New Orleans I heard about it in Sunday school or read it myself in the bible, I don’t really remember it. When in South Africa in 2004 a decade after the end of apartheid in South Africa with a delegation from the Organizers’ Forum, I remember well our whole group of fifteen or more trooping into a small office to meet with a group called the Jubilee Debt Campaign.
The Jubilee Debt Campaign in South Africa was connected to campaigns in other countries and was centered in the United Kingdom. The initial push had been for debt relief in 1990, but the drive had continued with the focus on debt owed to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund that had often been initiated and then diverted by corrupt governments and authoritarian leaders but continued to be imposed on an emerging nation’s citizens, breeding inequality, and retarding development. The debts were unjust so the demand was clear: cancel them. Wipe the slate clean!
Was this idea crazy? Of course not. The notion of jubilee came from the bible, which had great appeal and, regardless of whether or not it was divinely inspired, had deep historical roots. Quoting from the campaign’s website, “There is historical evidence for debt jubilees – cancellations – in Babylon, dating back almost 4,000 years. Such cancellations happened in response to peasant uprisings. For peasants in the Middle East at the time, if they had a bad harvest, they would get into debt. Then in order to pay this debt they would be forced to sell their land. And finally, they would have to sell themselves and their family into slavery. Cancelling debt and freeing slaves was undoing this injustice.”
In biblical times, the sabbath was Sunday, a day of rest, and the sabbatical was observed every seven years, a practice picked up by academia, as a more extensive period for rest and reflection. The jubilee was seven sabbaticals or forty-nine years and observed on the fiftieth year most historians believe. In Leviticus 25:10, “This fiftieth year is sacred—it is a time of freedom and of celebration when everyone will receive back their original property, and slaves will return home to their families.” Paraphrased by Wikipedia, “According to Leviticus, slaves and prisoners would be freed, debts would be forgiven, and the mercies of God would be particularly manifest.” Jubilee creates a better deal from a hard hand dealt years before.
We need more jubilee when it’s possible. The consequences of mass foreclosures and the banks’ unwillingness to modify or forgive loans in their own self-interest and therefore denying property to the owners was a clear case where a jubilee was clearly required. Student loans are driving the future of younger people and the government is tightening the grip, rather than bringing a little jubilee to the table which the situation demands. I was reminded that in the deep south there was a story of jubilee somewhere when fish jumped up to the bank, and everyone harvested, or a truck full of goods was abandoned on the interstate, and of course when all slaves were set free.
Ok, maybe I’m dreaming, but we need a lot more of this in our lives, businesses, and governments.