In today’s podcast I want to talk about President Joe Biden’s recent announcement declaring $10,000 in debt forgiveness to recipients of government student loans, and $20,000 in debt forgiveness to those who also qualified on an income basis as Pel Grant recipients. This decision is the quasi-fulfillment of Biden’s election campaign promise to forgive all student loan debt.
This has created no shortage of controversy, both on the political left and right, as many believing this is fundamentally unfair, a mere band-aid to a much deeper systemic problem that requires deeper levels of reform, an attempt to buy votes before the 2022 mid-term elections in November, or some believing Joe Biden didn’t go far enough in fulfilling his campaign promises.
This controversy has also divided the church, with some seeing it as Jesus like thing to do, and others, not so much. Many appeal to the Lord’s prayer in the Sermon on the Mount, the Law of Moses and its “year of Jubilee” practice, and an assortment of other parables, stories, and exhortations throughout the Bible to show their support.
Christians Practice Forgiveness
For example, Jesus taught His disciples in the Lord’s Prayer to pray “…and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” And elsewhere, “Lend, expecting nothing in return…” The Christian faith shares an obvious link between the forgiveness we show others and God forgiving us. We forgive others of their debts, both metaphorical and literally, because God has forgiven us. The Christian ethic is one in which we don’t hold grudges and aren’t loan sharks, as we practice an uncommon grace and mercy that liberates others from the tyranny of the world’s way of living. Our ethic means we aren’t looking to settle the score, get even, or make others pay. We are willing to suffer loss because of the One who has given us everything through His sufferings on the cross, in which He paid the debt of our sins.
This is Christianity 101. It’s the impulse that pumps through our veins as Christians. If you don’t practice this ethic, then let’s be clear about things: you aren’t a Christian.
But then we must ask another question. How do we as Christians take out ethic with us when it applies to politics, and our interaction with the world? I think that’s where the question gets a little more messy, and isn’t always so clear, and I believe there’s room for reasonably disagreement.
Some believe Christians are to be completely apolitical, and removed from concerns regarding the affairs of “the world.” On the other extreme, others believe America is a “Christian nation,” and should be governed as a theocratic state. And then there are those who, most likely are like you and me, somewhere in between these two extremes.
For me personally, in the context of our government, I believe we as Christians living in a constitutional federal republic, with representation based on democratically elected officials, are supposed to vote for people and policies that best represent our sense of ethics and values. Our neighbors may not always agree with our views, so we do the best we can, to strike meaningful compromises, as we negotiate and champion our perspectives.
We send people to Washington to do the work of the people on our behalf, as proxies for us. We don’t do this, in hoping to bring the kingdom of God to this world through the force of the United States government, but rather, as individuals just passing through, hoping to make a more just society in which human flourishing can take place. As a Christian, I consider myself politically homeless, owning no loyalty to tribalistic identities such as Republican or Democrat. Whoever has the best ideas in keeping with my beliefs and values will win my support. The ideas don’t have to be perfect, and I may disagree with some, but they should overall be good.
So where does this place President Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan in my eyes as a Christian? If I had to give it a grade, I’d probably give it a C-. And as a Christian, while I am very happy for those who will receive relief for their student loans and the forgiveness of their debts, and personally know people who will benefit from this, I am also at the same time, a bit peeved at the entire situation.
I am happy for those whose debts are being forgiven under the student loan program. People will feel very real relief as a result of President Biden’s program. However, at the same time, I am deeply peeved over this program, and believe it to be a really bad idea.
So why do I feel this way? I have three reasons for this. I believe it only further props up a broken system, doesn’t really practice actual forgiveness, and isn’t really all that necessary to begin with.
A Broken System
First, we have a broken system of government in regard to education in which the government acts as a predatory loan shark. It hands out trillions of dollars worth of debt without engaging in any of the practices it demands of responsible private lending institutions and banks. If any of the mortgage companies or banks I’ve worked for handed out loans the way the federal government does, our banks would be shut down and some of us would probably go to jail.
Under our system, students are groomed their entire lives to go to college when they are 18 years old, and take on tens of thousands of dollars worth of debt, with no concept of what they’ll owe and how much their monthly payments will be when they are done. There is little to no “truth in lending” disclosures that gives a student any idea of the financial burden they are taking upon themselves, and zero underwriting that tests the students “ability to pay” as is required of private lending institutions. And should you drown in your debt and default on your student loans, the massive debt load that students take on from the government is almost impossible to discharge through bankruptcy. If you get stuck with student loans, you are stuck with them forever, unless you repay them, or die– whichever comes first! Getting your student loans forgiven is almost entirely impossible, except in certain rare instances. Whereas all other debts you take on in your life can be discharged in federal bankruptcy court every 8 years.
Let’s make it 100% clear, the federal student loan program is completely unjust, predatory, and immoral. And the Department of Education, whose primary function is to oversee this loan program, should absolutely be dissolved. The Department of Education does nothing more than pick the pocket of unsuspecting 18 year-olds and shovels trucks full of money into the bloated and mismanaged industrial college complex and state university system, whom act more like world class resorts, real estate land trusts, and wall street brokerage firms, than centers dedicated to education, training, and research. Perhaps such a take is a little too cynical for your liking, but it’s ultimate true. The Department of Education is a predatory lender, and should be absolutely shut down for its deceptive, predatory, and unfair practices.
Debts Aren’t Really Being Forgiven…
In Biden’s student loan forgiveness program, while people are receiving real relief and having their personal debt obligations being relieved, these loans aren’t really being forgiven. Instead, according to the CRFB, an estimated half trillion dollars (give or take a few hundred billion) will be simply transferred onto United States tax payers.
This type of forgiveness isn’t really forgiveness. It’s a bill that pretends to forgive others, but in reality It’s simply a bill that other people are paying. This type of forgiveness is the equivalent of a loan shark forgiving your debts by breaking someone else’s knees.
Which is why I kinda get a little irked when people appeal to the Bible for support of this loan forgiveness program. As Christians we don’t forgive others by increasing the debt load of someone else. We forgive the debts of others by shouldering their burdens in our own person, not by transferring the responsibility of paying that debt onto someone else.
And while you may be perfectly fine bearing the burdens of others this way… as I personally am, that isn’t a burden that I’m willing to place on others so that I can practice “forgiveness.” It might be a kingdom minded thing for me to be willing to bear such a burden myself as a Christian, but I’m no theocrat. I’m not going to impose the burdens I’m willing to take upon myself upon others. And using the force of the United States government to impose a tax burden on others so that I can “forgive” someone else is simply a thing I’m not willing to do. And I find the idea completely incompatible with Christian teaching, and sound government.
Student Loan Forgiveness Isn’t Needed
I’ve talked about this issue previously on episode #30 of this podcast. The student loan situation in this country, while bad, isn’t at a crisis level.. yet. But it’s something we should definitely take seriously.
From 2009 to 2022, the total student loan debt has nearly tripled, increasing from $650 billion to $1.75 trillion nationwide. The total number of people with student loans is about 52 million. That includes both public and private loans. The average student currently has an outstanding balance of $28,950, with 92% of all debt being government loans.
Yet in spite of popular political headlines that make it sound like we are experiencing a complete catastrophe that requires the government to respond on an emergency basis, when you actually look at the numbers, we come across a very different story. People are actually managing to pay their student loan debt rather comfortably. The average student loan monthly payment is $393 per month. And according to Forbes, the current delinquency rate on student loans is just over 3%. Such is actually significantly lower than in the past, when in 2013, it was over 6%.
So, based on the actual facts and hard data, anyone who says there is currently a crisis regarding student loans is either mistaken, or lying. And while a storm is certainly brewing and the Department of Education is essentially a government run loan shark, generally speaking, Americans are managing to successfully manage their student loan debt load.
Which then begs the question, why is President Joe Biden using claiming COVID as a crisis to justify the crisis of student loans and the need to forgive $10-$20,000 in student loans?
The only logical reason is not based on any facts. My conclusion is that it can only be a purely a political move. A move in which President Joe Biden who is currently facing terrible favorability ratings, and the fact that his political party is facing a significant challenge with the upcoming mid-term elections in 2022, in which they stand to lose significant control of either the House or the Senate.
In my eyes, this is political move meant to buy votes for the upcoming election, and to reward his party’s political base which has long made a really big issue about student loans. Which really irks me, because this is essentially a game of the government playing political favorites, where it sends checks to its favorite people in hopes of securing their continued favor.
Such is ultimately a corrupt act based on a lie. Instead of the government treating people justly, or doing things to actually make meaningful reforms over the corrupt Department of Education, the government is simply transferring the financial burdens of one people onto another people in order to reward their political base and to keep them on the hook.
And to further compound the problem, the people that the government is forgiving $10-$20,000 in student loans are largely middle-class and upper-middle class Americans who are enjoying better than average paying jobs by virtue of their college degree,
The wage gap between high school and college graduates is pretty substantial. Over the course of their career, a college graduate will on average make over $800,000 more in their career than a high school graduate. And the median college graduate in their mid 20’s is making $52,000 a year, compared with the median high school graduate, who makes $22,000 a year. So, while going to college is insanely expensive, it still proves to be a highly lucrative decision, and makes the debt load worth it to the vast majority of graduates.
In conclusion, forgiving people debts that they cannot repay is in keeping with the ways of Jesus. It’s something we as a Christians should practice as a people, and something we should hopefully try to support politically, when such can be structured in a fair and just way.
But President Joe Biden’s forgiving of student loans isn’t really practicing forgiveness. It’s simply tossing the burdens of paying student loans onto other people, nevermind the fact that the bearer of those student loans will disproportionally benefit financially handsomely over their career, and can actually afford to make their payments.
And while the Department of Education is the equivalent of a loan shark who needs to be shut down for their predatory and unjust behavior, that doesn’t mean those who took out such loans should be freed from their obligations to pay those loans back. So far as it is within their means to do so, borrowers should pay back what they took out just as they promised to do, regardless of the questionable practices associated with those who gave them their loan.
But with that said, meaningful reform should be made to clear the path so that those who actually are drowning under a sea of debt that they cannot hope to repay, can find a means to restructure their debt, or have their debts wiped clean. But I believe that this should be handled by bankruptcy courts, just as we allow with any other form of debt. Loan forgiveness should be NEED based. It shouldn’t be simply given to people who don’t like being responsible adults that honor their word and their contracts. And bankruptcy court, which is similar to the Law of Moses “Year of Jubliee,” allows for all of your debts to be canceled every 8 years, should you have such need.
In the end, I have zero sympathy for people who have the means to repay their debts, but simply don’t want to do so because it is bothersome to them. And as someone who knows what it’s like to be truly under crushing levels of debt that one cannot repay, and having to file for bankruptcy because of it, and having also spent 3 years working in a career centered around helping people who were financially struggling and possibly losing their homes in foreclosure, I understand the difference between helping people in genuine need, and people who are just attempting to work a political system to their advantage at the expense of everyone else.
If you want to cry a river and toss around moral and religious platitudes while participating in a corrupt government scheme that has nothing to do with the ways of Jesus, please, buy your own tissues and go cry somewhere else. And that may sound harsh, and I don’t intend it as such. But I think it’s pretty gross when people conflate the ways of Jesus with a corrupt political scheme.