2022-09-22
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When President Biden followed through with his promise to cancel $10,000 to $20,000 per borrower in student loan debt for qualified households, the Christian response was to refer to biblical references from the Old Testament from concepts like jubilee to the stories of Jesus in the New Testament.

Shortly after the announcement, queries for debt-related topics increased 20 times above average on BibleGateway.com. Four verses for and against loan forgiveness surged to the top of the search. The first verse was Exodus 22:25, which reads, “If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not treat it like a business deal; charge no interest.” The following verse was Deuteronomy 23:19, which reads, “Do not charge a fellow Israelite interest, whether on money or food or anything else that may earn interest.” The third verse was Psalm 37:21, which states, “The wicked borrow and do not repay, but the righteous give generously.” Finally, the fourth highest searched verse was Ecclesiastes 5:5, which reads, “It is better not to make a vow than to make one and not fulfill it.”

Hunts for phrases and keywords like “paying debt,” “charging interest,” “forgiveness of debt,” “debt paid in full,” “usury,” “and “paying your debts” increased. Three Christian thinkers shared their thoughts on scriptural principles and how they inform our positions on government debt forgiveness.

Love as Jesus loves us.

Matt Tebe, an Anglican priest from Indianapolis and cofounder of Gravity Leadership, believes that the existence of Christians is based on debt forgiveness. Christ loved us so much that He died for our sins and wanted us to love each other similarly. To love as Jesus does is to share in the interchange of God’s debt-canceling kingdom economy.

Jesus tells us to pray that our debts are forgiven as we forgive people indebted to us in Luke 11:4 and Matthew 6:12, referring to what we owe each other socially and economically. Our secular, modern vision often separates the material from the spiritual. Still, the economic and social elements in God’s kingdom are spiritual.

How would it look to take God’s condemnation of predatory lending and usury that creates debt seriously? To give back ancestral land and release people from debt as participating in God’s kingdom? The Bible attributes more moral depravity to the rich who unjustly take from the poor, hoarding riches, than to the poor who have debt, specifically in Mark 12:40 and Luke 6:24-26. As Christians, we should commit to forgiving debt that benefits the impoverished instead of the wealthy, loving our neighbor as Jesus loves us.

Comparing student loan forgiveness to jubilee.

Paul Matzko, a Research Fellow at the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C., believes that some will agree with President Biden’s decision and compare it to the biblical concept of jubilee. This celebration happened every 50 years and was a year of releasing people from their debts in ancient Israel. However, it’s debatable whether an ordinance that focused on land ownership within Israel to stop residents from amassing wealth, power, or land should be applied in modern America.

It’s even more questionable if a biblical concept of sabbath and jubilee that supplied the dispossessed and poor is an applicable comparison to student loan debt forgiveness, which redistributes wealth from non-college-educated taxpayers to privileged college-educated workers with higher earning potential. Matzko says we should challenge the desire among Christian activists to sacralize our policy beliefs. There’s no particular Bible position on student loan debt forgiveness, but we shouldn’t look for our answers in special revelations.

Is student loan forgiveness fair?

Joshua Wu, editorial director of the Asian American Christian Collaborative, believes that economic justice and forgiveness are biblical ideas. Referencing the parable of the unmerciful servant in Matthew 18, there is some debate among Christians as to whether student loan debt forgiveness is the best way to express these ideas.

With most economists expecting this policy to increase inflationary pressures, is the cost of this relief for some worth how it will affect others? Would the expected $300 million cost be better spent on other issues, like expanding the child tax credit to reduce childhood poverty? The complexity of public policy means it’s challenging to define biblical policies. Christians should avoid pursuing biblical proof texts to justify their policy likings. Instead, we should talk with others about our biblical convictions, look into cost-benefit analysis, and weigh the consequences as we hope for the common good and human flourishing.

Obedience to God’s law meant guaranteeing that institutions helped the poor instead of oppressing them because God is always the poor’s protector, defender, and liberator. This concept has numerous effects when it comes to debt. For example, the Hebrew Scriptures strongly ban taking interest on a loan. This would have been one of the most obvious ways to oppress the poor in an agrarian society. Farmers would look for loans in an agricultural community when their crops were failing and other mishaps that could mean the distinction between life and death. The ban on usury was prolonged into Christian times and is synonymous with unreasonably high-interest rates.

President Biden’s decision to forgive student loan debt has received criticism from two separate sides, both based on fairness. Some say that this action favors people who attended college over two-thirds of adults who didn’t, which has some validity. The second argument is that this decision is unfair to people who have already paid their debts. This argument says that you should pay what you owe. 
On the concept of whether student loan debt forgiveness is biblical, the answer is yes. In the Bible, debt weighed down the poor, who needed relief more than others. The same could be said for those struggling to repay their student loans. Jesus wouldn’t want His children to be weighed down by debt, especially if it’s holding them back from long-term goals. Some would argue that forgiving student loan debt is unfair, but debt relief is a way to restore the universal destination of good among God’s children. 
 
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