How to Spell Debt Relief

"The Jubilee movement convinced the world to write down the debt of impoverished nations, but the strings attached provoke fresh debate on economic justice"
2001This article is part of CT's digital archives. Subscribers have access to all current and past issues, dating back to 1956.
A movement that won the support of both U2's Bono and Republican Sen. Jesse Helms must have something going for it. The Jubilee 2000 campaign to cancel the debt of the poorest countries transformed a technical economic matter into a compelling moral issue—one likely to find Christians on opposing sides of an ideological firestorm.

Jubilee succeeded in simplifying a complex issue into a cause regular folks could get passionate about: The debt payments to rich countries that gobble up large portions of poor countries' budgets, making improvements for their people nearly impossible, must be eliminated. Evangelicals across the political spectrum joined the Jubilee 2000 movement with zeal—we're Christians, and forgiving debt is what Christians do, right? That one of the world's first Internet-driven grassroots movements (begun in 1996) had a biblically derived name, based on the jubilee-year freedom and restoration decrees of Leviticus 25, didn't hurt.

Then there was the exhilaration of slinging stones at the giant of international financial institutions. Whereas these institutions had scheduled debt relief for only four countries by the end of 2000, Jubilee succeeded in winning relief pledges for 22 nations, 11 of which held cash savings in hand as a result by the end of 2000.

Like the detailed economic instructions of Leviticus 25, however, Jubilee's initial success has posed some knotty socioeconomic dilemmas. Under what conditions debt relief is to be granted, and whether Jubilee's new goals are in the best long-term interests of the poor, are questions begging more than a simplistic reading of the Bible and anti-globalization Web sites (but see and for strong, if one-sided, arguments against ...

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