Usury is a sin in the eyes of the church and also in the teachings of the Holy Scripture. The Bible condemns usury clearly and unequivocally. Already in the first five books of the Old Testament, we find multiple verses prohibiting usury. “You shall not charge interest to your brother – interest on money or food or anything that is lent out at interest,” teaches the book of Deuteronomy (23:19). The prophet Еzekiel (18:11-13) names usury among the most detestable acts in the eyes of God: “He sheds blood, eats at the mountain shrines. He defiles his neighbour’s wife and oppresses the poor and needy. He commits robbery. He does not return what he took in pledge. He looks to the idols. He does detestable things. He lends at interest and takes a profit. Will such a man live? He will not!”
The condemnation of usury by the Church, therefore, is grounded in nothing less than God’s teachings. Specifically, that means that no Christian can lend at interest. No more, no less. The reason is as simple as the prohibition itself. The gain on the interest always comes at the expense of another. This fact alone would be insufficient for the condemnation of usury. We trade with others at a profit, but we find no objections to honest trade in the teachings of the Church or the Bible. As we read in the Book of Proverbs (11:1), “Dishonest scales are an abomination to the Lord, But a just weight is His delight.” Usury is condemned because people borrow because they are in want or because they have no other choice. They may borrow to acquire the bare necessities, meet their immediate needs in a disaster, or to help a family member. Sometimes, they will go into debt to expand their business or invest in a profitable project. Sinful ways can also land people in debt. They may be too lazy to work or be addicted to gambling, alcohol or drugs. Some run into debt out of necessity, others borrow recklessly. But Christ puts the lender and borrower on an equal footing. He commands us: “Give to him who asks you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you (Matthew 5:42). So someone who lends to another at interest is profiteering on that person’s hardships or recklessness.
The Gospel teaches us to help those in need. It even tells us that no Christian can turn away from someone who needs help. Lending to another is an act of mercy. It is our way to help the needy and benefit our souls. But profiting from the hardships of another is both immoral and sinful. The Church condemns such behaviour fully and wholeheartedly.
But does putting money on a bank deposit also constitute usury? We put money in a bank because we expect to receive interest, which the bank will pay from its profit. On the one hand, the interest does not come from our labours, but on the other, it is more a small extra income than a serious addition to our family budget – unless, of course, we have deposited a million or two.
Is putting money in a bank the same as lending to another? Evidently, not. We use banks to safe keep our savings. Banks use our money to earn profit from which to pay interest. We can also withdraw our savings from our deposit account when we so decide.
We use our savings much like the slaves from the parable of the talents (Matthew 25: 14 – 30). The Lord gave His slaves talents according to their ability to earn more talents. He condemned only one slave: he was so afraid to lose his talent that he hid it in the ground and did nothing with it. God expects us to make a return on our talents and mentions it in His parable. Why, then, should we consider doing the same with our savings as a sin? There is nothing wrong with owning a deposit. By putting our money in a bank, we do not benefit from anyone’s difficult situation or weakness.
Therefore, owning a deposit is not usury. The condemnation of usury by the Church and Bible does not apply to bank deposits in any way.
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds