WaPo 'On Faith' Contributor: Jesus Would Want Government to 'Forgive' Student Debts

November 30th, 2011 4:22 PM

Liberal theologian Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite has often used her perch on Washington Post's "On Faith" section to pound the pulpit for liberal economic ideas twisting Christian Scripture to support her views and, by extension, implicitly condemn as heresy dissenting ones.

Monday's blog post "Forgive us our student loan debt" was no exception as the Center for American Progress senior fellow insisted that a passage in the Lord's Prayer levels a moral imperative for widespread student loan "forgiveness" in America (emphases mine):

Jesus teaches his disciples to pray, “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” (Matthew 6:12) Forgiving debt is a moral issue. Forgiving some of the worst of this student debt is crucial literally to save this American generation.

President Obama has recently taken steps to ease student loan debt burdens. But the problem is too big. Some of this student debt needs actual legislation to deal with the whole system of the debt as Robert Applebaum calls for on his Web site, ForgiveStudentLoanDebt.com.

Applebaum contends that executive orders can only do so much. It will take legislation that covers predatory practices as well as other changes to the way student loans are structured such as how interest is compounded. Applebaum also argues persuasively that forgiving student loan debt will stimulate the economy.

The kind of moral equality that Jesus asks us to pray for in the Lord’s Prayer can be seen in Applebaum’s argument. Jesus calls on us to pray, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” Forgive and be forgiven. Americans are tied together in this student debt debacle, and debt forgiveness will help the forgivers as well as those forgiven.


Currently, I’m advocating debt forgiveness. It is the moral thing to do and it is the right civic thing to do. This is what Jesus actually meant; real debts, real debtors, forgiving and forgiven. This is what government is actually about—of the people, by the people, for the people. We still have a chance to show young people that democracy can work for the common good.

Forgiveness. It’s the right thing to do.

Brooks Thistlethwaite -- ordained as a United Church of Christ (UCC) minister in 1974 -- most certainly knows she's taking the Lord's Prayer out of context to service her political beliefs. As the UCC's Evangelical Catechism teaches thus:

108. What do we pray for in the fifth petition: Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors?

In the fifth petition we ask God for gracious forgiveness of our sins, and for willingness and strength to forgive others.

Indeed, an examination of the Lord's Prayer passage in context, particularly Matthew 6:14-15, shows that what's in view are  moral and ethical trespasses, not so much monetary debts:

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

One could argue financial forgiveness can be wrapped up in forgiving a personal transgression -- for example letting the neighbor's kid off the hook for the window he broke with an errant baseball -- but that being said, the passage is still about personal ethics, not government policy.

What's more, the whole idea of forgiveness is that the person who is the creditor graciously, of his own volition cancels a debt. Brooks Thistlethwaite has in mind government action to cancel out debts owed lenders by borrowers although both parties freely agreed to the lending arrangement in a contract.

Brooks Thistlethwaite not only is twisting Scripture and historic Christian teaching to serve her political ends, she's abusing the English language to confuse government canceling loans and impairing private contracts with the "forgiveness" of debt.