Why Christians should oppose the debt ceiling limit
Religion & Liberty Online

Why Christians should oppose the debt ceiling limit

When it comes to political policy, Christians in America have a wide-range of opinions about what should be done. Even when we agree on a general principle, we tend to disagree about how that informs our policy choices. We recognize, for instance, that we have an obligation to care for the poor but differ on the type and degree of government involvement.

Such differences can lead us to believe that there is nothing we can agree on. But I don’t believe that’s always true. There are indeed some issues that all Bible-believing Christians should be able to agree on.

One such area of potential agreement is paying debts. The Bible is clear that believers are to pay what we owe. The Apostle Paul tells us, “Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed . . .” (Romans 13:7). Similarly, the Psalmist warns that, “The wicked borrows but does not pay back . . .” (Psalm 37:21). And Proverbs tells us, “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it. Do not say to your neighbor, “Go, and come again, tomorrow I will give it”—when you have it with you.” (Proverbs 3:27-28).

The Bible is clear that when an individual incurs a debt they are required, to the best of their ability, to pay what they owe. But does this same principle apply to governments?

Because of the differences in roles and responsibilities not all principles that apply to the individual apply to the state. However, it seems clear this is one principle that clearly applies to both.

In our form of government we elect representatives to act in our behest, including taking on contractual debt obligations. We may not agree with either the levels of spending or the priorities, but these legislators have been duly elected to incur debts on our behalf that we—or our grandchildren—must pay. For this reason I believe we, as Christians, should not support policies that refuse to pay for the legal obligations we have authorized.

In policy terms this means we have two general choices: we can raise the debt limit and borrow money needed to cover our shortfall or we can immediately raise taxes in order to generate the revenues necessary to pay the government’s bills.

If a Member of Congress refuses to raise the debt ceiling (or raise taxes) until their ancillary demands are met are acting immorally, since they are refusing to pay the debts they themselves authorized. The same goes for a president who vetoes debt limit raising legislation. Hopefully, no one involved in current debt limit negotiations has any real intention of throwing the country into a financial crisis. But even if they are prevaricating about their true intentions, they are threatening to act immorally if they don’t get their way. As Christians we should find such behavior unacceptable. The fact that they are representing us makes such an action intolerable.

Many of us Christians in America have become jaded and cynical, willing to accept, or at least overlook, dishonest charades that are carried out in our name. Isn’t it time we stop tolerating such nonsense? If we as citizens are to pay taxes to whom taxes are owed, and revenue to whom revenue is owed, shouldn’t the authorities set up as “ministers of God” be expected to do the same?

There are few policy issues on which both the Biblical principle is clear and the issue transcends the political categorization. We shouldn’t waste this opportunity for Christians on the left, right, and center to come together to tell Congress to stop this political theater and abolish the debt limit.

Joe Carter

Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).