Sunday, December 23, 2012

Debt, Policy and the Bible

Debt has made the headlines in a variety of ways in the last few years.  People, businesses and governments have taken on more debt than it turns out they could actually bear.  When people or institutions cannot service their debt, tragic things happen. 

My husband, my kids and I live in a part of the country where the real estate bubble and subsequent crash have had a huge impact on just about everyone.  Our family has known so many who have lost their homes.  We’ve known folks who’ve been out of work, sometimes for years.  Those are traumatic experiences to say the least.

It breaks my heart what has been happening in Greece, Spain and Ireland recently.  There is a huge human toil.  The suffering seems to be getting worse.  The young are giving up hope; some are going abroad to earn money.  I worry that the extreme austerity measures may bring about a political situation like the one in Germany after World War I.  Indeed, I’ve been reading about violence against foreigners in Greece; people who are different from the majority make easy scapegoats when an economy is in freefall. 

I also worry about our own country because we have too much debt as well.  What we see happening in Europe could come to our shores.  We’re currently focused on going over the so-called “Fiscal Cliff.”  Regardless of the outcome of that struggle in the next week, it is unlikely to be the end of our national debate in trying to close our budget deficit.  Regardless of when we close the deficit, we will be burdened with the accumulated debt for many years to come.

Racist xenophobia is not a uniquely Greek phenomenon of course.  It is no coincidence that Arizona’s S.B. 1070 was enacted at a time of extreme economic crisis in the state.  The Latino laborers who helped build the homes in Arizona’s red hot real estate market were vilified once the market soured. 

In the national media in recent years, I have also noticed a rise in the jokes and cynical comments made about the Chinese.  It is easy to blame the Chinese as their economy expands as ours falters.  In our country, violence against people of Asian ancestry due to economic frustrations could spike.  It has certainly happened before.  The context in which the Chinese Exclusion Act was adopted in 1882.  Violence against Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbor.  Violence against Vietnamese fishermen along the Gulf Coast in the late 1970s and 1980s.  The murder of Vincent Chin in 1982 without significant legal retribution.  These are all examples of Asians in this country being made scapegoats when economic opportunity contracts.

These are serious, complex issues that inspire long papers and books.  But right now in my humble little blog, I just wanted to spend a bit of time focusing on the Bible and debt. 

In recent years, this is a topic on which more Christians are focusing.  Whole ministries have come into existence to focus on money management.  When our family lived in Houston, I used to listen to Crown Financial Ministries during my commute to work.  I really enjoyed their show and I learned some helpful things.  The Crown Financial Ministries website is available at:

Dave Ramsey is probably the most visible Christian in the area of financial literacy and financial responsibility.  I never listen to Mr. Ramsey, but have heard of him.  I hadn’t realized he was a man of faith; I knew he had a pretty blunt, abrasive radio personality.  To me, he seems reminiscent of the style of Dr. Phil or Bill O’Reilly.  But our church sponsors Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University.  Our pastor is a huge fan of FPC.  My husband took the course a while back and did learn some helpful points.  The FPU website is at:

Some may be wondering why Christians care about financial stuff.  Some Christians may wonder too.  Many folks think it is just a ploy to get them to tithe or contribute more to the church.  Some are skeptical about financial ministries and believe they are just a money-making ploy of their founders.  I cannot really speak to these two concerns.  But I do believe that the Bible has important teachings about money.

First, in the Gospels, Jesus taught repeated about the poor and generosity.  Jesus expressed a lot of concern about those in society who were vulnerable and whose basic needs were not being met.  He also demonstrated in his actions and in his words that we need to use the gifts God gave us to take care of others’ needs.  Jesus also taught us about stewardship.  We need to use wisely what we have been given.  If we use our gifts wisely, we will have more to share with others.

Second, the Wisdom books of the Bible have great insights on debt.  Consider the following:

Job 22:6 “To guarantee payment of a debt, you have taken clothes from the poor.”

Job 24:9 “Children whose fathers have died are taken from their mothers as payment for debt.”

Job 41:11 “I am in command of the world and in debt to no one.”

Proverbs 5:9 “You will lose your self-respect and end up in debt to some cruel person for the rest of your life.”

Proverbs 6:3 “You will be under the power of other people, so you must go and free yourself.  Beg them to free you from that debt.”

Proverbs 11:15 “There’s danger in putting up security for a stranger’s debt; its safer not to guarantee another person’s debt.”

Proverbs 22:7 “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender.”

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