Eye on symptoms, Gokey weighs slavery as part of human condition

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Thomas Gokey chats with an interlocutor at the Theology on Tap event downtown in which he gave a biblical argument in favor of a debt Jubilee.

The alien who is among you shall rise higher and higher above you, and you shall come down lower and lower. He shall lend to you, but you shall not lend to him; he shall be the head, and you shall be the tail.

— Deuteronomy 28:43, 44

By David Tulis

The scriptures teach that mankind is fallen. Christianity proposes that the chief form of slavery that results from the fall is to sin. Spiritual slavery is the state of natural man in his debased state, and is called sin for short. Sin is rebellion against God’s government, His person, laws and ways, is a spirit of autonomy and self-law denying the claims and superiority of God.

From the estate of sin flow other forms of slavery that the scriptures promise will be part of the human condition until the end of time. These forms, however, progressively lose ground as history advances and the gospel has a salting effect on the earth. For Christianity teaches that before the end of time, nations will bow to King Jesus; that process is the story of mankind over the centuries, with ups and downs, but with a general acknowledgement of the total claims of Jesus Christ upon creation and upon all of His creatures.

This week I have had several encounters with slavery.

Sexual slavery. In Chattanooga two young women run a business called Better Way Imports that seeks to support women in India, Cambodia, Yemen and other countries who have escaped sex traffickers and sexual servitude.

Slavery to the state. The U.S. outlawed chattel slavery in the 13th Amendment, but imposed it as a government monopoly in the income tax amendment  (by some accounts), the Federal Reserve Act of 1914 and the rise of the welfare-prison-industrial complex. This slavery to the state was thrown into high relief in the excited overthrow in Boston of the ban against warrantless searches by police of homeowners’ house.

Debt slavery, thanks to interactions with Thomas Gokey of Debt Strike, an Occupy Wall Street offshoot. Debt slavery in our day is made possible by the Federal Reserve Act and a fiat money system that has allowed centralization of government and centralization of the economy favoring giant corporations. Paper money may have allowed the debt overhang saddling the country, but the spiritual condition of the American people has drawn them into the trap. Their loose reading of scripture and their skepticism that leads them to reject God — have brought the sovereign Creator to reject them and bring them under servitudes (no doubt, for His glory, as time will tell).

Parallel at first, Occupy Wall Street’s theory strays

On Tuesday the debt crisis was the focus of a speech by Mr. Gokey, whose activist group uses the  biblical concept of the Sabbath and the Jubilee to espouse an escape from a seemingly insurmountable problem. Mr. Gokey, a new resident of Chattanooga, sympathizes deeply and in a Christian context with  Americans’ seemingly unpayable pile of debt — F$1 trillion alone in the student debt market. He is targeting medical debt. He is targeting student loan debt to wipe it out. He speaks of college students who are simply “doing what they were told” at school and graduate with F$100,000 in debt. Mr. Gokey is in earnest to start a debt revolt with a biblical rationale and a ranks of soldiery from among statist-oriented protesters in Occupy Wall Street.

Your mild-mannered editor represents a spiritual and intellectual system that contradicts that of Mr. Gokey on a point or two. I hold to the sovereignty of God in all things, Mr. Gokey to the negotiating and conflicted God, the one who can’t get His story straight. I understand God’s law as binding in its general equity and revelatory of His exalted, holy character; Mr. Gokey views the law of God as a smorgasbord of useful suggestions. I am aided by John Calvin, Mr. Gokey by Karl Barth.‡ I am reformed — helped by the “sphere sovereignty” concept of Abraham Kuyper with strict limits on the state; Mr. Gokey, a liberal and innovator whose intelligence is best exhibited when plain meanings are made complex. I favor a free market as a fruit of the gospel, he totalitarianism because of its power to bestow good things on the citizenry. For me, law kills — it condemns; for Mr. Gokey, the law doesn’t just restrain evil, it seems able to affect an earthly salvation via the messianic “single-payer” superstate.

Lending as warfare

Mr. Gokey, addressing an audience of 51 people Tuesday at the Christian-oriented coffee house, offers in his lecture useful points.

Interest-bearing loans = subjugation. Luke 6:35, 36 gives Christ’s words about lending as something done with a charitable spirit. “But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and the evil, therefore be merciful, just as your father is merciful.” Christ here is addressing the heart of His people; part of their grace to others is with capital; they should lend (to the needy), expecting no return. Lending is a form of charity. But lending is also a form of warfare and subjugation. Mr. Gokey points out that loans in the scripture are without interest among family, among God’s people. Allan Jones’ payday lending empire in Cleveland, Tenn., charges 485 percent interest, Mr. Gokey says, and has neither charitable means nor goals, but is a hard-driving business in a free market in credit, one that ensnares (or helps) people on the verge of ruin. Lending at interest creates an us versus them conflict. Interest-bearing loans put the borrower into subjection, make people beholden. It creates a vulnerable, dependent class. The credit industry, while a free market actor providing a service, seems to be at war with the poor. Mr. Gokey is right.

Charity loans are merciful. Mr. Gokey says his rolling Jubilee concept is mirrored in the work of the diaconate. The church is the place where the gospel is embosomed and the pulpit, the engine of reformation, roars; it has the office of deacon, who cares after the poor among God’s people first, then perhaps among other people — strangers, enemies, the lost, the hopeless. Churches, he proposes, should run coffee shops where God’s poor can “bank” and grab short-term “zero interest, zero-fee” loans from the cash register and thereby avoid the merchantry of Mr. Jones’ Check Into Cash. “[Payday lenders] are reeling right now; they only need a little bit of a shove; we can actually bankrupt some of them,” he says. Charity loans through Christian ministry. Mr. Gokey is right.

A liberal bypath meadow — still, escape to a good point. Mr. Gokey claims that my view of the atonement, as rediscovered in the Reformation and taught in faithful pulpits across Chattanooga, is mistaken, is an 11th century novelty. He says an earlier narrative is truer, and helpful to his cause. (Skip this long quote if you’re in a hurry.)

“We’re all in debtors prison, basically. Adam and Eve sold humanity into debtor’s prison and we are in debt to sin and debt. We’re in debt to the powers and principalities of the world. Now, powers and principalities sound like this weird magical force that’s behind the universe; it sounds like it’s something hard to believe in the 21st century.” When we turn from the Bible to the newspaper, he says, we read of a war starting and it is explained as “geopolitcal forces at work. That’s all the Bible means by  principalities and powers. It means the powers of states, the powers of government, it’s the powers Luther was OK getting in bed with. It was the power of the sword, the power of violence. And it is this we were sold into bondage to. And the incarnation was a jailbreak. It would make a great Hollywood movie. Someone really should do that. Does anyone have Mel Gibson’s number? Mel Gibson leaves the resurrection out, right? And this is the key thing. *** We need to shift our focus away from the theology of the cross, which is big in the Reformation, *** the crucified Son of God. Really the theology of the cross is an eccentric theology, and it is eccentric by precisely three days. We need a theology of Easter. It’s the resurrection that is the real salvific event. The resurrection shows that there is a love as strong as death, there is a power that is as strong as the principalities and powers in the world and, and it’s a strange, nonviolent power. [He points to famed photo of protester and tank row at Tiananmen Square] This is the power of the resurrection, a completely unarmed, ethically naked man can stare down an entire army and win. He’s is my hero; but so is the tank driver. We need more tank drivers like that.” Mr. Gokey need not separate the crucifixion and resurrection as he does, but he sees salvation and redemption in terms of unpayable debt paid. Great point.

Mr. Gokey goes on to say if Jesus were to appear at Camp House, everyone there would kill Him. “We” did no less to revolutionaries such as Ghandi, Martin Luther King and liberation theologians (Marxist revolutionaries and Jesuits). And “then we killed liberation theology as a live option of theology.” Well, liberation theology is a —

Mr. Gokey wants his Chattanooga listeners to help him. He asks them to take part in his “debt resistance work” and gives away free copies of “The Debt Resistor’s Operations Manual,” published by a gaggle of “resistors, defaulters and allies from Strike Debt and Occupy Wall Street.”  He declares: “We want these mini Jubilees to roll into a larger Jubilee. We are actually calling for a global Jubilee.”

How Mr. Gokey might improve his Christian work

Mr. Gokey’s listeners could make his arguments more helpful by throwing into the mix the following considerations:

1. Account for the fiat money system. The debts belonging to most people are in a fraudulent instrument denominated in dollars. These dollars were create at a whim, and can be easily wiped out because they cost no bank or no person anything to create. Fiat in. Fiat out. The fiat money scheme throws Christian morality on its head, prudence out the door and caution to the wind. Bubbles. See my earlier essay.

2. Account for personal responsibility. Readers of my first essay about Mr. Gokey chortle over his socialized view of personal responsibility. The young couple, Mr. and Mrs. Gokey, have amassed F$100,000 in student debt. Did they not think about how they would repay it? No, they didn’t. They live in a fantasy — a scintillating ideasphere cooked up by Republicans, Democrats and national government.

3. Account for distinction between God’s children and the rest of the world. Mr. Gokey makes no distinction between how Christians deal among themselves insofar as the poor go, and how they might deal with the world at large. Should Christians extend charity loans at interest? No. “If one of your brethren becomes poor, and falls into poverty among you then you shall help him *** . Take no usury or interest from him; but fear God, that your brother may live with you” (Leviticus 25:35, 36). Might they extend loans in business with people who aren’t necessarily Christian? Yes. Might their businesses borrow? Yes. Should Christians obey God’s ban on assuming debt longer than seven years? I would say ignore that limit at your peril.

4. Start with the Bible. Mr. Gokey suggests he is interpreting the scriptures to fit his Occupy Wall Street agenda. “I want to translate the analysis of debt that we’ve been developing at Strike Debt into theological terms. Debt is absolutely soaked in theology. There is no purely secular concept of debt.” Perhaps one of his listeners will do some Bible study with Mr. Gokey and insist that the biblical text control.

5. Explore how debt service might be sanctifying. “For the Lord your God will bless you just as He promised you; you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow; you shall reign over many nations, but they shall not reign over you” (Deut. 15:6). God’s people, just, equitable, bring heathens into subjection through trade, business and cultural exchange — and loans. Debt makes an ungodly man subject to a godly one, and liable to his good influence. An indebted nation is not as free to wage war, oppress minorities or launch fruitless social welfare programs. National debt will force changes in the U.S. and may invite a beneficial breakup of old-regime geopolitical arrangements.

Noncompliance — a tool we can all consider using

Mr. Gokey talks about a program of “simple noncooperation with debt.” Debt is how the 99 percent interfaces with the 1 percent, he says. “Debt is the way Wall Street occupies our lives; we need to evict Wall Street” just as police evicted Occupy Wall Street from a city park. “We should simply refuse to cooperate.”

The speaker is telling half the story. Compliance with the federal machine at the front end keeps it going. Noncompliance should work not just when the bills are due. Noncompliance must begin at the start, when the offer of the loan or the freebie is extended. I am on Mr. Gokey’s side when he talks about noncooperation with debt, with some reservations. To make a more useful talk for Christendom, he needs to develop a rationale as to why Americans should never let the federal tit dangle into their upturned lips, much less draw into their throats a first sugary suckle.

‡ Barth, a Swiss, is the century’s greatest theologian, Mr. Gokey says. I offer R.J. Rushdoony, an American of Arminan descent, as the greatest of the 20th century.

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