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National Debt Is New Hot Issue for Evangelicals

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By DANIEL BURKE
c. 2011 Religion News Service
WASHINGTON (RNS) Many economists warn that the government’s huge national debt is a looming threat to long-term prosperity. But is it also immoral?
According to a growing number of conservative Christians, the answer is a resounding “Yes.”
As Washington debates President Obama’s proposed 2012 budget, the immorality of the deficit has become the hot topic on right-leaning Christian blogs, radio programs and political mailings.
The concern is not only that the estimated $14.13 trillion debt could cripple the economy, some conservative Christian leaders say, but also that borrowing so much money violates important biblical tenets.
And while religious conservatives have long mapped personal piety onto national politics, some of the moral arguments against excessive borrowing are getting a new hearing among Christians already anxious about the economy.
“America’s growing debt is a not just a financial issue, it’s a spiritual one,” said Jerry Newcombe, host of The Coral Ridge Hour, a television program broadcast by Coral Ridge Ministries. “The Bible is very clear about the moral dangers of debt.”
The Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based evangelical ministry dedicated a segment of its television show earlier this month to the “monstrous debt burden,” and has been sounding the alarm to its estimated 500,000 devotees through its radio programs, print publications and website.
Likewise, the Washington-based Family Research Council has delivered “action alerts” about the debt to its network of 40,000 pastors and myriad state-based advocacy groups. The Christian Coalition, Concerned Women for America, and the Faith and Freedom Coalition, a new group led by GOP strategist Ralph Reed, are also warning members with increasing intensity that the deficit is reaching immoral proportions.
Reed said concern about the debt is not new, but has risen to the top of some Christians’ agenda partly because of the rising tally and partly because the Tea Party and Fox commentator Glenn Beck have focused so much attention on the issue.
“You can’t give the Tea Party enough credit in terms of raising the consciousness about this issue,” Reed said. For his part, Beck often cites on his television and radio programs “The Five Thousand Year Leap,” a book that argues that the national debt imperils America’s freedom.
John C. Green, an expert on religion and politics from the University of Akron in Ohio, said several factors, in addition to Beck and the Tea Party, have fueled interest in the deficit.
First, the national debt is a good mobilizing issue for the Republican coalition, able to unite social conservatives and fiscal hawks, whose alliance has sometimes been strained. Secondly, it allows religious leaders to ride the Tea Party wave of anger against government spending. And lastly, it broadens the conservative Christian agenda beyond such culture war battles as abortion and gay marriage.
In its segment on the debt, Coral Ridge, whose late founder, the Rev. D. James Kennedy, was known for blending conservative Christianity and politics, quoted the Bible to denounce the debt.
“Proverbs 13:22 says a `good man leaves an inheritance for his children’s children,”‘ historian and author William Federer said on the program. “Right now, we’re not leaving a very good inheritance.”
Other budget-conscious Christians have cited passages from Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy, in which God tells Israel that “you will lend to many nations but will borrow from none.”
Ken Blackwell, who is leading a balanced-budget campaign for the Family Research Council, cited the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “fierce urgency of now” in a recent column advocating against the debt.
Blackwell acknowledged in an interview that King often spoke in favor of government-funded programs, especially to fight poverty. “But Dr. King did not say we should spend beyond our means, or steal our children’s future,” Blackwell said.
Lewis Baldwin, a professor of religious studies at Vanderbilt University who is editing a book about the political use — and misuse — of King’s words and legacy, sharply disagreed with Blackwell.
“Dr. King felt the government should spend billions to deal with poverty and economic injustice in this country,” Baldwin said. “So I don’t get it when conservatives use him to argue in favor of decreasing government spending.”
And while many evangelicals agree that the debt is a huge problem, some see partisan politics behind the recent surge in interest among conservatives.
“I wish the Family Research Council and Coral Ridge Ministries would have recognized the debt as a moral issue before they supported two unnecessary and immoral wars and endless corporate subsidies for years,” said the Rev. Jim Wallis, head of the Washington-based group Sojourners.
David Gushee, an evangelical scholar and political centrist, agreed, saying many conservative Christians held their tongues when the debt nearly doubled under President George W. Bush because of tax breaks for wealthy Americans and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“It’s legitimate to be concerned about leaving our children and grandchildren a mountain of debt,” he said. “But it seems that in American politics, every seemingly pure moral claim is mixed with hypocrisy.”



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Comments read comments(17)
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Gwyddion9

posted February 16, 2011 at 5:32 pm


So, exactly were these same people when Bush was creating the massive debt? It was ok then but not now. Pretty sad.



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nnmns

posted February 16, 2011 at 6:02 pm


Exactly so, Gwddion (and Jim Wallis). These conservatives said nothing when George Bush and his Republican buddies conducted an unbudgeted war, not to mention the tax breaks mainly for the wealthy that, together, broke the bank. And of course it’s the common people who are going to suffer for all the deleted programs and jobs.
Conservatives, who want government to fail and don’t care who it hurts, are in hog heaven. But ordinary people are going to suffer a ton because of all these cutbacks.
And no-one has the courage to point out the obvious, it’s time to raise taxes some. If you’re living beyond your means and can cut back non-essentials, do so. But if you can bring in more money that lets you keep the lights on and the fire burning it’s your duty to do so.



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Heretic_for_Christ

posted February 16, 2011 at 10:08 pm


So the evangelicals are concerned about the debt? Got it. Here’s the answer, brethren! It will reduce the debt substantially, free you from any kind of implied obligation to government, and let you preach to your flock as to which candidates God wants elected:
Demand an end to church exemption from taxation. Pay your taxes like any other organization. Pay your taxes just like Jesus told you to do.



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cknuck

posted February 16, 2011 at 10:23 pm


G quote, “So, exactly were these same people when Bush was creating the massive debt? It was ok then but not now. Pretty sad.”
Republicans and democrats together, the America people, have always used more than their fair share of resources. The blame game is senseless and unproductive. So where were the same people when Bush was creating debt? The same place where they are as Obama creates debt.
H4C the church is a non-profit like many other non-profits and the good they do is far more than you’ve ever contributed to society, your bitter jealousy is not only unholy but borne out of evil contempt.



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nnmns

posted February 17, 2011 at 9:56 am


You are right about us using too many resources! And we are greedy and tend to put things off to tomorrow. Especially dealing with global warming!
But when these Evangelicals were silent while GWB and the Republicans killed the surplus and ran up immense debt, but quickly start complaining about it when Democrats got in power (and were trying to jump start the economy to save a lot of jobs, which they did!) is rank hypocrisy and in fact politicking from the pulpit.
Now I know nothing about the Evangelical machine so maybe someone can help me understand how so many of these guys start talking about the same thing, something they’d probably never talked about before, at once.
Do they all sit and listen to Rush or Fox Noise and take their religious notes from there? Or do they get marching orders (suggestions?) from some common radical source.



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jestrfyl

posted February 17, 2011 at 10:22 am


WAR – huuu – God God! – What is it good for? – Absolutely nuthin! – Say it again!!
From that song of so long ago (40 years?) we have a lot to learn. The budget so heartily touted by conservatives and evanglicals as “balanced” does not include the costs of war. Even Biblical writers knew about calculating the costs of war before setting out. We seem to prefer turning a blind eye to that, but will stare until we are bloodshot and weaping at the ways we help our own people. Anytime there is a choice between the welfare of the people or war with someone else, a nation thrives when it chooses to care for the people within its own borders. The selective care proposed by many of the conservatives group is a dangerous and explosive route. We need to take seriously the line “of the people, by the people, and for the people” – and realize there is our priority, not refunding gazillionaire financial rogues and manipulative media thieves.



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Heretic_for_Christ

posted February 17, 2011 at 10:27 am


cknuck,
Churches that truly serve social needs and are truly non-profit would pay only some token amount, just like secular non-profit organizations. And churches sitting on vast wealth (including their land-holdings) and whose charitable work accounts for a small fraction of the income they receive would pay like any other profit-making enterprise.
It is the fact that churches’ exemption is essentially automatic, BECAUSE they are churches, that I find objectionable. The constitutionality of their tax-exempt status can be debated.



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Henrietta22

posted February 17, 2011 at 11:54 am


The quote from Proverbs was meant for a man’s immediate family, not a country. I don’t think the Family Research Council and the ones with them are included in their ideas with other Evangelical groups as they once were, so a lot of Evangelical Churches may not agree with this line of thinking. You have to spend money in order to make money, that’s a given. And since we are talking about things that are moral in our country are you all aware of what the GOP Gov. in Wisconsin, the one who ran on promising to work across lines of partisanship and ideology to creating jobs, but has instead, chosen to play political games with the working people of Wisconsin? Namely get rid of 50 yrs. of collective bargining in one felt swoop bill that is going to the Senate now? It isn’t even on CNN or anything else but Huffington Post. Schools are closed, probably the University in question, people are coming in from all over Wisconsin protesting!! This is our country and something this big you wouldn’t know if you hadn’t watched MSN last night and visited their online news in Wisconsin. Disgusting.



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cmaglaughlin

posted February 17, 2011 at 12:15 pm


“I wish the Family Research Council and Coral Ridge Ministries would have recognized the debt as a moral issue before they supported two unnecessary and immoral wars and endless corporate subsidies for years,” said the Rev. Jim Wallis, head of the Washington-based group Sojourners.
Jim Wallis is a blowhard. Period. He and Gore are the cause of global warming. He has NO evidence that Coral Ridge Ministries supported these wars. However, I do that they did not! I was a member there for 10 wonderful years and Dr. Kennedy in no way was happy with our involvement overseas or Bush’s and the vast Democratically controlled Congress mad spending, for that matter. Don’t forget the Democrats who leaped for joy to jack up the economy to stay in office during Vietnam days. Not to mention the some 60,000 young Americans killed to do so. Now there’s REAL hypocrisy. When a liberal grows a brain please notify all of us! And if you’re a liberal, how are you reading this in the first place? Miracles never cease. Anal retention, I suppose.



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nnmns

posted February 17, 2011 at 1:22 pm


Wow cmag there’s a condensation of hatred like we don’t see here often! Having a bad day?



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cmaglaughlin

posted February 17, 2011 at 1:37 pm


@Jestrfyl
War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things: the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks nothing worth a war, is worse. . . . A man who has nothing which he is willing to fight for, nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself. —John Stuart Mill



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cmaglaughlin

posted February 17, 2011 at 1:45 pm


@nnmns
Yeah, I got tired of liberals and atheists dropping their “do-do” all over the Truth. Next time I’ll put your collar on and take you for your morning walk.



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nnmns

posted February 17, 2011 at 4:23 pm


A man who has nothing which he is willing to fight for, nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.

I guess you were talking about George W Bush and his administration, a notorious gaggle of chicken hawks.
But conservatives often talk a lot bigger than they are. And hate way above their weight.
Is your problem possibly that the law in the US is finally working its way up the rotten ladder of the Roman Catholic College of Molester Protectors. Don’t worry it will be years before they get up to the Pope.



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Tom

posted February 17, 2011 at 5:50 pm


Quoting the bible as a means of addressing the debt problem is utterly absurd. Passages relating to individual morality distort the problems of modern societies and economies. They also intentionally or unintentionally misrepresent the historical fact that our government and European governments as well have relied on deficit spending (following Keynes) to balance the pendulum-swing of the business cycle.
Endurding debt for a while is not the end of the world.



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nnmns

posted February 17, 2011 at 7:55 pm


Only if you hate President Obama. And should he leave office next election I predict the fear and claims of immorality from debts would vanish as though they never happened.



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cknuck

posted February 18, 2011 at 12:26 am


All of the talkative liberal who are blaming Bush for senseless wars that drain the economy are blind to the senseless war Obama is guilty of are blinded with self righteousness as usual. H4C you are claiming secular nonprofits pay taxes while churches don’t. Blind bias I work with both and I object to your misinformation.



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nnmns

posted February 18, 2011 at 7:04 pm


I’m not blind to Afghanistan. I think it’s a lost cause and we should get out. But at least it’s budgeted and he inherited it. He does seem to be getting us out of Iraq.
But we should disengage from our wars and save several hundred billion dollars a year and keep the lights on and the furnace running at home.



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