The Biblical Economic Stimulus Plan
Mar 16, 2009 by Craig Blomberg | 6 Comments
"Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another" (Rom. 13:8 [T]NIV).
I was amazed during the waning weeks of the Bush administration how little protest I heard from evangelicals of the $700,000,000,000 + bailout plan. I am amazed how much complaint I hear now of the only slightly bigger bailout plan of the Obama administration, and especially how rarely the critique is based on biblical principles. Seems this is just one more case of partisan politics, keeping the country polarized and in financial crisis.
Consult the literature of any of the major Christian organizations that focus on teaching good stewardship or wise handling of money matters and one of their cardinal principles is to stay or get out of debt as much as possible. So how can going deeper into trillion-dollar debt be the right answer for a Christian take on politics and economics, whether it is supported by the Republicans or the Democrats?
The answer recently came to me abruptly when I saw the title of an on-line article: "Can Savers Ruin the Recovery?" The gist of this secular writer's point was that to get the stock market significantly higher again, to get banks lending and people borrowing freely, we have to start spending money liberally again, which of course means we have to have the jobs back, the salaries raised, and the confidence in the market to start that kind of spending. But consumers burned by the collapse of their investments will take a long time, perhaps years, to regain that confidence. Meanwhile they will look for the safest places to save their money rather than to risk any potentially volatile (read money-earning or money-losing) investments.
I'm not enough of an economist to know if that's inevitable, but it makes sense. But to restore the economy in that fashion appears to fly directly in the face of biblical economic principles, well summarized centuries ago by John Wesley: "Make all you can, save all you can, and give all you can." I'm reminded, too, of the dramatic contrast between the national response to the Great Depression as it led into World War II--the calls first to save and then to give--and the Bush appeal a few years ago to spend money, thereby fueling the economy, as an act of patriotism! Again, I can only imagine how a Democratic president saying such a thing would have come in for scorn and outrage from the very evangelicals who were silent while a Republican president was saying it.
If it is inevitable that living within our means, spending only that which we have, and saving frugally while continuing to give generously ruins the recovery, then so be it. It is biblical stewardship. Worshiping at the shrines of materialism and instant gratification played a large role in getting us into the economic mess we are in, so it can scarcely be the answer to getting us out!
Translators debate the exact meaning of Romans 13:8a. A highly literal translation would read, "Owe no one anything except to love one another." Most translations say something similar to that. But a minority are more akin to the NIV and TNIV quoted above. They recognize that there was a limited borrowing and lending economy in both Jewish and Greco-Roman circles in the first century which Jesus (and Paul elsewhere) never called into question. In the context of Romans, Paul has just endorsed Jesus' teaching on the need to pay taxes, also an entrenched part of both Jewish and Greco-Roman economic systems. The present tense verbs in the sentence may well denote the continuous sense of action implied by "remain outstanding" and "continuing."
In other words, there may be rare occasions where borrowing money does make sense, and is not unbiblical, as, for example, with a home loan, when a person has enough for a significant down payment and when the mortgage payments are substantially less than renting options available and there is good reason to believe the person can pay off the mortgage comparatively quickly and at reasonable interest rates. There may be times when one is close to the end of a degree program and it is good stewardship to borrow the last little bit for educational costs. But cars, major church and parachurch building projects, indeed most everything else, should probably be saved for and paid for by cash. Credit card debt, because of the extortionary interest rates involved, should almost never be entered into.
Will some think this unpatriotic? Will it slow the road to recovery? Will it force us to delay gratification of our desires? Irrespective of the answers to these questions, it may be time for Christians to declare sense and sensibility, by biblical standards, loudly and clearly! That may be the true biblical economic stimulus plan.