Debt Deal, But No Jubilee for Average Americans

Debt Deal, But No Jubilee for Average Americans August 1, 2011

Bankers, large investors, currency traders, Wall Street moguls, career and ambitious minded politicians, and U.S. bond holders in China and the Middle East are among those happy that America will not default. A Faustian inspired deal has been agreed to in Washington. Average Americans, however, were overlooked. A biblical Jubilee is needed for the poor and middle class.

U.S. Representative Hansen Clarke wrote in a recent editorial that with “over a quarter of all American homeowners ‘underwater’ — owing more on their homes than their homes are worth — and total student loans slated to exceed $1 trillion this year …” He further observed that “it is household debt, not government debt, that is constraining spending, undermining confidence, and precluding sustainable long-term growth.” Credit card debt also oppresses families and individuals at $793 billion often with usurious interest rates.

In July 2011, NPR’s Marilyn Geewax reported that “… poorer people are feeling more squeezed so they can’t afford to pay off their [credit card] balances in full. Wage increases have been virtually nonexistent in 2011, and more than 14 million people are still looking for jobs. So for a lot of households, credit card balances are rising because the families can only afford minimum payments each month, which is allowing interest costs to pile up.”

California residents have the dubious distinction with the most combined debt followed by: Hawaii, Maryland, New Jersey, Washington, Massachusetts, Virginia, Connecticut, Colorado and Nevada. Millions of Americans are using credit cards with oppressive interest to live day to day. Even more Americans are becoming permanent revenue sources for the banks.

The Book of Jubilees called for the return of land, freedom for slaves, and debt forgiveness in the forty-ninth year (Leviticus 25:1-55). Americans need Congress to pass an Act of Jubilees. Making bankruptcy, significantly restricted by Congress due to heavy lobbing by banks, more accessible along with scaling back credit card interest rates will bring a much needed modern economic Jubilee.

Ultimately, families and individuals that provide financial institutions steady revenue through minimum card payments become the “personal servants” of banks instead of God (Leviticus 25:39-55). Jubilation returns to God that which always belonged to the Creator. It corrects an imbalance. Christians should think about Jubilee in the context of consumer debt that will otherwise oppress for a lifetime.

The Prophets were particularly concerned about financial exploitation. Amos, first of the Israelite prophets, warned Yahweh’s people that one of their offenses involved debt. They “sold the righteous for silver and the poor for a pair of sandals. They trample the heads of the poor into the dust of the earth” (Amos 2:6-7). Amos is likely to have been referring to situations where children were sold into slavery to pay debts (2 Kings 4:1-7) and the taking of clothes as pledge from the poor to secure loans (Exodus 22:25; Deuteronomy 24:12-13, 17). Justice is no more (Amos 6:12). Greed, hubris, and indifference have taken hold by those in positions to end the injustice (Amos 5:14; 5:18-20).

Isaiah carries a similar message warning of the greed that inflicts God’s people. Woe to those “who join house to house, who add field to field, to take something from their neighbor” (Isaiah 5:8). Is there a just interest rate for the poor and middle class that is not unjust gain, but equitable to all parties? Those who have taken unjustly will be “fed as bulls” (Isaiah 5:17). Micah criticizes the religious leaders of his day for their greed (Micah 3:5-7). Collective Christian leadership has been absent in agitating for economic reform and equality.

The Ukrainian Saint Tikhon of Zadonsk reminded those charging interest that though a person “took a loan from you is truly your debtor” “you are God’s debtor” too. “He is indebted to you for material things, but you are indebted to God for sins. His debt is very small against your debt of sin, it is as though it were nothing.” He advised, “Spare the poor that God may spare you.” Are the bankers listening? When will they acquire the humility to realize the harm they cause?

In addition to forgiving debt that can’t be paid by the poor and middle class, the spiritual forgiveness of bankers and policy makers, many of whom Christians, who created, protected, or enhanced a system that entraps people is especially needed. It is a call to love, bless, and pray for those who have contributed to financial oppression (Matthew 5:43-46).

Paul is author of Credit Card Usury and the Christian Failure to Stop It.

© Paul Peter Jesep.

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