Evangelicals Nugget Their Beads on Student Debt Relief: Lord, Have Mercy!
With what Ukraine, Mar-a-LagoJerome Powell, and what else, I guess we can be forgiven (ha!) if we haven’t paid much attention to the gnashing of teeth over President Biden’s long delay decision to cancel a large part of the student debt.
As with everything else, the To fall is heavily polarized, with people like Ted Cruz predicting the end of civilization as we know it, and people on the Larry Summers wing of the Democratic Party worrying about the possible inflationary impact. (Are these inflation hawks ever concerned about the passage without debate of huge unpaid military appropriations? I was just wondering.)
And then there is the “Christian” (meaning Evangelical Protestant) reaction to Biden’s action, as noted in Christianity today and somewhere elsewhere scholars and eccentrics play the mole with Bible verses dealing with debt.
What I love the most is Can we prove this? We probably shouldn’t. But let’s try anyway! aspect of it. Not to mention the overriding focus on rival passages from the Hebrew Bible without much, if any, attention given to how Jesus responded to debt bondage in his time and place.
Stefani McDade starts it Christianity today roundup of gospel responses by reporting the four main Bible verses cited by online Christian commentators in response to Biden’s decision. The first four verses appearing on his screen were all from the Hebrew Bible—or the Old Testament as CT prefers to call it. Next, McDade cites the reactions of three guys. The first, an Anglican priest from Indiana, is in total agreement with the cancellation of the debt. This guy quotes Jesus a lot. The second guy, from the Cato Institute (that well-known Christian organization), says you can’t apply biblical texts related to an ancient agrarian society to our situation. The third guy, who works for a public relations company in Washington, says that it shouldn’t be debated at all:
Instead, we should humbly engage others with our biblical convictions and research into alternatives, cost-benefit analysis, and weighing of unintended consequences as we pursue human flourishing and the common good.
This, too, is a standard maneuver in the evangelical world: a call to “pursue the common good” without being too specific.
But what really caught my attention was how Stefani McDade and her CT editors let the Cato Christian off the hook with an outright lie straight from the Republican playbook. It’s the duck, with no basis anywhere, that student debt relief is a regressive measure to the top redistribution of wealth, with unskilled workers subsidizing the college-educated elite.
Jamelle Bouie, writing in the Timehad this to say about the “it’s regressive” smear:
The idea that student loan relief is a handout to a small minority of affluent college graduates is simply a myth. But even if you put all that aside, there’s also the fact that these so-called spokespersons for working-class and blue-collar Americans don’t actually speak for working-class and blue-collar Americans.
Then, with his usual acumen, Bouie drills down to the real story of epochal risk and wealth transfer dating back to the first resurgence of neoliberal thinking in the late 1980s and early 1990s:
The student loan debt crisis has at least part of its origins in decisions made in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s to reduce state support for higher education and encourage Americans to take out loans in order to that they can have “skin in the game”. It was part of a larger program to degrade the social infrastructure of public life, as policymakers traded easy credit and access to cheap consumer goods for high wages and economic security.
It is no coincidence that all of this took shape in the wake of the civil rights movement, the fracturing of the New Deal coalition and the end (for those who had profited from it) of the Fordist economic order of men. breadwinners and traditional families. Opposition to broad redistribution on the basis of racial chauvinism came together in a mutually reinforcing way with opposition to redistribution as part of the basis of a new order of shareholder domination.
The rise of the student loan, in other words, is tied to this larger story of the transformation of American political economy in the last decades of the 20th century, a transformation that you can see, in politics, with the tax revolts of the suburbs of the 1970s and the rise of the “welfare queen” as an object of ridicule and contempt in the 1980s.
This is America, my friends. It’ll be a cold day in hell before you find ‘Christian’ comments on these shores that refer to ‘opposition to redistribution as part of the basis of a new order of shareholder dominance’, not to mention the contempt of the poor for the whites. racism.
Evangelical Protestants, especially whites, just don’t think that way. They don’t think about systems. They think classically petty bourgeois mode about someone getting something they don’t “deserve” and haven’t “deserved”.
My friend Bill McKibben figured this out a long time ago. He suggested that instead of calling it Christianity, it would be more accurate to call what we have here “Franklinity”, after that embodiment of economics and industry, good old Philadelphia Ben.
McKibben’s joke shouldn’t distract us, however. This is the dominant form of (American) Christianity today—both the social group and the publication which, curiously, still serves as its servant.