‘Jesus Would Support’ Student Debt ‘Forgiveness’? Not So Fast
Those who think the Lord's Prayer and Jubilees support their political goal of blanket debt 'forgiveness' should take a closer look at the Bible and Jewish history.
Note: The Stream‘s Tom Gilson also wrote on this with “Biden Student Loan Bailout: Don’t You Dare Call It ‘Forgiveness’.”
Two authors of a recent Time magazine commentary want you to believe that Jesus Christ supports the Biden administration’s plan to cancel $500 billion in student loans. According to William J. Barber II and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, debt forgiveness “is, after all, something Jesus taught his disciples to pray for.”
I Missed That Commandment
Somehow, I missed that commandment. Nearly a week since Time published the commentary in question, I’m still searching the New Testament for anything that Jesus said that sounds like, “Thou shalt foist the burdens you chose onto those who didn’t choose them,” or “Thou shalt buy the votes of some with money seized from others,” or “Keep your word and honor your promises unless a politician lets you off the hook and transfers your responsibility to other innocent parties.”
What Barber and Wilson-Hartgrove claim “Jesus taught his disciples to pray for” is not relief from a freely contracted student loan or a home mortgage or a car payment. They cite the famous passage (Matthew 6:14) from the Sermon on the Mount, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,” which is more accurately translated from the original language to “Forgive us our trespasses (our sins) as we forgive those who have trespassed (sinned) against us.”
At the core of the matter is sin — a wrong committed against person or property — and the response suggested is a spiritual one, that is, a forgiving attitude, not necessarily a physical or economic one. Drawn from The Lord’s Prayer, the passage urges each individual to seek forgiveness from God for his offenses and for that person to likewise forgive other people for the offenses they committed against him.
A Burden That Was Not of Your Choice
When forgiveness of this sort is undertaken, note the parties involved: Trespasser A, God, and Trespasser B (and C and D, and so on, if more parties were engaged in trespassing against A). No one else is in the picture. Let’s say you stole from someone, who then beat you up. You should ask forgiveness for your theft, and then forgive the guy who punched you in the face. Each act of forgiveness is voluntary and from the heart. The last thing you should do is team up with him and go loot and assault innocent bystanders.
Yet this is precisely what Barber and Wilson-Hartgrove endorse as Christ-like. They are drafting innocent and, in many cases, utterly unwilling bystanders (taxpayers) into the equation. This is nothing more than ramming one’s political agenda down Jesus’s throat, an offense for which the authors should immediately beg forgiveness. Moreover, the whole thing is compulsory, not voluntary.
If you avoided student loans before Biden’s debt cancellation, you’re a sucker who’s just ran out of luck. As a taxpayer, you now have a burden that was not of your choice. That $500 billion “forgiveness” is now your obligation, and you’ll pay it through taxes or inflation or both. Don’t say, “Thank you, Jesus!” Instead, cry “No thanks, Joe Biden!”
Universalizing the Principle of ‘Jubilee’
Barber and Wilson-Hartgrove twist another biblical moment to justify the Biden plan, namely, the “Jubilee” referenced in the Old Testament Book of Leviticus. One must be careful in applying Old Testament practices to modern, post-Christ times; otherwise, we might make our car payments by sacrificing a lamb each month. Christian teaching holds that the coming of Jesus did not disparage or nullify every previous custom, but it did proclaim a new covenant against which our thoughts and actions would now be judged.
Barber and Wilson-Hartgrove imply that the Jubilee in ancient Israel was some sort of cancellation of debts that we today are commanded to culturally appropriate. This cautionary note from theologian Michael A. Harbin in his essay, “Jubilee and Social Justice,” should raise a red flag: “The fact that the Jubilee principle only applied to one group of people out of the entire world on a one-time basis seems to undermine the argument of those who would universalize this Jubilee principle.”
As it was, the Jubilee was nothing like a blanket cancellation of debt. It had nothing to do with student loans or anything resembling the Biden plan. It was more like a celebration of the pay-off of a lease. Bible commentator Art Lindsley writes,
The Jubilee Declaration might be analogous to a “mortgage burning party.” You would celebrate with friends that this significant debt was paid, but you would not thank the bank for “forgiving” your debt. The debt is not “forgiven” or “cancelled” because it is paid. I would love for someone to pay off my mortgage or cancel my debt, but that is not what happened at Jubilee.
For readers interested in the facts of the ancient ritual, I strongly recommend Lindsley’s essay, Five Myths About Jubilee. Other readings among the list of suggestions below will prove helpful as well.
Socialist Boilerplate Talking Points
Jesus once said, “Man does not live by bread alone.” If I took that to mean that the government should provide every citizen with a free copy of Murray Rothbard’s Man, Economy and State, the two authors of the Time article would rightly cry foul. They would claim I was foisting my political agenda on the populace. They might even experience a pang of conscience by realizing that’s precisely what their article intended to do. It was laced with rhetoric of the hard-Left that went far beyond the issue of student loans. They described opponents of the Biden plan as “defenders of the wealthy elite,” “reactionary” “defenders of wealth,” supporters of “corporate tax breaks” and enemies of “New Deal and Great Society programs.” Yada, yada, yada. They certainly know their socialist boilerplate talking points and bumper stickers.
Furthermore, Barber and Wilson-Hartgrove make no mention whatever of the economic implications for the national debt, the compulsory nature of forcing taxpayers to pay up, the moral dilemma of suckerizing millions who pursued career paths other than debt-ridden loans for useless degrees, or any of the many other serious issues pertaining to the Biden vote-buying/student loan measure.
This is not the first time someone distorted the words of Jesus to fit a political agenda. As I wrote in an article about the recent mall shooting in Indiana (Yes, Elisjshah Dicken is a Good Samaritan, and He Deserves a Medal), such misrepresentations are a very common but unfortunate occurrence.
If you favor the student debt cancellation plan of Joe Biden, you cannot make a credible case that Jesus made him do it.
For Additional Information, See:
Republicans Opposing Student-Loan Relief Are Forgetting the Biblical Tradition of Debt Forgiveness by William J. Barber II and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove
Is Forgiving Debt a Biblical Mandate? by Art Lindsley
Biden’s Student Loan Dilemma and the Political Business Cycle by Peter Jacobsen
Helping the Needy: What’s the Christian Thing to Do? by Lawrence W. Reed
Jesus on Wealth Redistribution: What He Said and Didn’t Say by Randy England
61 Quick Facts and Observations on Socialism, Jesus and Wealth by Jon Miltimore
Did Jesus Despise Money? by Lawrence W. Reed
Misplaced Jubilation Over Student Loans by Charles Kaupke
Yes, Elisjshah Dicken is a Good Samaritan, and He Deserves a Medal by Lawrence W. Reed
The Transformative Power of Forgiveness by Lawrence W. Reed
Lawrence Reed is President Emeritus of the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) in Atlanta, Georgia. He is the author of Real Heroes: Inspiring True Stories of Courage, Character, and Conviction and the best-seller Was Jesus a Socialist?
Originally published at FEE.org under a CC BY 4.0 license.