I had three things happen recently that, the more I thought about them, the more I noticed their relationship. The first occurred when I was giving a speech and happened to be seated next to a woman who worked at Purdue University. She'd been there 30 years, which is coincidentally how long ago I enrolled in college. Back then, college was relatively inexpensive, you could pay for it by collecting pop bottles and turning them in for a nickel apiece. Well, maybe not that cheap, but it was pretty inexpensive. In the past 30 years, college tuition has risen 1,200 percent. In that same period, the cost of food has risen 200 percent, and though we complain about rising medical costs, they've only risen half the rate of college costs.
This means fewer young people can afford college, and those that go graduate with record amounts of debt. The average student now graduates $36,000 in debt, and it isn't inexpensive debt. You can get a mortgage rate for 3.5 percent interest, but if you borrow money for college, you'll pay twice as much, over 7 percent interest on a Direct Plus loan from the government. Our government now makes a profit loaning money to kids going to college.
This bothers me to no end, so I decided to take it out on the nice lady from Purdue and I asked her why college costs were so expensive compared to when I went, and what was she doing about it.
She said, "You remember about 30 years ago when everyone was screaming about taxes, so they started cutting them?"
"Yes, I remember that."
"Well, the government had to cut funding somewhere, so they cut funding for education. We get fewer tax dollars than ever before, our expenses haven't declined, so families and students have to pay more. The state now provides less than 15 percent of our funding."
That was the first experience.
My second experience happened a few days later, when my wife and I were driving through town and a young man passed us driving a truck with two big Confederate flags flying from the bed of his truck. Without thinking, I said, "What an idiot." Just as soon as I said it, I felt this deep shame and sadness come over me. Shame at myself for speaking so hatefully about another person, and sadness for the young man because I realized how few his opportunities will be compared to the opportunities I've had. He likely can't afford college and the high school technical programs that could have prepared him for a job have been slashed due to cuts in education. Now we educate toward college, whether or not a young person is able to go.
The third event happened at a restaurant when I heard a man my age complain about taxes, how he didn't want to pay taxes, and didn't think he should have to. He was looking at me when he said all this, so I thought as long as we were having this conversation, I'd throw in my two cents. I said to him, "Our parents and grandparents paid taxes so we could have opportunities. Now it's our turn, and if we don't do it, our children and grandchildren won't have the opportunities we had." Then I shut up, because he was bigger than me and seemed upset and people were starting to stare.
What in the world does this have to do with church? Just this. We have forgotten our blessings. We have forgotten our advantages. We have forgotten that we benefited from the generosity of those who went before us. And now it is our turn to be generous, now it is our turn to return the favor, but we don't want to. So for the first time in American history, children will be worse off than their parents. Their education will be more meager, their prospects for employment more uncertain, their chance to own a home more unlikely, the possibility of one day retiring from their jobs to enjoy the fruits of their labor will be compromised. Which means they will be just like the young man I saw, with his flags flying, idealizing an event from 150 years ago, instead of happily and confidently anticipating their future. It will be as the prophet Jeremiah said, "The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge." (Jeremiah 31:29)
All because we have forgotten, in this Christian nation of ours, a basic truth of Jesus, "To whom much is given, of him shall much be required." (Luke 12:48) I was talking about this not long ago with someone and they said, "Oh, that's getting into politics. A pastor shouldn't do that." Nonsense! Long before caring for the next generation was a political matter, it was a spiritual matter. God judged nations and cities by their care for the poor. I recently heard a preacher say God destroyed Sodom because of homosexuality. If that was the reason, it slipped by the prophet Ezekiel, who said, "Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy." That isn't about two men having sex. That is about being overfed, and letting the next generation starve.
Don't let anyone tell you this is a political issue and is therefore off limits to the church. That's the first thing people say when they don't want you to engage a subject -- "that's political." It might well have become politicized, but long before that, it was, and remains, a human issue, a spiritual issue. It is about paying back the blessings we've been given, for to whom much is given, of him much shall be required. So the next time someone comes along peddling their selfish wares, eating their sour grapes, demanding we ignore our obligation to bless, you tell them you are a friend of Jesus and that you don't live that way.
Visit Philip Gulley at his website.