Paul L. Caron

Sunday, September 4, 2022

French: The Christian Case Against Biden’s Student Loan Debt Forgiveness Plan

David French (The Dispatch), Is There a Christian Case for Biden’s Debt Relief Plan?:

Biden’s [student loan debt forgiveness] plan is not a legislative proposal. He’s not asking Congress to enact this reform. He’s initiating it through the executive branch only, asserting that the so-called HEROES Act, passed after the 9/11 attacks, grants him the authority to forgive student debt “in connection with a war or other military operation or national emergency.”

The reaction was intense, even for our polarized times, and part of that intensity was directly related to faith. ... 

The concept of debt forgiveness—including the forgiveness of monetary debt—is all over the Bible. ... Roger Nam, a Hebrew Bible professor at Emory’s Candler School of Theology wrote a helpful piece for the Religion News Service in which he described the Old Testament’s commands of debt forgiveness as embodying a “spirit of compassion” that helped lift the poor from grinding poverty, debt slavery, and oppression. ...

Debt forgiveness figures directly in one of Jesus’s most famous parables—the parable of the ungrateful servant. It relates the story of a servant who begs for his king to forgive a crushing loan debt, the staggering sum of 10,000 talents. The king forgives and the servant rejoices, only to immediately refuse to forgive a tiny sum owed him.

It’s a lesson in forgiveness that’s grounded in a reality that the people of Israel would understand. Forgiving debt can be an indispensable element of biblical justice. But does that mean it always is? Does that mean Christians should support Biden’s policy?

Not so fast. I think there’s a Christian argument for Biden’s policy, but there’s also an argument against, and that argument against is also grounded in biblical conceptions of justice. In other words, the issue is complicated. ...

[W]hile I think Christians can disagree in good faith, I see something out of alignment with the biblical precedents for debt forgiveness. The biblical precedents point time and again to debt forgiveness as relief for profound oppression. In his essay on biblical justice, Tim Keller highlights the biblical necessity of both “radical generosity” and “life-changing advocacy for the poor” as both individual and corporate responsibilities of Christians.

I agree. Yet Biden’s program doesn’t meet those requirements. It’s radically generous, yes, but the generosity is backwards. It’s taking from those who have less and giving to those who have more.

Rather than, say, a discharge of debts in bankruptcy—which relieves debts for the destitute—the decision to forgive student loans benefits America’s wealthiest and most powerful citizens. ...

At the opening of this newsletter, I mentioned how the student loan debate illustrated both the promise and peril of biblical debates over public policy. The peril is obvious. The only thing worse than social media shouting matches is social media shouting matches infused with religious intensity.

The promise lies in the richness of the biblical text and the inherent compassion of the biblical moral framework. When applied properly, they don’t necessarily dictate specific policy outcomes. (After all, economic issues are hard.) But they do certainly teach us to apply certain principles. And one of those principles is that we should not hurt the poor to benefit the rich. Our nation violates that principle all too often. But that’s not a reason to violate it once more.

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