I have had my struggles with the church, and, like Jacob, I have wrestled with God. One point of difficulty I often return to is the intersection of church and economy. To tithe in support of your local community is an imperative, yes, but what God would ask us to put money in the plate though it would put us in debt or require us to deny ourselves some basic need? I have all of these problems with church finances and yet this Sunday, as I returned to church for the first time in months, I felt the desire to give. After clocking in 92 hours of labor during the past two weeks, I received the largest paycheck I’ve ever seen from any job I’ve ever worked at this Friday. I won’t go into detail, but a proper 10% of this check would be over $100. That means that I could have put a Benjamin into the offering plate if it weren’t the case that every cent from that paycheck was already earmarked for some basic need or payment on debt.
I say this as an introduction to a bigger revelation I had this week. In the past, I have been quick to latch on to some truly righteous causes. I thought it right to “come out” as an ally to those in the LGBTQ community about six years ago, and when my black friends and colleagues on Twitter and Facebook begged others not to be silent about the injustice that was taking place in Ferguson MO I made my position clear. However, my wife made an important point clear to me, namely that however much concern I felt for issues such as these, none of these struggles are my struggle. In other words, it is inauthentic and sometimes damaging to proclaim myself, a cisgender heterosexual white male, to declare myself as any kind of champion of LGBTQ, POC, or women’s rights. It is not wrong for me to show concern for what is going on in the world of the underprivileged – in fact, I believe it is true that an injustice anywhere is felt everywhere – but the world doesn’t need white knights. The world needs people speaking from their experience of suffering while actively listening to others as they do the same.
The revelation came last night, though it was probably obvious to everyone else. My struggle is with debt. When I was young, my parents took on debt just to raise us kids. I had my first credit card when I was just a teenager, and before I bid farewell to credit cards for the rest of my life I had to pay off a significant balance that had built up. I took on more in debt than I would like to admit publicly to fund my education, debt that I cannot currently see an end to paying. In addition to all of this, many of my loved ones have taken on massive debt just to treat illness, some facing bankruptcy in the process.
Debt is my story. I have plenty of it, I’m currently working to rid myself of it once and for all (and that involves not taking out more debt, which is difficult when you want to have a house some day), and if I’m worth any of the ethical training I’ve accumulated from old family sayings to degrees in philosophy and theology, I am going to have to work for the rest of my life to tackle this horrible worldwide system of debt through education and action. This does not mean that I have to abandon my concerns for other issues, not by a long shot – if you think that the issue of debt has nothing to do with the struggles of minority groups in America, then you haven’t done your research – but I am certainly going to stop attempting to speak for others. It is not that the oppressed are voiceless; it is just that few people are listening.
I look forward to the day where I don’t have to worry about paying off debts, so I can put my 10% in the offering plate. At Fountain Street Church, all unmarked cash goes to their Social Action Grand Program, after all, which means my money would be working for the same cause as my writing – economic justice. I know this sounds like some naval gazing right now, like I am just honking my own horn for the fact that I am pointing in the right direction despite not having done any real good, but I have been spending weeks in contemplation trying to find the fastest way out of my own personal debt situation. You cannot imagine how liberating it is to imagine a world where that is behind me and all I have to worry about is where to aim my generosity.
I welcome any of you to take this walk with me and share your stories. In fact, I’d be happy to publish your thoughts on the blog as a guest post if that’s something that you’re interested in. Otherwise, just leave some good words on the topic of debt, labor, income inequality, or whatever. To quote a couple important voices on the topic:
You are not alone.
– Michael Jackson
You are not a loan.
– Strike Debt!