For lent this year, some will inevitably give up the usual guilty pleasures like chocolate or meat. More than a few churches are taking a decidedly different approach.
About 25 churches have withdrawn $16 million from big banks such as Wells Fargo, Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase as part of a Lent-themed protest against the banks’ foreclosure actions, The New York Times reports, citing PICO National Network, a social justice coalition of churches that's leading the charge. Individual members and organizational partners have also taken out an additional $15 million.
The demonstration, which started on Ash Wednesday, aims to protest "the injustice that still dominates the banking industry in this country, unmasking corporate greed and dishonesty that is destroying our families," Ryan J. Bell, senior pastor Hollywood Seventh Day Adventist Church, wrote in a blog for The Huffington Post last month.
Though the church protest has its own Lent-themed flavor and is specifically targeting banks' foreclosure practices, it's part of a larger trend of customers moving their money from big banks. Occupy Wall Street, a social media push called Bank Transfer Day and outrage at Bank of America's ultimately failed plan to charge consumers a $5 fee to use their debit cards has fueled a large move of money away from big banks to credit unions and other alternative lenders. Membership at credit unions, where much of the money was moved, more than doubled between 2010 and 2011, according to the National Credit Union Administration.
But the fight against banks may be especially personal for churches. Banks foreclosed on churches in record numbers last year, according to Reuters. In one particularly bitter battle, OneUnited bank is currently threatening to foreclose on a historic Boston church, whose business it once courted, the Boston Globe reports.
Still, even churches that aren't in immediate danger of losing their buildings are reeling from the effects of a down economy. Black churches in the Atlanta metropolitan area are losing out on donations as their parishioners struggle to pay their own mortgages, rent, food and utilities, according to the Atlanta Voice.