Acton Institute Powerblog

Is the $17 Trillion Federal Debt Immoral?

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Untitled 4Even when we agree on what Biblical principles should guide our political choices, evangelicals from the left and right rarely agree on policy solutions. But there is one area where there appears to be an increasingly significant level of agreement: the immorality of our national debt.

At Christianity Today, David P. Gushee — an ethicist and politically progressive evangelical — explains why the $17 trillion national debt is both immoral and unwise:

Most progressive evangelicals who address government spending focus on compassion issues. They connect God’s care for the poor to U.S. government spending priorities. This often seems to mean by default that all cuts to social welfare spending are bad, and that all increases are good.

I agree with my progressive evangelical allies that our government—which projects spending $3.77 trillion in fiscal 2014—seems to have sufficient resources to provide for the sick, the aged, the poor, and the uninsured. I agree with an overall reading of the Bible that prioritizes physical human needs over most other priorities. But I protest a too-easy move from “God cares for the poor and calls Christians to do the same” to “God wants the secular government of the United States to spend x on social welfare.” Translating a sacred text into a political ethic is not that easy.

Still, we have a moral problem on our hands: While our nation budgets $3.77 trillion for spending in fiscal 2014, it forecasts revenue of $744 billion less than that. If a nation does that for long enough, it ends up with a debt of $17 trillion—and rising.

A government that develops a pattern of spending considerably more than it raises behaves immorally. But its immorality is not simply the immorality-as-immediate-hardheartedness-to-the-poor, so often decried by my friends.

Read more . . .

Joe Carter Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).


  • The national debt is not a moral issue; it’s purely practical and
    economic. It would be immoral if the government borrowed without
    intending to repay the debt. The immorality happens when the Fed
    destroys the value of the money so that it pays off debt with money
    worth much less. This is the sin/crime of using false measures and
    weights condemned in the OT. It’s also a sin/crime for politicians to
    break the law and all presidents, congressmen and judges have done that
    for 150 years by violating the Constitution. When Supreme Court justices
    violate the original intention of the Constitution and claim that the
    document gives the government powers that the writers never intended,
    they have become criminals, and any president or congressman who goes
    along with the justices’ crimes are criminals as well. There is a lot of
    immorality in our government, but it’s not in borrowing money.

    • You don’t think it’s immoral to run up debts that other people (your descendants) will have to pay back?

      • No, I don’t think it is immoral. I think we should be careful about how we define morality and keep it simple and limited to what the Bible defines as immorality. Very few things are immoral. I think it is impractical and unwise, but not immoral. It’s neither dishonest nor theft or fraud.