The Church of Everlasting Debt and Your Identity

It is easy to start a church. You need a set of by-laws – the governing principles of your organization. Simply adopt clauses from existing ideology you deem appropriate and re-write them to reflect your exact circumstances. The neoliberal ideology of deregulation, privatization, and user pays principle is a good start. Austerity plays a key role – it creates a more subservient population by intentionally increasing joblessness and precariousness for many, demanded on the pretext of bringing public debt under control. In addition austerity weakens the position of the working class relative to the economic elite while pushing the 90% into further personal debt. Private indebtedness unlike government deficit expenditure, bind the majority of individuals to wage labour relations. Workers with mortgages or other debt obligations will be more subservient in relation to their employers and less likely to risk their present positions in negotiations over wages and conditions.

Anselm was made Archbishop of Canterbury following the Norman conquest. He attempted to explain the scripture based on the community around him. His theory of atonement relied heavily on the feudal system of hierarchy, in which serfs worked on an estate for an overlord. The overlord – a knight – protected the estate from attack. The knight, in turn, had to honour the king. The serfs owed the knight a debt of honour for their protection and livelihood. Anselm pictured God as the overlord of the world to whom is owed a debt of honour. According to Anselm, the reason human beings get into trouble in the first place is their failure to make good on the original debt of obedience they owe to God. Consequently, debt does not only name an economic relationship, it has theological, political and moral valences as well.

Pastor Joe McKeever observes that there are three kinds of people who come to worship service. The three groups can be characterized as: the browser, the customer, and the shareholder. The browser is someone who is looking for meaning and is checking things out before making a commitment. The customer comes to church for the music, youth activities and other connections to community. They will tell you the church supplies their need while they contribute by their presence and a little money. The third group can be characterized as the shareholders. These folks are the ones who take responsibility for the church’s well-being – its programs, its success – and make the church function. Shareholders – those whose hearts are in this church – interact with browsers and customers regularly so they can invite them to participate in the ongoing work of the church.1

During the 2016 election the Clinton and Trump campaigns reached out to various groups of people in the community. Even though Clinton was at her best when she spoke about American interests in the world, many times throughout the campaign she would slip into the rhetoric of diversity, calling out explicitly to African-American, Latino, L.G.B.T. and women voters – groups who correspond to shareholders of the church (Democratic Party) – the fully committed. Trump, on the other hand, connected with groups in the community who were dissatisfied with the economy and their present lot and invited them to join. He did not make a specific promise, only he would make things better and address their concerns. Trump’s early message was designed to appeal to browsers in the community, a group who could be swayed to come on board, only later did he appeal to stakeholders. The Clinton campaign’s focus on identity politics and failure to promote a message for browsers contributed significantly to their defeat.

Leading up to the 2016 election, many were becoming aware that workers were growing restless with the increasing inequality between the wealthy and the rest of society. This included pundits like Steve Bannon who were looking for a platform to spread their ideas. Bannon came as a customer – looking for a place to bring his conspiracy-tinged ideas, and messages for right-wing Americans disillusioned with mainstream politicians. When he left, his economic nationalism message remained. A new church needs people willing to serve as officials of the corporation (church). Trump appointed economic elite as stakeholders with the appropriate belief systems and practices – assembling the most wealthy cabinet in history. These stakeholders include Wilbur Ross and Steve Mnuchin, profiteers of the great foreclosure machine who know what it takes to effectively deliver ongoing massive upward redistribution of wealth. They understand how the neoliberal system works to create working-class indebtedness.

Distressed-asset investor Wilbur Ross helped get Donald Trump out of bankruptcy in the 1990s. Ross subsequently went on to become rich in part with government assistance, taking advantage of bankruptcy laws and tariffs and having others pick up the bill for pensions owed to employees. Using bankruptcy to his advantage he acquired only assets while others shouldered the burdens. In this process he squeezes every last nickel out of the bankrupt companies by firing workers and shipping business lines offshore – a common theme again and again as he manages to profit in the exchange. Ross’s direct investments in shipping companies, while shaping Trump administration trade policy, which inherently requires transportation of goods, has been cited by ethics experts as representing a clear conflict of interest. However, be assured these issues will not distract him from carrying out his stakeholder role in ensuring the well-being of the church of everlasting debt.

Donald Trump picked his campaign finance chairman, Steve Mnuchin, to be his Treasury Secretary. The Wall Street banker spent 17 years at Goldman Sachs, where he was a partner, and is now chief executive of Dune Capital Management, a privately owned hedge fund. He was part of a group who bought failed California-based bank IndyMac, a big mortgage lender and rebranded it to OneWest Bank. Mnuchin, as chairman and CEO of OneWest, developed a reputation during the recession for being quick to foreclose on delinquent homeowners, closing on more than 36,000 households. Quite simply, Mnuchin made himself rich by making others poorer, basically by expanding poverty. “I understand what needs to be done to fix the economy,” Mnuchin said, adding he would help implement “a bold economic agenda.” His past work experience will ensure his present involvement with the tax reforms will continue to enrich the rich, ignore the public deficit while dragging many more of the working class into debt.2

Ross and Mnuchin were profiteers in a crisis that bore nearly all its misery on the backs of working people who suffered from the misfortune of acquiring a high risk loan at the wrong time. It now appears that the foreclosure crisis that these two moguls used as a moneymaking scheme may have handed Trump the election. The Center for American Progress just released a study looking at the role of Midwestern housing instability in the 2016 election. They found that, between 2012 and 2016, negative equity rates – where a homeowner owes more on their house than it’s actually worth – got worse in counties in the Midwest that shifted from blue to red. The Democratic vote was similarly lower in urban counties where housing conditions eroded. In other words, Barack Obama’s handling of the mortgage crisis, by protecting bank balance sheets instead of homeowner balance sheets, may have cost Hillary Clinton the election.3

The word “church” comes from the Greek word ekklesia which is defined as “an assembly” or “called-out ones.” The purpose of the church of everlasting debt is to spread the neoliberal ideology – reaching out to the browsers and the customers to invite participation. In addition this church is involved in exposing the error of safety nets – credit becomes an instrument of capital accumulation, class regulation, and symbolic subjugation. The traditional antagonism between capital and labour has been replaced by the relationship between creditor and debtor. In a economy of indebtedness, the working class can no longer afford to live without expensive credit. Because all knowledge is a matter of perspective, knowledge is interpretation, hence many interpretations are lies. There is a need to accept uncertainty and reject concepts of trickle down effects and meritocracy as fixed, or governed as unassailable ‘truths.’ It’s time to challenge the church of everlasting debt.

The root meaning of “church” is not that of a building, but is defined by people. One reason people raise questions within a church is to address issues of concern. One of today’s issues is the disillusionment with a ‘system’ that creates increasing economic inequality for most. The term postmodernism appears to have currency for many browsers and customers in the neoliberal church. Postmodernism is defined as the reaction to assumed certainty of scientific, or objective, efforts to explain reality. The postmodernism in political science is the observation people resist realistic concepts of power which is repressive – Foucault claims individuals engage in daily practices and routines of self-discipline that subjugate themselves – in order to maintain a claim on their own identity and happiness. Remember the greatest fault of postmodernism is that it lacks an agenda for social change; it is time to pay our debt to the community. Why are you refusing to act, and accepting the status quo?

1 Every Congregation is Made Up of Three Groups (31 Aug 2010)

2 Ydstie, John. (30 Noc 2016) Trump Picks Steve Mnuchin To Lead Treasury Department

3 Dayen, David. (30 Nov 2016) Wilbur Ross and Steve Mnuchin—Profiteers of the Great Foreclosure Machine—Go to Washington

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