Moral Bankruptcy and the Failure of the Family Movement

There aren’t too many people in America who are unaware of aggressive marketing by credit card companies. Count the envelopes arriving each week selling new cards and pushing attractive new deals. The effort to entice new customers is not limited to those with good credit. Individuals and families struggling to make ends meet are primary targets. You don’t have to have a job; in fact you don’t even have to be out of college to be courted by the credit card marketers.

The availability of easy credit at a high cost has contributed markedly to the bankruptcy crisis in America. The marketing by the banking industry, the irresponsibility of their disbursal of credit, their usury, and their exorbitant fees and constant penalties is obscene.

For eight years the banking industry has lobbied Congress to have bankruptcy rights curbed. Now, they are celebrating success after pushing through the Senate legislation that will make it much more difficult for individuals to file for bankruptcy. All parties agree that the bill is virtually assured House passage and the President’s signature.

Although it doesn’t appear that the banking lobby has simply purchased votes (see this NRO article), it has been successful in returning the stigma, the guilty whispers, and the image of the unsavory bankrupt fool. The purveyors of obscene credit have accomplished this while successfully taking on the victim’s cloak. As a result, hundreds of thousands of families will not achieve federal protection from their creditors.

At issue: Whether these families are themselves victims of the credit card companies, medical misfortune, and other calamities or financial predators with no one to blame but themselves.

I’ve talked to people on both sides of the issue in preparing a short article for the next edition of Christianity Today. The bankruptcy debate illustrates the clash between competing Christian values: holding individuals responsible for their actions versus granting them a fresh start.

Most alarming in my research is that the Christian groups that make it their business to be a voice for the evangelical community in Washington—particularly on issues that effect the family—appear disinterested or incapable of action on issues other than the sanctity of life or sexual preference.

Groups such as Family Research Council, Concerned Women for America, and Focus on the Family rose to the occasion to on the Schumer amendment to the bankruptcy bill and successfully defeated this effort to punish abortion protesters (perhaps a few hundred?)
But with that accomplished, it was virtually impossible to get reactions from these groups on the massive bankruptcy bill, which will impact hundreds of thousands of a families each year. [I couldn’t get a substantive comment either way from these organizations].

One group, perhaps the leading Christian financial group in the nation (that would not speak on the record), was opposed to the bill because, it said, it considered bankruptcy to be a bad choice for Christian families. (That’s like being opposed to pregnancy crisis centers because you are against teenage pregnancy).

The heightened rhetoric on both sides masks the truth of who is benefiting from bankruptcy protection. What’s clear is that the enormous promotional effort of the banking industry has demonized those who file for bankruptcy. And the Christian family lobby was absent from the debate on 2005 legislation that may have more impact on the American family than any other.

–James Jewell

About Jim Jewell

I am a writer and consultant on faith and public life, active for many years in management and communications in the evangelical community. I now work as the director of the nonprofit practice at The Valcort Group ( Everything on this blog, however, is my personal opinion and is not read or approved before it is posted. Opinions, conclusions and other information expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of Valcort.
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