A Christian Response to the Debt Ceiling Crisis

If you are like me, this past few days of punditry and chatter surrounding the debt ceiling debate has been quite overwhelming. I was actually in DC this past week on family vacation, but being totally drawn into sharing our national capitol with my kids for the first time I somehow managed to escape total saturation ;-)  Still, can’t avoid these things for long, so I thought I would offer up some thoughts.

Now before anyone accuses me of trying to speak for all of Christendom, please note the definite article used in the title of this post, “a” and not “the.” I fully admit that, like many people, I am simply trying to figure out who to trust, what are the larger issues and how to respond with thoughtfulness and care.

At the same time, my lack of economic expertise or official position in Washington does not let me off the hook from engaging in the larger process, especially during this tense time of negotiations around the debt ceiling, our national deficits, a balanced budget amendment and more.  It would be so much easier on my brain if I could simply turn away and let “them” figure it all out, but as a citizen of the United States and a person who believes that my Christian faith is inherently political, I am compelled to discern my role in the life of the body politic and respond appropriately.

Much of my response to these times in our political life is about what I AM NOT called to as much as what I AM.  The problem that many Christians get into when trying to navigate the subtleties of church, state, politics and faith is that we engage in arguments about the particularities of policy creation when, except for a brilliant few, this is not our call or expertise. For when it comes right down to it, the role of the church is NOT to draft  legislation and develop policy – holding true to the separation of church and state –  but to make sure that those who are called and elected into that role are held accountable for the policies and legislation that they enact  or in the case of the past few weeks . . . do NOT enact – honoring the convergence of faith and politics.  In other words, religious commitments and convictions should not determine legislative infrastructure, but faith will always have something to say about the outcomes and impact of that legislation on the people over whom it claims to have authority.

As I have been thinking about how exactly I should respond, I am reminded that before my recent departure from the church I served, I have always had community within which these topics could be discussed. So now, as one of those “preachers without a pulpit,” I know that it is easy for me to say to preachers out there, “You should say  XYZ.”  At the same time, I would push on those who have the privilege of standing in the pulpit this Sunday to take up the challenge to speak into the crisis of our day, not to add to the anxiety, but to call into being the peace that Christ offers each of us in the midst of tumultuous times.

In addition to challenging folks to see the inherently political nature of our faith, some of the “callings” I would lift up, any of which find rich scriptural roots might be . . .

  • Joining with faith communities in efforts to keep the voices of the silent, poor and vulnerable heard and  cared for.
  • Encouraging political leaders to remain passionate and convicted in his/her beliefs, but to also embrace compromise as a powerful tool in moving towards the common good.
  • Rejecting a posture of “victory at all costs,” repaying evil with evil and/or denying the personhood of anyone regardless of political position or ideological perspective;
  • Praying that God’s will be done and that our hopes and actions align with God’s intentions for us.

These are broad ideas and each will manifest themselves differently for every person and community, but these are postures I have and will continue to embrace in my own engagement in the politics of our day.  I hope they are helpful.

In closing, I would offer the following video from the National Council of Churches as one witness to people of faith coming together to speak out on behalf of the most vulnerable. You can sign the letter in support of the call to the president and congress HERE.

And finally a little props my own denominations, the Presbyterian Church (USA) and our commitment to being part of the discourse: Stated Clerk, Gradye Parsons, for joining other interfaith leaders to speak with government leaders and Rev. J. Hebert Nelson, Director of our Office on Public Witness in his act of civil disobedience and arrest. Thank you both!

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  • IndigoGirl

    Oh. I thought that just meant that Lee doesn’t touch himself. My bad. :)

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/breyeschow/ Bruce Reyes-Chow

    Sorry folks that I have not been interacting with comments.  Been on vacation trying to honor that time.  Thanks though for all the thoughtful commentary.

  • Whalenbob

    I am afraid many of the people would prefer the government remain void of morality. Who will decide who to feed, what amounts and for how long? I am of the opinion an individual or organization with moral values should make that decision. I think the fact it costs so much is why we are having this discussion aren’t we? The government is more broke (in debt) than the Church. It is time for the Church to do more than pray – a lot more.

  • Mdanenburg

    There is a lot of very bad information that passes for exegesis out there.  Just for instance, try conceiving the church at Jerusalem as a foxhole rather than a commune.  There’s quite a difference between the two.  Evidence: they didn’t export that way of living to other churches.

    I’m very leery of tying the Prince of Peace to a/an philosophy/economic system that has starved/murdered 170+ million people in just the last century.

  • Mdanenburg

    You think the government is the people?  I know that’s bandied about a lot but I don’t see any evidence of it.  Having a moral responsibility toward people doesn’t include using immoral means to accomplish it. Jesus was clearly for caring for the poor but I’ve searched in vain for a quote where he says, “Take from others to give alms to those who are in need.”  That is in fact the very opposite of Christian action.  I could be wrong.  Show me.

  • Mdanenburg

    Right on!  Of course, what Christians donate out of are the crumbs left over after the government has taken so much using the force of arms.  Christians choose!  The sword or the cross.

  • Anonymous

    The obligation of Christians is to influence the behavior of the social organisms (not just the government but businesses and corporations) that control our lives to behave in a manner consistent with the moral and spiritual guidelines of our religious beliefs. Our current problems result to a large degree from political and economic behavior that embraces market morality. In the past, these social organizations were held to be morally accountable. With the growth of monopoly economics and businesses too big to fail, this is no longer true. Government programs are an expression of this principle. The GOP attack on these programs is an attack on the premise that government and other social organisms behave morally. Separation of church and state is not a principle that abandons moral behavior or our obligation to hold social organisms to moral standards.

  • Anonymous

    GOP politicians are openly advocating the philosophies of Ayn Rand, who was not only an atheist but rabidly anti-Christian. Yet I don’t hear Christians, individual or corporate, speaking out against them. The GOP policy of placing the interests of businesses above the welfare of individuals and the nation is inherently anti- Christian.  It is entirely consistent with the Libertarian views of Ayn Rand and her GOP advocates.

  • Notwaff

     We need to understand that the callings in Scripture are for Christians and the Church – not specifically instructions for government programs.   Turning Scripture into government programs means we delegate our Christian duties to a secular body

  • http://thepkexperience.wordpress.com ThePkExperience

    OMG!  As a biblicar scholar you setout yoursefl to be please tell me where in the Holy Book does it state the following: 
    “For when it comes right down to it, the role of the church is NOT to draft legislation and develop policy – holding true to the separation of church and state – but to make sure that those who are called and elected into that role are held accountable for the policies and legislation that they enact or in the case of the past few weeks . . . do NOT enact – honoring the convergence of faith and politics. In other words, religious commitments and convictions should not determine legislative infrastructure, but faith will always have something to say about the outcomes and impact of that legislation on the people over whom it claims to have authority.”

    I believe in the separation of church and state, but where do you get off in saying above?

  • Paulrack

    “The government” is the people.  People have a moral responsibility to care for each other.  The church doesn’t even have the money to pay it’s own bills; we’re supposed to take on the whole social welfare system?  Even draining the Foundation would barely put a dent in it.

  • http://transformingseminarian.blogspot.com Mark Baker-Wright

    While I’m sure you won’t be likely to find my few words here persuasive, I’d argue that many of the relevant passages are addressed not so much to individuals, but rather to the people collectively.  Either to the nation of Israel or to the Christian church.  Thus a strong case can be made for a collective response (such as a national government) rather than a purely individual one (I don’t think anyone argues that individuals can’t or shouldn’t respond to these passages.  Just that the passages may not require purely individual responses).

  • Anonymous

    Lee, the phrase is “fiscal conservative”, not “physical conservative.”  Don’t look now; your ignorance is showing.

  • Whalenbob

    Why is it the government’s responsibility to care for the widow and orphan?  As I read scripture, it appears as though that is a responsibility for the individual.  There is much more to be gained by intervening at the individual level for the giver and the receiver.  My Christmas wish is for the Church (individually and corporately) to stop abdicating the responsibility for caring for others to the government and to get back into the field where our true religion can be expressed.  Stop praying for others to do the work and do it ourself.

  • Lee Sprinkle

    I am simply dropping in after a Google alert notified me that there was a recent posting that included the phrase “National Council of Churches” 
    You can Google me and find out that you and I differ in how we see the Christian commission to serve the Lord. That is OK in so far as it forces us to always reevaluate and justify our positions. I find that for me at little readjustment is in order.
    I have been thinking about why we are here, on the verge of a catastrophic financial collapse that will reverberate around the globe?
    We may or may not agree with this ominous warning. It has been sounded so often that its effectiveness is lost among the bag full of political posturing tactics from all sides.
    As a physical conservative and Christian I have prayed and consulted God’s word for guidance on the issue of Christian Charity.  As I stated my views are subject to constant modification therefore I am fair game. All I ask is stay on point.
    I am in North Carolina and bank with a national bank that began a program to extend credit to people in California without any credit history. Then in my business as a contractor I rather suddenly found I was out quoting home renovation to people who were mysteriously qualifying for much more expensive houses than they would have without special financing programs endorsed and guaranteed by our government. Some of those people were even commenting on how surprised they were at how easy money was to get. Some even suggesting that I get in on the action. It seemed that the number of regulations and legislations that were transferring wealth and property from productive working citizens to those who for one reason or another were not successfully engaged in a financially productive endeavor was growing exponentially.
    It was apparent to me that this rapid expansion of wealth transfer could not be sustained. I believe most people now agree this redistribution has threatened to kill the Goose.
    So do we keep doing the same things? Obviously we can’t. This crisis is now dragging down the working taxpayer and strangling our economy.
    The NCC asks that we draw a circle around areas of spending that affect the vulnerable. How big a circle is that? Does it include all programs that provide entitlements, grants to scientist, authors, social scientist, artist, ministries…….? Does it include the numerous government positions that may serve more to put people on a salary than to provide a service to the taxpayer? I could go on and on with the examples of how redistribution takes place in government. Having more than 50% of potential voters getting a check from the government is a recipe for disaster.
    I would suggest that we do not enter this challenge with anything removed from the table. We must look at everything that has caused this crisis.
    What about the culture of dependency that develops in a welfare state. We can’t deny that human nature falls victim to not having to work if they can convince someone to work for them and give them sustenance.
    Before you can take these concerns seriously we both have to agree that this scenario is not true in every case. I believe that it is true in a significant number of cases.
    Finally, wouldn’t the circle of protection also extend to those who stand to lose their business or jobs due to the growing burden of this continued redistribution?
    We all know that wealth and property is not infinite, it is earned. If it is not earned it is either inherited or seized and will quickly be depleted.
    Have you considered that the NCC’s ecumenical social justice movement is a replacement religion for Christianity?
    Have you noticed how the various councils of churches promote the religion of Social Justice but refuse to acknowledge the true Christian mission to bring the message of Salvation through Jesus Christ?
    Have you noticed how the NCC and WCC believe the Covenant with Israel has been replaced by a new covenant with the Church? They do not recognize the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish Nation.
    Now for the disclaimer; I have not read anything else you have written on this blog so I am not responding to any other article but this one. If you have already expressed thoughts on these issues forgive me for I do not have time to review your entire site.
    Best regards
    Lee Sprinkle

  • Cm9

    How about reacting to this latest headline with love rather than fear? Crisis is a fear driven word if I’ve ever heard one. Love or nothing at all. This shall pass..who knows, maybe they mint new coins to offset paper debt and solve the issue – for now anyway. A Christian might go back to teaching tithing as a lesson, something the government would never speak of or provide the example. Use this for what it is, a headline, then move on with love. 

  • Noma

    Some nice ideas.  Would have been more impressed if you had called for Congress to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, care for the sick.  I find the GOP proposals entirely NOT Christian.

  • http://marciglass.com/ Marci Glass

    Like Shannon, I am addressing this because the Matthew text sort of demands it! Thanks for the encouragement!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=542056883 Shannon Kershner

    You know Bruce, you could have sent this out BEFORE Sunday morning for those of us who are preaching today… :)  Just kidding.  I am actually discussing this.  It fits with the lectionary text from Matthew: “You give them something to eat.”

  • Gary Davis

    Makes me glad I’m a Presbyterian. Truth should have something to do with the facts. “Truthiness” is driving the current impasse.

  • Gary Davis

    Makes me glad I’m a Presbyterian where truth still has something to do with the facts and life is for service to others.

  • Proudfeet

    Once again Presbyterians are at the front of the one when it comes to naming the injustices of the society and working for change.  Before we say it is wasted time. think of the progress made over the last 100 plus years.