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Mike hopes to see the world turned upside down through local communities banding together for social change, especially churches which have recognized the radical calling to be good news to the poor, to set free the prisoners and oppressed, and to become the social embodiment of the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven. He lives with the blessed memory of his wife, in Durham, NC, and has three adult children living in three different states. He also shares his life with the Mt. Level Missionary Baptist Church in Durham, the faculty and students of Shaw University Divinity School in Raleigh, NC, and the faithful fans of Duke and Baylor Basketball in his neighborhood.

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Monday, March 30, 2009

Bailout 14: Thinking About Jubilee

Last Monday I was in an interesting meeting at Wake Forest Divinity School. The Wake Forest folks and some of their ecclesial friends from Winston-Salem CHANGE showed up in force. I was there as a faculty member of Shaw Divinity and as a leader in Durham CAN. No one from the other invited divinity school was able to attend.

There were two purposes for the meeting. The one I was most aware of was an effort to bring together divinity faculty to discuss ways for community organizing to be taught to their students. The second purpose, which turned out to dominate the meeting, was the idea that North Carolina United Power (NCUP) should consider a campaign relating to the economic situation.

Gerald Taylor, who called the meeting, is the regional organizer for IAF, the oldest of the national institutions which promote Alinsky-rooted community organizing. Gerald discussed the current economic situation and what he sees as the wrong-headed direction of the governmental responses. In that context, he brought up the biblical concept of Jubilee.

The most significant thing said at that meeting was that biblical Jubilee is not merely about solving the economic problems of the wealthy. Forgiving debts of the poor and setting the oppressed free are its central concepts. Thus, a bailout which attempts to benefit everyone by clearing out the debts of the banks and financial instututions contradicts the wisdom of the Jubilee tradition.

Taylor argued that the way to help the economy, including the banks and other financial institutions, would be to help the average person who is deep in debt. Provide debt relief to everyday people, and they will pay off credit cards, pay and restructure mortgages, pay for higher education, and purchase goods. For those persons who are not in debt, the same financial stimulus would provide economic opportunities that would strengthen economic activity, bolster retirement funds, and stabilize families and businesses.

Taylor also went on to discuss the ways that credit card companies and other lenders are sticking it to common people at the same time that they are able to borrow at the lowest rates in history. This is what the Bible condemns as usury, and the state of usury laws in the U. S. is such that the credit companies can locate in one or two of the fifty states which give them the greatest freedom to charge whatever they want in interest. The situation calls for a national policy.

What kind of bailout would a jubilee call for? It is about fifty years since the Civil Rights Movement. It is about fifty years since the Nixon government began to institutionalize the backlash against progressive reforms. It may be time to proclaim a Jubilee.

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