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Tuesday, March 08, 2005

The Senate is in the midst of passing the new bankruptcy bill, which will have the effect of drastically limiting Chapter 7 bankruptcies (fresh start) and forcing people to use Chapter 13 instead (payment plans). Much ink has been spilled over the fact that the bill was (literally) drafted by the credit card industry -- the same industry that made a bundle by loosening its credit requirements in the 1990s in order to charge horrific late fees and usurious interest rates. But in the midst of all this, I have found two things that seem to be lost -- one economic, and the other spiritual.

1. In legal circles, especially in business-friendly legal circles, people like to talk about the "established expectations" of the parties. Businesses like to be able to plan, you see, and the law should avoid doing anything to upset those expectations. The smooth operation of the market depends on it. Similarly, the law protects those that change their position in reliance on a representation or a current state of affairs. Such people are entitled to the protections of equity, not to mention the fraud laws.

The current bankruptcy law violates those established expectations. The credit card industry complains about the people declaring Chapter 7, but the fact is, people took on all those easy-credit credit cards with the expectation that bankruptcy was available. Nowhere in the Right's rhetoric do they take this fact into account; the credit card companies are doing nothing less than rewriting the essential contract once they've made their bundle.

This is a bad idea. There's a reason why businesses normally oppose such behavior.

2. There are a number of occasions where I feel that my faith determines my politics. As a middle-of-the-road Christian (right of the Episcopals, left of the Baptists, here I am, stuck in the middle with you) I find that there are a number of Biblical principles that require me to take particular positions on political issues. As one who follows Christ, I find that I really have no choice if I want to avoid hypocrisy. For instance, I must support:

a. Strong welfare programs for the poor
b. Efforts to reform prisons
c. Programs that support the elderly, sick, and infirm
d. Laws that promote equality among all people
e. Efforts to keep religion separated from politics

Anyhoo, I feel that my faith absolutely requires me to oppose the bankruptcy reforms being rammed through the Senate. Take a gander at Leviticus 25 sometime (good translation here) -- God's plan for Israel was that it was impossible for anyone to end up without their property or their freedom for more than fifty years. The fiftieth year was a year of Jubilee, in which servants were freed of their obligations. In fact, God specifically warned creditors and sellers that they could only count on income for the remaining years until Jubilee. That plan absolutely jibes with Christ's commandments about forgiveness, and Paul's letters about how to apply that forgiveness within the community. "Fresh start" bankruptcy laws are nothing less than the enactment of the Jubilee principle.

Remarkable, then, that the very people that push the so-called "Christian" agenda are the ones spearheading the effort to reward credit card companies at the expense of true Christian forgiveness. I would be curious to know what their reasoning is. It's not for me to judge, but I can sure wonder what they're thinking.

 1:59 PM

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