Debt forgiveness may seem like a foreign concept today, but in Biblical times, it was surprisingly common. To quell rebellious debtors and ensure financial stability, ancient rulers regularly proclaimed jubilees, which would free slaves, return property, and cancel debts. Jubilees even found their way into Leviticus and the Gospel of Luke as moral imperatives—forgiving debt lets people get their heads above water and start from scratch.
Today, that’s the idea at the heart of an interfaith activist coalition called Jubilee USA, says Yes! (July 6, 2012). The group, which has its roots in the Third World debt cancellation movement, has now taken aim at the ballooning student debt crisis. Before Congress agreed not to hike student interest rates in June, Jubilee organized eight weeks of call-ins, petition drives, and communal prayer. The strategy worked, and now leaders have set their sights on the structural problems like rising tuition that underpin the crisis.
Jubilee’s best weapon may be its broad appeal. The coalition is made up of more than 200 faith communities, progressive and conservative, and dozens of social justice and community groups. “It’s actually what Jesus ended up basing his entire ministry on,” says Jubilee USA leader Eric LeCompte. “He comes to free the slaves, unbind the bound, and declare the year of the Lord’s favor.”