National Debt as a Biblical Issue: Did Selfishness Lead to Giant Deficit?

PHOTO Tony Campolo, professor emeritus of sociology at Eastern University and founder of the Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education, said he agrees with teachings from scripture that warn against indebtedness.

When President Obama announced that our national debt could reach $15 trillion in 2011, economists and politicians were not the only ones alarmed. Evangelicals across the country raised their voices, too, saying a staggering national debt violates the teachings of the Bible.

Billy McCormack, founding member of the Christian Coalition of America, said the most relevant biblical passage against debt is Nehemiah 5:3-5. Quoting partially from the passage, he said, Americans are "mortgaging our fields, our vineyards and our homes to get grain during the famine.

"We are subjecting our sons and daughters to slavery, because are fields and our vineyards belong to others," said McCormack, who helped Pat Robertson establish the Christian Coalition, one of the largest grass-roots conservative groups in the U.S., in 1989.

"China has a mortgage on the future of our children," said McCormack, who at 82 is still a pastor in Louisiana. "It's not right for a foreign land to own so much of what is ours. Because we were irresponsible, we have to pay the price."

The Family Research Council, a conservative Christian group started by the founder of Focus on the Family, has purportedly sent its member-base "action alerts" related to the debt.

McCormack does not blame either Republicans or Democrats for our growing national debt, but he points to an overall culture of selfishness and recklessness. He also said this culture is what led to the public pension crisis in states such as Wisconsin.

"It all ties together," said McCormack. "The lack of resources for pensions ties into the national debt itself. It is all a matter of irresponsibility. People have been kicking the can down the road to this moment. Now the can is gone. We can't kick it anymore."

Who Is Influencing Whom?

Tony Campolo, professor emeritus of sociology at Eastern University in Pennsylvania, said he agreed with teachings from Scriptures that warn against indebtedness, and that both unions, states and municipalities need to reanalyze their economic positions relative to other labor models.

"They should have the right for collective bargaining," said Campolo of unions and public servants. "But they should bargain in clear conscience. Are unions able to blackmail or pressure others for wages because they are providing necessary social services? I think that's a fair question to ask."

Campolo also said evangelicals should ask if conservative media personalities are exerting excessive influence over the national debt debate.

"The evangelical community is probably more influenced by the message of Glenn Beck than the teachings of Scriptures," said Campolo, also a founder of the Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education. "He's the one who raised the issue. It's amazing to me as I travel around the country how much they listen to him and the degree to which he has framed the issue."

Beck, a converted Mormon, has been a popular conservative political commentator on Fox News since January 2009. The New York Times magazine compared Beck's growing media brand with Oprah's.

"As Winfrey does, Beck talks a great deal about himself and subscribes to the pop-recovery ethic," wrote Mark Leibovich in the Times article.

Beck often cites American history when discussing current political issues, as he did in a website post this week called "The Revolutionary Debt Bomb -- And How the Founders Fixed It!"

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