taking the words of Jesus seriously

Two days ago I was interviewed by abcnews.com for a piece the journalist was writing entitled, “National Debt as a Biblical Issue: Did Selfishness Lead to Giant Deficit?” In preparation for the interview I was provided a wealth of information on the national debt as interpreted by evangelicals across the political spectrum. However, when it came interview time there were many thoughts flooding my mind.

The debt is a crushing figure, possibly reaching $15 trillion in 2011. Undoubtedly, we don’t have to search deeply in Scripture to find that such debt is not the grandeur of faithfulness.

It is important to recognize, though, that many of the verses currently used to identify the immorality of such a staggering debt do not stand alone. While Christian commentators can point to verses such as Proverbs 13:22 (“a good man leaves an inheritance for his children’s children”) and Nehemiah 5:3-5 (speaking of being powerless because of debt) there are other verses in the Old Testament that do not receive as much attention yet point to issues that could be seen, given the proper circumstances, as equally as important and immoral as the national debt.

Take for instance Leviticus 25 which speaks of the Year of Jubilee. Scripture demands that every 50 years debts are canceled. Or read Deuteronomy 15: 1-2  which states that every seven years debts must be canceled. If evangelical commentators cite Scripture in an effort to decrease government spending and bring down the national debt they should also be inclined to personally follow other parts of the Hebrew Scriptures such as debt forgiveness.

At the same time we must ask ourselves how we got into this debt. Some of those who are currently protesting the immoral debt were the same folks who advocated in favor of America’s two immoral wars with Iraq and Afghanistan. These two wars crippled the budget at the rate of $500, 000 a minute in 2007 (source: Washington Post). Furthermore, if the question is truly centered around morality, how moral is it to cut programs needed by those in poverty? As Jim Wallis said, “To protect the rich instead of the poor in the name of deficit reduction is immoral.”

Simply put, if you want to use the Old Testament to make your case and apply Scriptures, you have to apply them down the line. The National Debt is undoubtedly an issue but so is health care, immigration, and our education system. Each of these issues comes with a laundry list of proof texts from Scripture advocating for and against each issue.

If you enter the Bible looking for texts to back up your already determined position you will surely find plenty. In doing so, though, you will ignorantly skim over countless other verses. When you read Scripture without a predetermined agenda then and only then can you become open and receptive to the full direction of the text.

About The Author


Tony Campolo is Professor of Sociology at Eastern University, and was formerly on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania. For 40 years, he founded and led the Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education, an organization that created and supported programs serving needy communities in the Third World as well as in “at risk” neighborhoods across North America. More recently, Dr. Campolo has provided leadership for the Red Letter Christians movement. He blogs regularly at his own website. Tony and his wife Peggy live near Philadelphia, and have two children and four grandchildren.

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