Is Our National Debt a Biblical Issue?
Is debt wrong? Well, yes and no. Let me explain.
But allow me to ask another question: Is our national debt a moral, ethical, theological and biblical issue? Yes!
However, at a pastors/Christian leaders conference, I was unsuccessful in persuading a group of pastors and lay leaders of that fact, when I tried to get them to pass a resolution from our denomination regarding the morality (or immorality) of excessive national debt. It was not viewed as a moral or biblical issue.
Allow me to explain, and make sure you read all the way down to the "Back to the Pulpit" section below. (And then in the P.S. portion, I have reprinted the actual resolution -- called a "Memorial" -- that I tried to get passed at the pastors/lay leaders event addressing the immorality of excessive debt.)
Campaigning in 2008, Obama rightly condemned George Bush for taking the national cumulative debt of $5 trillion -- from all the previous presidents -- and running up another $4 trillion, for a staggering total of $9 trillion. What did Obama call Bush for doing this? Irresponsible and unpatriotic.
The problem is that the way Bush has done it over the last eight years is to take out a credit card from the Bank of China in the name of our children, driving up our national debt from $5 trillion for the first 42 presidents. (George W. Bush) added $4 trillion by his lonesome, so that we now have over $9 trillion of debt that we are going to have to pay back -- $30,000 for every man, woman and child. That's irresponsible. It's unpatriotic.
And Obama was correct. But what did he, Barack Obama, do during his presidency? Doubled the debt from $10 trillion to $20 trillion. If what Bush did was irresponsible and unpatriotic, what was this?
When a government refuses to restrain an immense, unpayable debt, it dooms its country's economic well-being. Don't think this can happen? Remember the Weimar Republic after World War I? Germany was in such economic debt that hyper-inflation rendered the currency of the day virtually worthless.
Moral and Biblical Issue
Bush added more than $4 trillion, while Obama more than doubled that, adding almost $10 trillion to the debt. Both presidents were in the wrong. Both signed off on spending way more than America could budget, and left a burden for future generations to carry. Oh, but there's more. Much more. The national debt climbed under Trump and it is about to skyrocket in Biden's first 50 days in office.
When Ronald Reagan left the presidency 33 years ago, the U.S. national debt was less than $3 trillion (or $10,000 for each man, woman and child in America). If this current Democrat special interest and “Blue State Bailout” bill, masquerading as COVID Relief, at $1.9 trillion dollars, is signed into law, the U.S. Government National Debt will reach $30 trillion (or nearly $100,000 for each man, woman and child in America). That means it has increased 10 times over in only 33 years! This is immoral!
The Bible is clear about this. It says, "You shall not steal" (Exodus 20:15). That not only applies to us today, but it also means we should not steal from future generations. The presidents and the Congress, by running up unsustainable, unpayable debt, have stolen the future of our young adults and children. It is wrong. It is sin. The national debt has become a moral, theological, biblical issue. Every pulpit in America ought to call out our national leaders for this sin. The greatest greed is not on Wall Street. It is in Washington, D.C.
What percentage of the members of Congress attend a Bible-teaching church? One congressman told me 20 percent. That means 80 percent are not in a biblically-centered church. But for the 20 percent that presumably do attend such a church, how many of those hear their pastor preach sermons on the moral, theological, and biblical underpinnings of our nation's economics? Probably very few. Maybe none.
These otherwise good and sane men and women, our congressional members, continually approve budgets that are spending us into economic oblivion. It is irresponsible. It is immoral. It is called sin. Yet how can we possibly expect the members of Congress to do what is right if pastors will not address this from the pulpit? How can we possibly expect parishioners to consider this issue in the voting booth if their pastor fails to speak on it from the pulpit? The Apostle Paul, speaking of disseminating the truth, raised a good question: "And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?" (Romans 10:14).
Pastors do not need to become more political. They need to become more biblical. The Bible has many verses that speak to economics, whether it is the economics of a family, the government, or any entity.
The good news is that there are those in Congress who do care about economic integrity, and they are fighting to correct this. Nevertheless, they are still too few. Similarly, too few preachers are willing to preach about this topic. This is the classic case of sinning by omission that James 4:17 (ESV) warns about: "Whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin." We need pastors, the voters, and the elected to become more well-versed, to understand that this obscene debt will someday profoundly injure our nation, our children, and our future.
Bribery and Greed
The reason why our debt towers so high is actually quite simple. Politicians bribe the American people -- with their own tax money -- to expand government programs. It has been said, "The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public's money."
Back to the Pulpit
I tried to convey this message once at a pastor's conference. Some looked at me and said, "That's too political; why would we care about the national debt?" I attempted to make the case that this was ultimately not political, but biblical. Sure, it has implication for the political realm, but at its core the issue of debt -- national or personal -- is a moral, ethical, biblical issue. If I run up a high debt, someone is going to have to pay for what I have done. And that is theft.
America's pastors will need courage to make the sin of massive national debt known. Apathy rages amongst our citizens since the threat of catastrophic consequences seems so far off. Pastors need to instill a sense of urgency about the issue and a strong sense of morality to buck the tide of entitlement mentality and once again reintroduce into the American consciousness a sense of frugality, discipline, and restraint.
President Obama is correct. The amount of national debt run up under George W. Bush was unpatriotic. I would add immoral and unethical. And then doubling that debt by Obama is even more unpatriotic, immoral, and unethical. And under the next Republican and Democrat administrations, it has increased enormously. Our government is setting an incredibly poor example for its citizens by showing actual and true contempt for the wealth of its citizens and the devastating impact this wastefulness has on industry, initiative, and family welfare.
Earnings, Debt and Work
There are, of course, acceptable instances of debt -- unforeseen hospital healthcare emergencies, for example. Most of us have debt on our house, cars, and in school loans. The Bible never explicitly says debt is forbidden, but issues clear warnings against the danger of debt. The truth is, "the borrower is servant to the lender" (Proverbs 22:7).
And we are a debtor's nation. We are becoming the servant to the nations (China, for example) from which we borrow. In addition, our children and grandchildren will become the slaves of those who own their financial notes. This is an untenable situation.
Debt becomes wrong when it burdens future generations. Those who have allowed the debt situation to spiral will suffer none of the consequences, as the next generations will have to pay the debt. The biblical lesson is this: being presumptuous on the future will have a devastating impact on us as a nation and as families. James 4:14 warns that we do not know what the future holds. Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow.
Let us state the issue positively. Paying one's debt is biblical. Does our government have any intention of paying off its obligations? If not, then it is incredibly ungodly and untrustworthy. Psalms 37:21 states, "The wicked borrow and do not repay."
No country has the authority to take money that people need to provide for their own families, while the government squanders it on useless and counterproductive activities. Scripturally, government is to only take that which is needed for it to perform its fundamental, biblical role of executing justice against evil-doers and encouraging the growth of good (Romans 13:4). How much of the annual federal budget would fall into either of these two categories?
The Risk of Debt
What if we first saved the money, then made a purchase? Whatever happened to earning the money to pay for something ahead of time, being patient, being appreciative of what has been worked for? 1 Timothy 6:6-9 says, "But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction."
Debt allows us to enjoy things sooner than if we had to work hard for them first, but having debt doesn't allow for the risk associated with unforeseen major problems that may impact us. To run up consumer debt, that is, on depreciating items, is to presume on the future. What is true in the life of an individual is true of a nation. Wise investment is to be praised, as Jesus himself taught in the Parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30), but squandering wealth or excessive spending -- beyond one's income -- is never biblically promoted or encouraged.
A massive unsustainable national debt isn't biblical. It is morally wrong. Our leaders are squandering the people's wealth. When this happens, the people groan (Proverbs 29:2), and that groaning will grow until responsible men and women, both at a government level and at a personal level, become good stewards again.
(Note: Portions above come from pages 135-142 of Well Versed: Biblical Answers to Today's Tough Issues. If you would like a copy of the entire book for only $6 - including shipping - visit our website.)
National Biblical Economics Resolution
Here is the resolution I mentioned above regarding the moral, biblical aspects of our national debt:
Memorial to the 2012
General Conference of The Wesleyan Church
Pacific Southwest District – The Wesleyan Church
National Biblical Economics Resolution
Whereas, a biblical understanding of government affirms that God has established four forms of government,
and that all of these recognize God as their ultimate foundation; and
Whereas, the Bible says render unto God that which is God's and unto Caesar that which is Caesar's, but in recent years, voices have risen that try to intimidate godly people from speaking out on biblical issues resulting in "Caesar" demanding that which is God's; and
Whereas we, as the people of God, will not be intimidated from lovingly and winsomely speaking scriptural truth; and
Whereas, The Wesleyan Church was rooted (in the older of its two antecedents -- The Wesleyan Methodist Connection) in an understanding of the application of biblical principles to national life on the issue of slavery as this issue was inherently spiritual and not merely "political" in nature; and
Whereas, The Wesleyan Church was rooted (in the older of its two antecedents -- The Wesleyan Methodist Connection) in an understanding of the application of biblical principles to national life in the issue of women's rights, as demonstrated in the fact that the first women's right to vote conference was housed in a Wesleyan Church in Seneca Falls, NY in 1848, as this issue was inherently spiritual and not merely "political" in nature; and
Whereas, The Wesleyan Church was rooted (in the older of its two antecedents -- The Wesleyan Methodist Connection) in an understanding of the application of biblical principles to national life in the issue of women's rights, as demonstrated in the fact that a Wesleyan pastor -- Luther Lee -- preached at the ordination of the first women ever ordained in America; and
Whereas, The Wesleyan Church demonstrated an ongoing understanding of the application of biblical principles to national life in the issue of abortion by making a strong stand in defending life in the womb as this issue is inherently spiritual and not merely "political" in nature; and
Whereas, The Wesleyan Church demonstrated an ongoing understanding of the application of biblical principles to national life in the issue marriage by making a strong scriptural stand on the definition of marriage consisting of one man and one woman as this issue is inherently spiritual and not merely "political" in nature; and
Whereas, The Wesleyan Church demonstrated an ongoing understanding of the application of biblical principles to national life on the issue scriptural, traditional, natural marriage by Wesleyan pastors across America being involved in defending marriage as this issue is inherently spiritual and not merely "political" in nature; and
Whereas, The Wesleyan Church, in following Scriptural truth, does not make the false dichotomy of separating so called "social issues" from so called "fiscal issues," since Wesleyans are concerned with a more sweeping category known simply as "biblical imperatives"; and
Whereas, the majority of the members of Congress have violated the fundamental biblical economic principles which includes such clear commands as "thou shall not steal," whether it be from one's neighbor or from future generations; and
Whereas, economic irresponsibility has been demonstrated by Congresspersons and Presidents of both political parties for a dangerously long duration; and
Whereas, the moral compass of a nation is to be determined by godly pastors proclaiming biblical truth on all issues, be they personal, family, church or national in scope; and
Whereas, Wesleyan pastors and parishioners know -- as our founder John Wesley did -- that holiness is not merely personal holiness but social (societal) holiness; and
Whereas, Wesleyan pastors are free not merely to speak forcefully and clearly on all issues about which the Bible speaks, including the economic underpinnings that apply to national life; and
Whereas, Wesleyan laypersons desire and deserve to confidently affirm biblical principles for national life; and
Whereas, whenever attempts have been made for the President and Congress to live within their means, they have consistently resorted to increasing the tax burden on Americans or borrowing more funds;
Therefore, be it resolved that The Wesleyan Church hereby resolve that our President and the Congress must immediately began to act in an economically responsible manner worthy of their offices; and
Resolved that -- due to the failure of either the President or the Congress to demonstrate economic wisdom -- a constitutional amendment is necessary to force Congress and the President to confront and resolve our cancerous fiscal crisis, end the annual budget deficit, and address the massive and unsustainable national debt; and
Resolved that The Wesleyan Church urges the immediate passing by both Houses of Congress of The Common Sense Balanced Budget Amendment, which would include three new principles to the Constitution:A requirement that federal receipts and outlays balance every year, unless Congress declares a war or a national emergency, as defined in the amendment; A requirement that future tax increases must be passed by a two-thirds supermajority vote in the House and Senate; and A limitation on spending that will tie future federal outlays to an external standard, specifically 18 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which matches the historical average level of federal revenues.
(Note: This was approved by the Pacific Southwest District Conference of The Wesleyan Church on July 6, 2011, but was not approved by the General Board of the Wesleyan Church and not allowed to be discussed at the General Conference of the Wesleyan Church in Lexington, KY June of 2012.)
Dr. Jim Garlow and his wife Rosemary live in San Diego, and are co-founders of a ministry called Well Versed with Bible studies to members of Congress, persons at the United Nations in New York City, and with members of Parliament and government leaders in many nations.