Week 4: Biblical Banking and Jesus’ Economic Plan
1. Biblical banking
The whole issue of charging interest on loans, and poor people falling further and further into debt is a huge biblical issue and one that if we #OccupytheBible we can see is very much at the center of Jesus’ teaching and actions.
Have three different people read these texts aloud:
Discuss: What does the Bible say about charging interest to the poor?
Have one person read the text aloud that begins Chapter 3, “Den of Thieves.” ((Matthew 21: 12-13)
Discuss: Why did Jesus drive out those who were buying and selling, especially “doves,” and overturn the tables of the money-changers in the Temple? What was Jesus upset about?
2. Money Never Sleeps
The subtitle of Oliver Stone’s sequel to his blockbuster movie Wall Street says it all: Money Never Sleeps. Money circulates. Money moves through all societies in ways that define each one. Money can make money, and that simple fact is at the root of the temptation to be greedy. When money makes money, despite the fiction of “trickle down” economics when money circulates it tends to circulate up, not down. In other words, the rich get rich and the poor get poorer. Lots of people lost money when the housing market bubble burst, but some people made money.
3. That’s Why We Need the Jubilee
People will be tempted by greed to get more; the Jubilee is a way to try to deal with the fact that debt will pile up and drive people into poverty.
Have some read aloud from Deuteronomy 15:1-6.
What light does this text shine on the following chart?
What can be done about debt?
One proposal is “Jubilee” type legislation. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minnesota) has proposed a legislative remedy that has “Jubilee” written all over it. In February, 2012, Ellison released a statement with fellow Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Raúl Grijalva (D-Arizona) calling on Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae to write down mortgage principal amounts for homeowners at risk of foreclosure.
This kind of “debt forgiveness” is another “Jubilee” approach to our economic crisis that makes practical, economic sense. Ellison gave an interview on the idea of debt forgiveness for struggling families. “Underwater mortgages are holding people in homes that they can’t leave. And if you can’t sell your house then you can’t go to the job across the nation that might pay more. This is cutting into families’ discretionary income. And it’s a drain on the economy. At the end of the day, we need people to be able to stay in their homes if they want to, and people must be able to sell their homes if they need to. Without writing down these mortgages, we’re going to be stuck. I encourage people who are in the housing movement to make a robust and directed demand at the administrator of the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) [to reduce mortgage principals].”
Rep. Ellison is a Muslim, and there is a lot of interesting overlap between the teachings of the Qu’ran on debt forgiveness, the teachings of the Hebrew Bible, and those of Jesus of Nazareth. There is clear support in Islam for debt cancellation for those who are unable to meet debt payment; Islam encourages lenders to wait until the loan can be repaid (without penalties). However, for those unable to pay, Islam favors debt forgiveness as a virtuous action, for as the Qu’ran states, “If the debtor is in difficulty, grant him time till it is easy for him to repay. But if ye remit it by way of charity, that is best for you if ye only knew” (2:280)