I attended seminary in the hopes of reconnecting to a faith that began to crumble around me.
My Christianity informed by a historically white church and denomination did not fit quite right anymore. The rigid teachings began to crack under the pressure of curiosity, and the God I had nicely boxed up began to bust out.
So, what better way to change out boxes than to take out a few student loans and attend a seminary? Alas.
God was not an idea to be set in a nice, white hat box. It turns out, God was a piñata just waiting to bust open. And within the first month of school, God poured out of my papier-mâché container and onto every part of my life.
For as long as I can remember, I knew the teachings of Jesus centered around helping others in the immediate sense. That is to say, feed the hungry now, clothe the naked now. This was the good news.
But the deeper I dug into the biblical narratives I grew up understanding as fact, what came to light was the subversive poetry found in the ancient texts that went against oppressive powers beyond what I saw in front of me.
It was in these classrooms that I understood a theology of jubilee to mean examining the systems that kept folks hungry and in need, and then embodying a holistic work toward jubilee ourselves rather than waiting for a politician or representative or president to do so.
Each year, I used scholarships and loans to learn how to speak up against systemic injustice both inside and outside of the church walls. And each year, as I sat and “pondered anew what the almighty could do,” those loans also sat and waited.
Amid those three years of mastering the divine, I felt my life leaning toward church ministry, knowing full well that this was not exactly lucrative work.
Despite payment plans, forbearances and trying my darndest to pay what I could, the stress and grief of imagining what that monthly $500-plus could go toward instead of giving it to Navient or Sallie Mae or the Department of Education only deepened my grief of ever seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.
This week, many of us held our breath as we waited for news of what the president would do with loan forgiveness. After four years of campaign promises, then administration promises and payment pauses, President Biden announced the forgiveness of up to $20,000 in student loans.
You might remember that many Democratic candidates promised some semblance of loan forgiveness, including full forgiveness. Instead, what we got this week was a break with a catch. Much like many of the promises the president made to the American people, there is always a catch.
While this move is a small step toward bigger action, I hold both praise for friends and siblings who will greatly benefit from this and also grief for the many it will do hardly anything for.
It is important for us to also understand that for many, $10,000 or even $20,000 is merely a drop in the bucket. Roughly 48 million Americans carry student loan debt that collectively totals up to $1.75 trillion. This means that the debt that most Americans hold is student loan debt.
The debt that most Americans hold is the debt we were told to acquire in order to better our lot in life and that of our families. When, in reality, that “good” lot is actually generational wealth.
Among those statistics, student loan debt disproportionately affects Black and brown women who, coincidentally, serve as some of the most dedicated church participants in the North American church.
Of the 48 million people mentioned above, how many of those folks sit in the pews on Sunday? How many serve on church stewardship committees? How many have been called as pastor or minister in our houses of faith?
As more information comes out about the details of loan forgiveness, there is a unique subset of folks whose debt will remain the same. And since our politicians have shown us exactly who they are by extending the bare minimum of grace, perhaps now is the time for churches to reimagine what it means to tend to our people.
What would clergy compensation look like with a jubilee mindset? What if churches helped pay the debt it took to earn the degree they require of their pastors? What if worship practice included pooling money together to pay that final $3,000 of a church member’s undergraduate degree?
Is that not what the church was? Is that not what church ought to be? Busting wide open in abundance and sharing freely?
Not once did Jesus praise the hoarder of grain or the investor who hid their coins in the sand. Rather, Jesus was the first to grab the good wine and to feed the crowd.
The foundation of the Christian faith has never been rooted in scarcity but in imaginative abundance.
In the Hebrew Bible, we read of poetic disdain for the corrupt systems that took advantage of the vulnerable. In the Gospels, Jesus made clear what the solution was.
Having student loans is not a moral failure. However, profiting off of the never-ending debt and sinful interest is.
Will we, people of faith, sit and see what happens next or will we respond poetically and abundantly? I pray it is the latter. The student loan payment moratorium ends on Dec. 31, 2022.