Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Is Right—the Bible Denounces High Interest Rates

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) speaks during a rally at Howard University in Washington, D.C., on May 13. Alex Wong/Getty Images

New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders have leaned heavily on the biblical origins of their Stop Loan Sharks Act. The Bible has a lot to say about money-lending with high levels of interest and usury.

After launching the sweeping policy, which caps interest rates on credit cards and bans payday loans as well as reforming other sectors of the financial services industry, Ocasio-Cortez tweeted an invitation to the religious right to support the bill on the grounds of faith.

"Usury - aka high interest - happens to be explicitly denounced in the Bible (& in many other religions). Looking forward to having the religious right uphold their principles + sign onto my bill," the freshman congresswoman tweeted along with an angel emoji, adding a less conciliatory parting shot: "Unless of course they're only invoking religion to punish women + queer people."

In a live stream introducing the initiative with Ocasio-Cortez, Sanders, one of 24 candidates in the running for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, invoked the position of the three Abrahamic faiths on lending with exorbitant levels interest, also using the historic term of "usury" to referer to the practice.

"Alexandria, I suspect you know this, but every major religion on earth—Christianity, Judaism, Islam—has condemned usury," Sanders said in the live stream last week. "Because it really is disgusting. I really don't know a better word. If somebody is desperate and you say 'you are desperate, you need money to feed your family, well, I am going to lend you money, but it is going to be at an outrageously high interest rate.' That is what Wall Street has done," Sanders claimed.

In the Jewish Torah and the Christian New and Old Testaments there are scores of references to money-lending. While in many instances the Bible encourages lending, it is unequivocal in its condemnation of usury or lending for credit to the poor and exorbitant lending. The practice is prominently discussed in Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy.

Islam is stricter and does not draw a line between any kind of lending with interest and usury. Both are condemned in the religion. The prohibition of usury in the Muslim faith has led to the rise of Islamic banks and finance, whereby transactions have to comply with Shariah, the legal framework proposed in Islam. According to CNBC, the capital held by Islamic banks grew from $200 billion in 2000 to nearly $3 trillion in 2016.

In addition to setting an interest cap of 15 percent and putting an end to payday loans, Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez also want to allow post offices to provide banking services. The pair argued that a lack of access to financial services in poor urban areas and remote rural places has been to the detriment of such communities, limiting the access to capital and exacerbating the need for payday loans.