Thus says the Lord God: Enough, O princes of Israel! Put away violence and oppression, and do what is just and right. Cease your evictions of my people, says the Lord God. – Ezekiel 45:9
Yesterday, Occupy Our Homes DC paid a visit to Bank of America’s Home Loans Office in the historic African-American U Street neighborhood. We rallied on behalf of Michael Vanzant, pastor of Faith Temple Church, the first LGBT-affirming, African American church in the District of Columbia. For decades, Michael Vanzant has selflessly served others – opening his home to those in need, leading Bible studies, and shepherding a congregation that welcomes men and women who are often excluded from fellowship in other churches. Since the 1980s, he has been a pillar of his community.
During this time, Michael’s home has served as a center of community life. It has been a place of study, prayer and hospitality for the stranger. His home is a refuge for for those seeking a deeper life of faith. Unfortunately, that is not how Bank of America sees it.
When Bank of America looks at a home, they do not see a residence, a place of sanctuary and a center of community. They see a property – an engine of percentage-based profit – and if by evicting the current owner they can produce a few percentage points more per year, they will do it. The human element does not even enter into it.
When Michael Vanzant became disabled in 2008, he had trouble making his full mortgage payment and he approached Bank of America for a loan modification. They flatly denied him. For Bank of America, an uninterrupted profit stream was more important than a disabled pastor’s home, and the stability of his whole community.
Our job at Occupy Our Homes is to remind Bank of America that human lives are precious. We were not created to be bought, sold and thrown out of our homes because of circumstances beyond our control. Our mission is to help Bank of America see that there is a cost when they violate the basic dignity of individuals and families. When the banks intrude on the intimacy of our homes just to make a little more profit, there will be a response.
Bank of America is learning that when they attack our communities, our families and our faith leaders, we will no longer remain silent. Occupy Our Homes DC is part of a broad and growing coalition of grassroots organizations across the United States that is resisting the unrestrained greed and predatory lending practices of financial institutions like Bank of America. Together, we are insisting that the needs of our families, faith communities and neighborhoods take precedence over the endless thirst for bigger and bigger profits.
For me – and, I suspect, for members of Faith Temple Church – I am discovering that we stand in a rich biblical tradition of witness for economic justice. Those ancient Hebrew prophets – Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel and so many others – are coming alive with freshness and meaning.
We are re-discovering that God stands with the poor and needy. God denounces the unchecked greed of the wealthy, those who devour the homes of the defenseless. The prophetic tradition reveals that God is not satisfied with pretty words and pious ritual. The true and living God demands justice and equity, mercy for the poor and liberation for those who are in bondage.
I stand with pastor Michael Vanzant, and with the brothers and sisters at Faith Temple Church, as we explore what it means to stand in the tradition of the prophets, to call Bank of America to stop evicting our people. Together, we stand in faith that the God of Israel is not sleeping, but is at work in this dark night that can be felt.
Will you join with us in shining a light on Bank of America’s unjust lending practices? Will you stand in solidarity with Michael Vanzant as he fights to stay in his home and retire in dignity? How might God be calling you into the work of the prophets – naming and revealing the predations of the powerful, calling all of us into the Peaceable Kingdom where there is enough for everyone when we are willing to share? Can you feel the motion of righteous love within you?