Matthew Dunaway - April 2018 · 205-705-3590

April 2018

GRACE AND FORGIVENESS The Christian Concepts Behind Bankruptcy

As a bankruptcy lawyer, I’ve had to work my way through the concept of bankruptcy law and how it seems to clash with the notion of responsibility. We’re taught being a responsible member of society means paying our bills on time. I know I felt terrible in the past when I couldn’t pay my bills because the debt was overwhelming. You feel like a failure, and there’s a stigma around filing for bankruptcy, because it’s seen as dodging your responsibilities. However, I believe bankruptcy plays an important part in allowing people to remain responsible members of society. To me, the role bankruptcy plays in society shares something in common with the grace of God in the Bible. Easter Sunday fell on April 1, and many people reflected on how Jesus’ grace and resurrection forgave the sins of humanity. Forgiveness is a huge theme in the Bible, and not just through the divine absolution of sins; we can Forgiveness is a huge theme in the Bible, and not just through the divine absolution of sins; we can find many examples of debt being forgiven in the Scriptures.

find many examples of debt being forgiven in the Scriptures. In the Old Testament, there’s record of the year of Jubilee, which was celebrated at the end of the seven cycles of sabbatical years, or once every 50 years or so. During Jubilee, there were many traditions, including the forgiveness of all debt. owed his master a huge debt he could never possibly repay. Though his master decided to forgive the servant, the servant turned around and demanded payment from another man who owed him money. The debtor begged for more time, but the servant refused and had the man sent to debtors prison. When the master found out, he was angry that the servant hadn’t shown the same forgiveness and had the servant sent to a labor camp until he could work off the debt he originally owed. A foundation of the Christian faith is forgiveness, but being forgiven doesn’t mean you turn around and make the same bad choices again. When we seek forgiveness, we must also strive to do better in the future, not falling into the same habits that demanded we need absolution in the first place. As a religious man, I view bankruptcy as something we shouldn’t be ashamed of because, in a way, it reflects God’s own grace. There’s also a practical reason for bankruptcy. Two hundred years ago, if you owed someone money and couldn’t pay them back, they sent In the New Testament, we find the parable of the ungrateful servant, which tells of a servant who

you to debtors prison. What good did that do anyone? You couldn’t repay your debt from prison, and you weren’t contributing to the economy from behind bars. Additionally, if you knew borrowing money could potentially land you in prison if bad luck left you unable to repay the sum, why would you ever take the risk? take risks with their money. Without risk, we don’t have companies, and I don’t just mean big corporations like Walmart or McDonald’s. Small businesses exist because people are willing to take risks, and bankruptcy is the safety net. You can take a gamble on your financial future knowing, if bad luck strikes, you won’t be out of the game forever. You can recover and have another shot, continuing to build our economy. No one is proud of being unable to pay their bills or struggling beneath a mountain of debt, but we shouldn’t ignore the gift that is bankruptcy. Honest mistakes or bad luck shouldn’t destroy us forever. Bankruptcy isn’t about avoiding your responsibilities; it’s about being forgiven so you can be a responsible member of society once again. We live in a capitalist society where the economy would shut down if people weren’t willing to

–Matt Dunaway

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