the emptiness of our economic policies and the people promulgating them. Until Attorney General Eric Holder and our justice system repent and begin enforcing the law in more than token gestures, I will stand with homeowners. They are a passionate and diverse bunch who are not perfect, but whose most serious flaw is believing that we live in a nation of laws and of people.
It’s time that our banking and lending system repents and starts treating people with dignity and respect, helping them to find what they need instead of taking advantage of the weakest among us. The too-big-to-fail banks are having their way with the most vulnerable homeowners, all to record profits.
In America, this economic violence shouldn’t be happening. I pray, as we all should pray, that those who have hurt so many millions of families find their souls and do the right thing.
The Rev. Matthew Bersagel is senior pastor at Crown of Glory Lutheran Church in Chaska.
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