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Forgiveness of debt is fundamentally Christian
Dark Brandon, a.k.a Joe Biden, continued his earnest effort to convince voters to back the Democratic ticket this fall last week when he announced his plan for student loan forgiveness. Earners of less than $125,000 get $10,000 forgiven, people who went to college on Pell Grants get $20,000, and repayment of undergraduate loans is capped at five percent of monthly income. Additionally, student loans are paused until December 31, 2022. For many, this is a welcome gift, for others, it may not be enough, but for some Christians, fueled by the resentment of the Republican Party, this act of forgiveness is actually a problem.
I can understand why Republicans, who are panicking about winning Congress this fall, would spread their vitriol to their base. I can understand why, after backing a woefully unpopular decision to strip women (and potentially many other vulnerable minorities) of their reproductive rights, they’d want to spread their bitterness all over the country. Republicans have called it unfair to Americans who have paid their debt. Republicans tell us it is unfair to working Americans to pay for well-to-do Americans’ debt, but this is patently false because we know that the people eligible for Biden’s loan forgiveness are young and Black, disproportionately. Republican rage isn’t for working Americans, rather, it is for their own political reasoning. What’s frustrating is that Republicans are accusing Democrats of “buying votes,” by merely acting in voters’ interests!
Expressing their clear commitment to Republican politics, many white Evangelical Christians are expressing their outrage at this proposal. It is maddening to see how individuals who claim they are committed to a faith and a savior who frees us of debt are incensed that the government should do the same thing. In my book, if it is good for Christians to do, why wouldn’t we want other acts to act in the same way?
Some of you may have policy objections to Joe Biden’s law, and while I do think they are ill-founded, that is not the purpose of my argument today. Some of you may have arguments about the role of government and what it should do, as well. But all of those are extraneous to the fundamental point that debt forgiveness is fundamental to Christianity and it is from that posture that we should all begin. Debt is one way that oppressed people remain oppressed, a way that subjugated people remain subjugated, and honestly, a way that enslaved people remain in slavery. Freeing people of debt means liberating them, and undergraduates, who simply did what so many were told to do—that is, go to college after high school graduation—should have a chance at liberation too.
Freeing debt is manifestly biblical. Not only is it the dominant analogy for the atonement of Jesus, it is a command all over the Bible. Usury, in general, is condemned in the Bible. You can see this clearly in Exodus 22:25-27, where we are forbidden from lending as a creditor, and should “not exact interest from them.” Ezekiel 8:8 also forbids charging interest, saying that a righteous person “does not take advance or accrued interest.” In Luke 6:, Jesus calls us to lend and expect nothing in return. It’s clear, from a biblical perspective, that charging interest for loans is wrong and sinful.
So, every Christian, whether they support Biden’s action or not, should name that the government or a financial institution charging interest is a misdeed. Maybe you think the government is allowed to sin, or something, but we need to name that the action itself is a sin. More than that, though, it’s important for us to also name that forgiveness of debts is fundamental to our faith and ought to be celebrated. When we have such apparent convictions as believers and they fail to translate into our everyday lives, our beliefs are meaningless. Our belief is abstract if we believe usury is a sin and forgiveness is a virtue if we criticize the government when they act in the same way.
A few days ago on social media, I named that charging interest was a sin. A colleague from the denomination which I used to serve wondered if interest was indeed a sin. Many friends of mine made it clear it was. And he eventually went on to say we should be gentle with describing what sin is or isn’t. I don’t think we should be, actually; we should make our beliefs clear, instead of baiting-and-switching people (this, of course, applies especially to those Christians who condemn LGBTQIA people but don’t make that clear – but that’s a subject of another blogpost, or column, as it were). The key here is not that we don’t name what is right and wrong, but rather, that we pardon and forgive sins, or debts, freely, as Jesus instructed us. It is in precisely this forgiveness that we can also conclude that the forgiveness of debt everywhere is a good thing. And if our economics or politics leads us to a different conclusion, we should wonder how much our Lord informs us.