Debt and Poverty in a Christian Nation

One reason, I think, some people shun history is that historical context can be deeply disturbing—but that context also helps illuminate a better understanding of the present.

The following example is both disturbing (nearly impossible to believe) and an apt analogy for the current debate about college loan forgiveness.

Deborah C. England offers these sobering facts about marital rape in the U.S.:

Marital rape was a term that was viewed by the law as an oxymoron until shamefully late in U.S. history. Until the 1970’s, the rape laws in every state in the union included an exception if the rapist and the victim were husband and wife. In 1993, all 50 states had finally eliminated the “marital rape exception.” But the effects of these archaic exceptions persist and interfere with spousal rape prosecutions in some states.

The History of Marital Rape Laws

Only over the last three decades have wives been allowed to pursue legal consequences for being raped in their own homes, by their spouse, and thus, far more women have lived under the specter of marital rape than not in U.S. history.

Should those women be so offended by the change in law that they resent the new (and morally justifiable) law? Should they demand that all women continue to suffer as they did?

Of course not.

That many suffered needlessly is not grounds for maintaining a wrong.

Many in the U.S. live under the burden of student loans because the U.S. has chosen not to fully fund K-16 education and has chosen to ignore predatory lending and abusive interest rates and repayment schedules.

Student debt relief is acknowledgement of a wrong—not a give-away, not a slap in the face of those who were equally wronged.

My parents were working-class Boomers who made college a clear expectation. I am quasi-first-gen since neither parent graduated college but had 1 year, Mom, and 2 years, Dad, but I was aware paying for college was a burden on my parents.

That “burden” in the late 1970s and early 1980s was semesters that cost hundreds of dollars because I attended my local state university branch, living at home over half of that time as an undergraduate. I also tutored on campus and had other jobs, mostly to fund my recreational time.

My parents were very gracious and would have contributed even more if I had asked, but I always felt guilty and tried to lessen that burden. I enrolled in the maximum hours per semester allowed to make their contribution “worth it.”

And I chose to be a high school English teacher because I felt I should complete a “practical” degree and have a career. English, even in the early 1980s, was viewed as a “useless” degree—although my heart always longed to be a “straight” English major, as the rhetoric of my college years went.

My parents never told me what major to pursue, but I felt it was the right thing to do to honor their sacrifices. I graduated as an undergraduate in December and couldn’t find full-time teaching until the next fall.

That was a very hard time with lots of tension because I worried I wasn’t going to be able to follow through with the right thing. I was living at home and struggling to secure part-time work, including being a substitute teacher that spring and starting my MEd immediately.

My teaching career began in the fall of 1984 in the high school where I graduated in 1979. I taught over a decade and continued to cobble together graduate courses on top of my MEd until I entered a doctoral program in 1995. I took out one $6000 loan throughout my grad experience from 1984 – 1998.

And my school district reimbursed tuition for one graduate course a semester along the way.

I taught full time as a high school teacher, was an adjunct at several local colleges, and completed my EdD simultaneously—while married and with a young daughter. These were very tense and overwhelming years of continuing to do the right thing into my late 30s.

I cannot get past that much of these experiences were about “burdens” on my parents, me, and my family. I missed a lot, including my daughter scoring 6 goals one Saturday morning in recreational soccer while I sat in my 6-hour graduate course 90 miles away.

I want to add “unnecessary” to “burdens” because the US is a mostly hateful people, not meeting the label of “Christian Nation,” who think this sort of suffering is a good thing.

It isn’t.

All this to say—there should be no student debt and K-16 education should be fully publicly funded.

Regardless or especially because of those who have survived the horrible system we have created and allowed.

Many in the U.S., especially conservatives and libertarians, love to talk about choice, and that overlaps significantly with those who claim the U.S. is a Christian Nation.

The backlash over forgiving student loans is proof that both are veneers, essentially lies and distractions.

So in the tradition of Kurt Vonnegut, I, a humanist and non-Christian, want to leave you all with a little reading, a meditation of sorts (emphasis mine in bold):

15 At the end of every seven years you must cancel debts. This is how it is to be done: Every creditor shall cancel any loan they have made to a fellow Israelite. They shall not require payment from anyone among their own people, because the Lord’s time for canceling debts has been proclaimed. You may require payment from a foreigner, but you must cancel any debt your fellow Israelite owes you. However, there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, if only you fully obey the Lord your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today. For the Lord your God will bless you as he has promised, and you will lend to many nations but will borrow from none. You will rule over many nations but none will rule over you.

If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward themRather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they needBe careful not to harbor this wicked thought: “The seventh year, the year for canceling debts, is near,” so that you do not show ill will toward the needy among your fellow Israelites and give them nothing. They may then appeal to the Lord against you, and you will be found guilty of sin. 10 Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. 11 There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.

Deuteronomy 15: 1-11

So it goes.