The following first appeared in Square Two.
In 1873, Brigham Young established the Zion’s Savings Bank and Trust Company under the umbrella of the Church. In 1960, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints divested itself of its banking interests. Both decisions made sense for their time.
Times have changed once more. The thesis of this essay is that looking ahead, the Church may need once more to establish a banking system that can be utilized by its members. Unlike in 1873, the reason is not because there are no banking and financial institutions available: there are plenty in this day and age. No, the reason is because the signs of the times are such that it may come to pass in the not-too-distant future that orthodox Christians of all denominations may be discriminated against in the financial marketplace. There may come a day when someone who hews to the doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ (CoJC) may find that no bank will have them as a customer, and that no bank will offer them credit in any form, from a credit card to a mortgage. Other financial services, such as the use of PayPal and Venmo, may also be denied them. Now, while it is still possible to do so, and while the Church has immense financial assets allowing it to stabilize such a system, it is advisable to consider the issue.
It is not difficult to assert that a social credit system is coming into existence in the United States; it is not unlike that pioneered by China, but instead of being enforced by the state, it is being enforced by our largest and most powerful businesses and corporations. In China, one’s every move and purchase is tracked, and vast databases of facial recognition, financial transactions (including late bill-paying), geo-location information, online social media activity (such as how long you play a video game online, or whether you have spread “misinformation”), and behavior resulting in a brush with the law (even smoking in a non-smoking area) are collated each and every day to assign each citizen a “social credit score.” Your score then determines what privileges you have in society. If your score is quite low, you may be barred from purchasing a bus or train or airline ticket, for example, or from buying property or taking out a loan. Your social credit score will be shown to potential employers, and their own social credit scores may fall if they choose to hire you nonetheless. Your children may even be punished for your own low social credit score by being denied entry to certain schools.
However, you don’t need to have a totalitarian government to pull off a social credit score. All you need are the largest, richest corporate gatekeepers to police the boundaries of social credit—and that is what we see happening in the United States now. While we are all familiar with big technology corporations like Facebook and Twitter coming under fire for suspending social media accounts because they disfavor the views expressed by the account holder, the bigger cudgel is wielded by those further upstream—those who hold the levers of finance and commerce.
Consider a few visible harbingers of what is to come:
1) In the United Kingdom, in 2020, we have this troubling case:
Let’s call her Laura. In September , Laura was out in Leeds City Centre, buying some bits, when her card was declined. Funny, she thought. She definitely wasn’t in the red. But these things happen, so she left the shop, tinting crimson, and dashed towards the nearest cashpoint.
But her card wouldn’t work at the cashpoint either. She tried another one. With the same result.
Laura opened the banking app on her phone. It said only “error,” then automatically closed.
She finally abandoned her shopping and went into the nearest branch of Santander. There, the counter assistant seemed just as mystified. After about an hour of waiting, though, Laura was called through into the manager’s office.
“I’m going to read a statement out for you,” the manager said. “But I’m not going to be able to answer any of your questions after that.”
He read out:
“We have locked your bank account. We can’t give you any more information. We might be in touch in future with more information. But we don’t know when that might be.”
Could she have her money? No.
But how was she supposed to get home? After all, she lived eight miles outside of Leeds, and now she had no bus fare. Apparently, this was not the bank’s business.
This low-rent version of The Trial went on for another three weeks. Frequently, Laura would phone up Santander customer services. She’d be put on hold for ages. Then the phone would just go dead. She wrote to Santander to complain. They wrote back: they weren’t interested in her complaint and wouldn’t be taking it any further. Meanwhile, her rent, standing orders and Direct Debits stacked up, the late fees and penalties mushroomed around them, as life tumbled towards chaos.
Nearly a month on, she received a letter from Santander:
Under the terms and conditions … we can withdraw banking facilities at any time, and in line with company policy we don’t give further details.
The account had been closed. Without apparent irony, the balance had been appended as a cheque.
Of course, the Laura in this episode was a white identity advocate who opposes immigration to the UK. The same thing happened to another of her colleagues, with a different bank involved (HSBC). While we might not approve of Laura’s views, what happened to her and her colleague should alert all of us to the possibility that our financial life may be abruptly cancelled at any moment for our views, even our religious views.
2) In the US, JP Morgan abruptly cancelled the bank accounts of the leaders of the Proud Boys and other right-wing figures such as Laura Loomer: “Loomer styles herself as the ‘most banned woman in the world.’ In addition to Chase, she is banned from PayPal, from Venmo, from The Cash App, Airbnb and Instagram, from Lyft, Uber and UberEats, from the blogging monetisation platform WordAds and the t-shirt print-to-order site TeeSpring, from Twitter and Facebook — obviously — and from any one of a half dozen other platforms for digital congress . . . But many of those bans are mere cascade effects. TeeSpring works with PayPal. PayPal had already declared Loomer an unperson, and thus they informed TeeSpring that they would have to stop supplying her. Ditto Venmo and The Cash App.” Even more troubling, Loomer won the Republican primary to run for Congress in her home state, but even then could not reverse these summary judgments:
Clearly, Loomer’s campaign has been adversely affected by her various bans. At the time of her deletion, Loomer’s tweets were getting 150 million impressions a month. As she puts it: “They just assume that people can afford TV, and that they’re not going to get all their information through social media.” She might have wingnut tendencies, but Loomer is also half of the choice for voters in the 21st District.
This year, “in the interests of transparency and fairness,” Twitter has given every single candidate standing in the US election a blue-check verified account. So, when she won her primary, she applied to have her accounts reinstated.
No dice. She can’t get on Big Social, the broadcast networks are ignoring her, and her opponent, Lois Frankel, won’t even say her name, let alone debate her.
It’s hard not to see this as a direct threat to the US electoral system. But in addition, Loomer has been “de-personed” as a financial actor. She cannot engage with a sizeable section of our national economy to conduct even her personal business, such as paying her bills.
3) In the US, we also saw “in 2018, in response to activist pressure, MasterCard began choking off various far-Right and internet Right figures. That in turn meant their often lucrative Patreon accounts were cancelled: YouTube ‘Classical Liberal’ Carl Benjamin lost $12000 a month. Now, in a post-COVID world, where we’re often being told that cash is no longer acceptable, some are also being told that electronic banking is no longer for them. It’s an interesting crossroads.” The push for a fully cash-less economy, abetted by banks’ decisions to take down ATMs across the country, exacerbates and enables this type of financial de-personing. Gavin Haynes notes that efforts had been made in the UK to pass legislation stating that every person had the right to a bank account, regardless of their identity or views or wealth—but that the biggest five banks in the UK opposed the legislation, and it failed. This type of legislation is clearly something that the political parties of the United States should work for at this juncture in our nation’s history. But in the meantime, the Church should be thinking about the possible consequences for its members.
4) In the UK, even religious groups have been successfully targeted:
A British Christian ministry that offers therapy to individuals with unwanted same-sex attraction will sue a major bank that closed its account. Core Issues Trust, which is based in Northern Ireland, plans to file legal action against Barclays Bank for its decision back in July to close the ministry’s account. Michael Phelps of the British legal group Christian Concern told the Financial Mail in comments published Saturday that he believes the bank discriminated against Core Issues Trust.
“This is about the belief [Core Issues Trust] holds concerning sexual orientation — that it is not necessarily innate or that you are born with it, that it can change over time, and that change can in part be affected by therapy that you undertake,” stated Phelps. “Barclays is not being asked to propagate a message it disagrees with, but to provide a bank account. It is acting as a moral arbiter of what views in society are acceptable and not acceptable.”
For its part, Barclays defended its decision in a short statement to the Financial Mail, arguing that it had a right to end their business with the nonprofit ministry. “Our terms and conditions — like other banks — allow us to end a relationship with any customer, provided we give two months’ notice,” stated the bank.
5) In the US in 2020, author Abigail Schrier, author of the best-selling book Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters, discovered that Amazon refuses to allow the book’s publisher to purchase ads promoting the book. The idea that corporations would never refuse customers buying its products, including advertising, is clearly wrong. Schrier comments eloquently:
This is what censorship looks like in 21st-century America. It isn’t the government sending police to your home. It’s Silicon Valley oligopolists implementing blackouts and appeasing social-justice mobs, while sending disfavored ideas down memory holes. And the forces of censorship are winning. Not only because their efforts to censor leave almost no trace. They are winning because, thus far, most Americans have been content to surrender virtually every liberty in exchange for the luxury of having products delivered to their door. Most would happily submit to the rule of Big Tech, so long as their Netflix isn’t disrupted.
6) In the US, you cannot even donate to causes that are deemed “uncivilized.” In 2020, conservative commentator Candace Owens set up a GoFundMe drive for an Alabama café owner who had written a text message in which he called George Floyd a “thug.” The text was made public, and people began to boycott the café, even though the staff and the other owners of the café made it clear they did not agree with the individual who texted his personal opinion. Owens had raised over $200,000 in donations when GoFundMe pulled the plug: “GoFundMe removed the campaign citing a violation of their terms of service, based on a screenshot Owens posted online. It specifically referenced user content the company deemed ‘to be in support of hate, violence, harassment, bullying, discrimination, terrorism or intolerance of any kind.’”
And, of course, don’t even think of trying to contribute through GoFundMe for Kyle Rittenhouse’s legal fees: “GoFundMe confirmed Thursday it removed fundraisers created on its site in support of Kyle Rittenhouse, a teen arrested for murder following a deadly shooting in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The popular crowdfunding company told The Washington Times it pulled fundraisers made for the 17-year-old murder suspect and refunded all donations contributed to those campaigns. GoFundMe said the campaigns were taken down for violating its terms of service but did not specify further. Its terms prohibit “activity that GoFundMe may deem in its sole discretion to be unacceptable.”
In sum, an individual’s right to conduct financial business in the marketplace is now under clear attack. While most of us would not espouse the views of, say, a Laura Loomer, that is not the point. There should be a basic human right to have a bank account and conduct business. Not even former felons can be denied bank accounts (unless they have written bad checks or engaged in money laundering). Up to this point in time, an individual had to be officially designated a terrorist for such rights to be taken away. No longer; now you merely have to be designated a “hate group” or “member of a hate group” by an entity such as the Southern Poverty Law Center in order for there to be justification for your financial de-personing. I remember when the Southern Poverty Law Center was a reputable institution; those days are gone. When Christian-based advocacy groups such as the Center for Family and Human Rights can be designated a “hate group,” we’ve moved beyond the pale into censorship. But organizations like the SPLC offer “cover” for big corporations to persecute those who do not conform to whatever thinking is currently considered acceptable. Orthodox Christian beliefs are increasingly deemed “unacceptable.” Persecution is coming.
There is plenty for concerned individuals to do. Suggest your national legislators implement a “human right to a bank account” law, as well as a law mandating that cash remain legal tender everywhere in the country, making illegal any attempts to refuse cash payment. Individuals with the means to do so should seek to create or own businesses that provide financial services to others, and associated services such as cloud servers. State governments should also get involved, promulgating laws that prohibit financial credit scores from being turned into “social credit” scores which would justify denial of credit or mortgages based on political viewpoints or religious beliefs.
Even these measures may only delay the persecution that is coming. I feel strongly the Church must consider that one day their members will be financially de-platformed, without access to bank accounts, credit cards and other forms of credit, such as loans and mortgages. It may become impossible to put food on the table and a roof over the heads of one’s family as a result—this amounts to an almost existential threat for those who obey the commandments of the Lord. Might it be possible to resurrect the concept of a financial infrastructure for the Kingdom? After all, that infrastructure, in a sense, already exists with the Church’s online tithing and donation system. Consider how intertwined banking and tithing were in the early days of Deseret:
Until 1869, the tithing houses were the only general stores in most Utah communities. Each kept an elaborate bookkeeping system, with debits and credits for each customer; the accounts were “settled,” but not necessarily balanced, at the end of each year. Thus, individuals and village shops and industries could “save” by accumulating credits and “borrow” by withdrawing commodities in excess of their accumulated credits. The tithing offices, particularly the General Tithing Office in Salt Lake City, issued a kind of currency called “tithing scrip,” which facilitated accurate bookkeeping and generally circulated throughout the territory. Tithing resources were used in supporting laborers engaged in making roads, constructing dams, building schoolhouses, and erecting telegraph lines.
While modern regulations will require modern adaptation, the Church has the financial heft to become the last sanctuary of a financially dispossessed membership in future days. I would not be surprised to learn that this is already a topic of discussion among our general authorities.
Of course, there are other infrastructural components that may also be necessary for Christians, including Latter-day Saints, to have in place against the tide of persecution to come. Certainly an alternative K-12 educational system is part of that infrastructure. We note with gratitude that BYU has launched BYU High School, where students can enroll, take classes online, and receive an accredited high school diploma. This is a great step forward, and we imagine and hope that at some point there will be a K-8 version of this important achievement. The issue of accreditation surely will become more thorny over time; there is already talk of establishing federal guidelines for state accrediting agencies to deny accreditation to what is, effectively, Christian schooling: “The Human Rights Campaign demands the Biden administration to ensure that ‘non-discrimination policies and science-based curriculum are not undermined by religious exemption to accreditation standards.’” Unless a federal law passes, states will still be able to set their own standards, and we imagine that at least Utah will stand firm, but it’s an ill wind that is blowing. Licensure may be denied those who obtain their professional credentials from “non-accredited” educational institutions. We trust the Church’s lawyers are already developing a strategy to counter such mischief, for otherwise many members of the Church may not be able to obtain the licenses needed to practice their professions.
These things we know will be needed. However, we will surely be blindsided in the future by newer forms of persecution we may not have anticipated. Will Amazon vet its vendors for “hateful beliefs,” even if they are only selling face cream? Will online server space and social media accounts be denied those whose message is deemed “bigoted,” such as the need for obedience to God’s laws? Will even health insurance be subject somehow to social credit scoring? The developing social credit system to be policed by our largest corporations will surely be used against recalcitrant persons and entities, and the Church of Jesus Christ and its faithful members cannot but be seen as such. We hope the Church has established a committee to “red team” what could be done by these powerful entities to persecute its membership through such a social credit system, and that the Church will act on that committee’s recommendations.
Now, before persecution becomes severe, is the time for the Church to prepare to gather its chicks beneath its wings before the wolves come for them.