A rising threat to free societies is de-banking, something that has become especially controversial among financial institutions for being utilized as a weapon in the culture war.
De-banking, or de-risking as it’s referred to within the industry, is defined as the closure of individual or organizational bank accounts by those banks who perceive that the account holders pose a financial, legal, regulatory, or reputational risk to the financial institution.
It sounds straightforward. However, a recent complaint filed in Tennessee shows that the activities of Christian ministries may be in the crosshairs of these financial institutions. Last May, Bank of America (BoA) notified Indigenous Advance Ministries (IAM), a Christian non-profit that works with impoverished Ugandans, that their accounts with the bank would be closed as its “risk profile no longer aligns with the bank’s risk tolerance.”
Information presented on the website of the missionary outlet shows a likely reason why.
The ministry provides basic life necessities to impoverished people in Uganda. However, the religious positions taken by the missionary group may be the issue that has created the rancor with the multinational investment bank. The group espouses Pro-Life positions and traditional Christian sexual morality that all sexual relations should be between a married man and woman.
On May 29, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed into law one of the most strict sodomy laws in Africa. The law drew widespread criticism from Western governments, including the U.S. State Department. The World Bank subsequently cut funding to Uganda because of the law.
In a statement, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that “the United States is deeply troubled by Uganda’s passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Act.” Blinken further stated that the passage of this legislation “is part of a broader degradation of human rights protections that put Ugandan citizens at risk and damages the country’s reputation as a destination for investment, development, tourism and refugees”.
The global liberal/left outrage created by the Ugandan law has overshadowed what Indigenous Advance Ministries is doing in the East African nation to alleviate the plight of the Christian community there. In the annual State Department report on International Religious Freedom, the entry for Uganda includes language highlighting efforts by government officials to close Evangelical churches in remote locations that failed to comply with registration requirements. There were also reported efforts to remove street preachers from the Ugandan capital Kampala.
Another issue of major concern in Uganda has failed to draw the level of scrutiny of the LGBT law. In the east of the country, a pattern of violence has emerged: recent converts to Christianity and evangelists who preached to them have been attacked by local Muslims. Additionally, Islamic militants crossed the border into Uganda and attacked a school early this summer, killing 41 students. Within days, 20 collaborators would be taken in custody by Ugandan security forces. Many Christians in Uganda are struggling, and BoA’s de-banking of Indigenous Advance Ministries makes efforts to alleviate the suffering more difficult.
The ministry filed a consumer complaint on August 22 against BoA asking Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti to investigate whether or not the bank illegally discriminated against the charity because of its religious views. At the time of publication there was no word if an investigation would be launched.
It is illegal for a public accommodation to refuse or deny the full enjoyment of goods, facilities, and accommodations based on age, color, creed, national origin, race, religion or sex according to the Tennessee Human Rights Commission. The law applies to any business, including banks, which provide services to the public.
De-banking actions are concerning because they involve financial institutions effectively regulating the beliefs, activities, and goals of a Christian ministry. In 2022, after Chase Bank closed an account for the National Coalition for Religious Freedom, it offered to reopen the account if the NGO provided the bank with a list of donors, a potential list of political candidates they planned on endorsing, and the criteria that they used to determine how these candidates would garner their support. This is a clear effort to hold a client organization (and an advocacy organization at that) to an ideological rather than fiscal standard.
Indigenous Advance Ministries has found a new bank to handle their transactions to support the people on the ground. But financial services are clearly being used as a weapon in the culture war. This case highlights problems that Christian churches and ministries operating in the United States will have to confront for the foreseeable future.