National debt a new hot issue for evangelicals - Word&Way

National debt a new hot issue for evangelicals

WASHINGTON (RNS)—Many economists warn the government’s huge national debt is a looming threat to long-term prosperity. And according to a growing number of conservative Christians, it also is immoral.

As Washington debates President Obama’s proposed 2012 budget, the immorality of the deficit has become the hot topic on right-leaning Christian blogs, radio programs and political mailings.

The concern not only is that the estimated $14.13 trillion debt could cripple the economy, some conservative Christian leaders say, but also that borrowing so much money violates important biblical tenets. And some of the moral arguments against excessive borrowing are getting a new hearing among Christians already anxious about the economy.

“America’s growing debt is a not just a financial issue, it’s a spiritual one,” said Jerry Newcombe, host of The Coral Ridge Hour, a television program broadcast by Coral Ridge Ministries in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “The Bible is very clear about the moral dangers of debt.”

In a recent segment on the debt, the Coral Ridge program featured spokesmen who quoted the Bible to denounce the debt.

“Proverbs 13:22 says a ‘good man leaves an inheritance for his children’s children,’” historian and author William Federer said on the program. “Right now, we’re not leaving a very good inheritance.”

Other budget-conscious Christians have cited passages from Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy, in which God tells Israel that “you will lend to many nations but will borrow from none.”

Coral Ridge Ministries has been sounding the alarm to its estimated 500,000 devotees through its broadcasts, print publications and website. Likewise, the Washington-based Family Research Council has delivered “action alerts” about the debt to its network of 40,000 pastors and myriad state-based advocacy groups. The Christian Coalition, Concerned Women for America, and the Faith and Freedom Coalition, a new group led by GOP strategist Ralph Reed, also are warning members with increasing intensity that the deficit is reaching immoral proportions.

John C. Green, an expert on religion and politics from the University of Akron in Ohio, said several factors have fueled interest in the deficit.

First, the national debt is a good mobilizing issue for the Republican coalition, able to unite social conservatives and fiscal hawks, whose alliance has sometimes been strained. Second, it allows religious leaders to ride the Tea Party wave of anger against government spending. And finally, it broadens the conservative Christian agenda beyond such culture war battles as abortion and gay marriage.

But while many evangelicals agree the debt is a huge problem, some see partisan politics behind the recent surge in interest among conservatives.

“I wish the Family Research Council and Coral Ridge Ministries would have recognized the debt as a moral issue before they supported two unnecessary and immoral wars and endless corporate subsidies for years,” said Jim Wallis, head of the Washington-based group Sojourners.

David Gushee, a Christian ethics professor at Mercer University, agreed, saying many conservative Christians held their tongues when the debt nearly doubled under President George W. Bush because of tax breaks for wealthy Americans and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“It’s legitimate to be concerned about leaving our children and grandchildren a mountain of debt,” he said. “But it seems that in American politics, every seemingly pure moral claim is mixed with hypocrisy.”