Opinion: A Christian take on student loan debt forgiveness

by Peter Heck · Nov 25th, 2020 6:24 am
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Last Updated Nov 25th, 2020 at 11:36 pm

Almost exactly one year ago I sat with my wife at our kitchen table looking at finances as I contemplated going back to school to pursue a PhD. We crunched numbers for at least a week, considering how much we could afford to pay ourselves versus how much debt we would have to incur through loans. Ultimately, I decided that our money could and would be spent better in other places – specifically family vacations and memory making with our kids while they are still young.

It was a personal choice that we both feel very good about now 12 months later, but admittedly one that makes me watch this emerging debate over student loan debt forgiveness with a measure of incredulity that I'm sure is shared by a number of others.

Last week, the Senate's Democrat leader Chuck Schumer urged future president Biden to use his authority to "forgive" $50,000 in individual student loan debt through executive order. Fellow progressive Democrat Senator Elizabeth Warren concurred, and Biden himself has expressed his openness to "canceling" at least $10,000 immediately upon assuming office.

Obviously, as a Christian, it's not that I think debt forgiveness is a bad thing. My eternal hope is predicated upon an evidence-based faith that a debt I could never repay was extinguished by a grace I can never fully comprehend. But that example is instructive in more ways than one, including the reality that forgiveness always comes at a price for someone.

Forgiving my immense debt of sin came at the expense of the life of Jesus at Calvary. In the same way, if I choose to model His example and forgive my neighbor of his debts or trespasses, I am agreeing to bear the weight of their sins myself and not hold them responsible any longer – even when I'm tempted to bring it back up to provide leverage for something I want.

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Therefore, when we start talking about government forgiveness of loan debt, it's crucial to remember who we are compelling to pay the price of that liability. It will not be Joe Biden or the U.S. Senate forced to make this selfless sacrifice. It will be the taxpayer. That's why governments are best equipped to exact justice and leave mercy, grace, forgiveness, and charity to the individual. But insofar as public authorities meddle in the business of "forgiveness," we are not wrong to expect it must be done in a fair and equitable manner.

Again, the biblical model is instructive. As the student loan debate made its way onto social media, it was anything but surprising that the cultural forces amassed there began to wage the battle through memes like this:

Anyone seeing this should be reminded that social media breeds superficiality – thinking people should engage it sparingly lest they succumb to its shallow clownery. But the reference to jubilee is actually helpful.

In Leviticus, God commanded the ancient nation of Israel to observe a "year of Jubilee" every 50 years. It was a year of restitution, restoration, and rest for the people. Those who had accrued debts were to be forgiven, those who had sold their land or had it confiscated were to see it returned, those who had become servants and slaves of others were to be freed.

Notice some unique characteristics of this biblical model:

  • It was God-ordained and commanded
  • Everyone knew it would occur
  • Everyone knew when it would happen
  • Strict instructions were given for the sale, management, and ownership of land to prevent the people from taking advantage of one another
  • It was universal, covering all debts

Now, compare that to what is being proposed by Senators Schumer and Warren, and at least partially embraced by Biden himself. They are advocating an arbitrary, presumably one-time act that would substantially benefit one small group, to the exclusion of, and to the detriment of all others.

Not only would those with severe credit card debt or outstanding mortgages not see their own debts canceled, they would be forced to pay for the cancelling of a different group's debt. Not to mention those (like myself) who made financially prudent decisions to delay or bypass a(nother) degree because we couldn't justify the resulting personal debt. This current proposal is as far from Jubilee as one could contrive.

But my central objection to this idea is that rather than alleviate or even address the underlying problem, it would exacerbate it.

Colleges and universities are indefensible money pits. They are fantastically overpriced, and to the degree that they offer any return on investment, it is only because academics have gamed the system. Countless professions require degrees from accredited universities, thus obliging floods of high school graduates interested in those careers to enroll. This legal extortion allows professorial and administrative salaries to become inexcusably and unjustifiably exorbitant as schools merely charge whatever they desire and helpless parents are forced to pay up, or take on back-breaking government loans.

The world of academia is the largest, most corrupt racket in American history – and loan "forgiveness" will only encourage their behavior. That, more than any other consideration, is a reason Christians should reject this foolishness.


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