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What Would Jesus Charge? The Morality of Debt

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The issue of whether debt is good or bad can forever be debated, especially at a time like this when many people are overwhelmed with it.  But is it immoral to carry debt?  More specifically, is it wrong to have debt if you’re a Christian?

I was an ordained Catholic Priest from 1983-2001 for the Diocese of Albany, NY, when I left in excellent standing, and have since found my way into the financial services industry, as well as the talk show radio industry.  Therefore, I approach personal finance from a Christian spiritual tradition as well as sound financial planning principles.  In some ways, the issue of debt is cut-and-dry from this perspective, as the Bible provides Christians clear guidance on the subject of debt.

[Related Article: Debt Confessions of a Former Priest]

Lending

Matthew 5:42 reminds us that God wants us to lend to others, if not freely give what we have to others. However, Jesus was a pragmatist who understood that there are times when debt needs to be repaid and so outright gifting is not always possible.  Therefore, you should give or lend whatever you have to your family, friends and even to your enemies when they are in need, regardless of whether or not you have enough of what you need. The Hebrew commandment to “Love your neighbor as yourself” is the underpinning of this principle of generosity.

If you lend money however, your loan should not come with a high rate of interest because the Bible tells us in both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures that we should not take advantage of our brothers or sisters.

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The Books of Psalms and Ecclesiastes remind us that if we borrow money, we must repay the loan. But what does the Bible say about people who take on too much debt and then have trouble paying it back? Although it is difficult at best to determine exactly what the Bible says on this subject, using contemporary biblical scholarship it’s safe to connote that as a Christian you are expected to use debt responsibly.  In other words, if you take on an uncontrollable amount of debt, you’ve violated the Christian value of responsibility and at that point, the concept of sin comes into play.

What It All Means

God has given you the free will to do what you want — go into debt, for example — but at the same time, he has also given you the ability to discern right from wrong, and taking on too much debt is inconsistent with the Biblical teachings of propriety and self-restraint. Does this mean that if you are deeply in debt your soul is in jeopardy?

I would argue “No,” though perhaps other Christians would disagree.

Bottom line, it is not un-Christian to use credit. Therefore, it’s acceptable to have a limited amount of debt. But, taking on more debt than you can handle is not only unwise but it’s also contrary to Christian values and therefore, it prevents you from living a fully Christian life.

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Image: Aaron Wagner, via Flickr

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    Rachel —
    That is for you and your husband to decide. That said, there are some lenders that are less than scrupulous and some borrowers who were uninformed or misinformed when their loans were taken out. And some states use forgiveness programs to attract people in certain professions to work in their states (as in, forgiving a certain amount or percentage of student loans if you, for example, teach for five years in a high-needs school).

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