Can the United States Be ‘Forgiven Our Debts’?

Even if the debt ceiling resolves, we should consider future generations.

When my husband and I wanted to buy our first house in 2012, we ran into a problem: Neither of us had a credit history. We both came from families with a typical evangelical wariness of debt, and so we’d gotten all the way through college and marriage without a single loan payment between us. We’d earned scholarships and gone to cheaper schools, hosted a cookout for our wedding reception, and squirreled away cash to buy used cars.

“The borrower is slave to the lender” (Prov. 22:7), my mother had often warned. But declining to take on debt also made sense to me at a personal level. I have all the skepticism of complex financial systems you’d expect in someone who finished college during the Great Recession. I dislike the feeling of obligation and limitation debt can entail (Prov. 22:26–27). With a few exceptions like mortgages and some business loans, I associated accumulation of debt with poor stewardship and lack of self-discipline. Having no debt felt right and responsible.

Like many evangelicals, that attitude easily mapped onto my politics. The US national debt was around $15 trillion in 2012, one year after the debt ceiling drama of 2011. If you’d asked me then, I’d have described that debt just as ethicist David P. Gushee did for CT in 2014. It’s “immoral and unwise,” he argued, even citing my mom’s favorite debt proverb:

Certainly, the Bible regularly calls for generous lending and debt forgiveness. But when it speaks of borrowing, the Bible is negative, and not just when addressing individuals. Borrowing is emblematic of national weakness that invites subservience to creditors (Deut. 15:6; 28:12). Borrowing for short-term needs risks long-term decline …

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