The Supreme Court and student loan forgiveness


Over the years I have met several people that feel “fully entitled.” By that, I mean people who take no responsibility for their own actions, or lack thereof, and yet still expect good things to come their way.

Back in the late 1970s when I was a social worker for the state of Tennessee, I ran into a few people like that. Most people in my early caseload felt a bit embarrassed about having to seek government help, whether it was in the form of rent assistance, Medicaid, Aid to Families with Dependent Children, or Food Stamps. In fact, I often had to assure them that these programs were meant to help them get over a rough spot until they were on their feet again and could provide for themselves and their families.

At this point, I should insert that the definition of “entitlement” back then were programs one was “entitled” to receive because they had earned them. Among those were Social Security benefits, the G.I. Bill, which assisted with college and home loans, and a few other scattered programs.

These were not handouts and people were entitled to them because they had done something to secure them. Later, just about every government handout was redefined as an “entitlement” to, I suppose, making people feel less embarrassed that other people were picking up their slack.

So, it was with satisfaction that I saw that the Supreme Court struck down the President’s scheme to “forgive” half a trillion dollars in student loans.

The court found that the President, any president, did not have the authority to do so, declaring it is the Congress that has this authority, if they are bold enough to pass legislation and then face their re-election chances.

In fact, these loans were not going to be “forgiven” at all. The debt was going to be transferred to other Americans, a great many of whom did not go to college, or they did go, they or their parents paid their way, or they paid back their own loans.

Someone who defaults on a loan, or who takes out a loan so large that it takes decades to pay back, does not have the “entitlement” to expect someone else to pay their way.

I am all for helping people in trouble and my church and my diocese help people all the time. But there are rules and guidelines and there are limitations. I’m in favor of Pell Grants because it’s an investment. Students whose families do not make a great deal of money can finish college and become taxpayers in their own right, thus repaying, in a sense, their grant. I’m in favor of special assistance for those who are “special needs” people whether that is due to either physical or mental conditions.

But, no, I’m not in favor of being forced to repay debts that are not mine when my family paid its own way and repaid its own student loans, at great sacrifice.

“But you are a ‘man of the cloth,’” someone will doubtless say. Yes, and I am also a compassionate person as a good number would report. But the Bible has about 2,350 scriptures about how to handle money. One of them is Exodus 22:14: “If anything is borrowed, it should be paid back…” And then there is Ps. 37:21 “The wicked borrows but does not pay back …”

The Bible neither expressly forbids nor condones the borrowing of money. The collective teachings of the Bible inform us that it is usually not a good idea. But, if one signs the loan papers, then that one, and no one else (unless there is a co-signer), is responsible for that loan.

But an even larger issue is the attempt to circumvent Congress and declare that the loans will be “forgiven.” The President made a campaign promise that he could not keep because, as the Court found, he had no constitutional authority to do so. Even Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the President himself had stated such earlier.

But if a president, any president, could declare and dictate such actions, what is to keep a future president from “forgiving” all home loans? Or seizing all retirement accounts? What would prohibit a president from reactivating the military draft on his own? Or outlawing all firearms by issuing a presidential edict?

The Founding Fathers deliberately created a government in tension. There are three equal branches of government: The legislative, the executive, and the judicial branches.

Do you know who has the power to declare war? The Congress. Do you know when was the last time Congress declared war? It was World War II. Congress did not declare war in Korea, Vietnam, Granada, Iraq, Afghanistan, or in any of the other conflicts in which American military personnel died. Well over 100,000 troops have died in these undeclared wars since the end of World War II.

Kings and Queens were once thought to rule by “divine right.” In America, a person is hired by the people to do a job that is term limited, as were Presidents Reagan, Clinton, Obama, and G.W. Bush, and from which they can be fired, as were Presidents Ford, Carter, Bush the first, and Trump.

Presidents are not kings, whoever may be in office. I am perfectly happy with The Supreme Court curbing the person with power, whoever it may be, from acting outside of the U. S. Constitution.

In Luke 14:28-29, Jesus teaches that before someone takes on a large project, one needs to sit down and count the cost before beginning. Whether it’s building a tower (as in the example given by Jesus), or buying a house or a car, starting a business, or making a loan, there will always be a cost. If you can’t pay it, it might be a good idea to rethink your options.

[David Epps is the Rector of the Cathedral of Christ the King ( Worship services are on Sundays at 10:00 a.m. and on livestream at He is the bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-South ( He may be contacted at]


  1. Surprise! I agree with Suz on this one and find Fr Epps’ thoughts appalling — not because he’s a man of the cloth, but because he professes to be a Christian and seems to have missed the most essential parts of Christianity: forgiveness, grace, mercy, and love.

    Suz ably points this out and rightly compares Fr Epps in this case to the Older Brother in the story of the Prodigal. The father in the story (who represents the heavenly Father) gladly welcomes back the younger son who had taken Dad’s money, wasted it, and comes home hungry and jobless. Dad is so thrilled his boy is home, he hugs him, clothes him, throws a party! For many, this particular parable is THE illustration of the Gospel, the Good News: God loves you, forgives, and welcomes you, no ifs, ands, or buts!

    There IS someone in the story who HATES this idea of forgiving the younger brother: the faithful older brother who feels slighted because he worked hard and helped to build the familial wealth his little brother squandered. Why didn’t he ever get a party?! This character is presented, in Jesus’ story, as the one in the wrong … not only in his unwillingness to celebrate his little brother’s return, but also in his blindness toward who he, the older brother, is to the father …

    “My son, the father said, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found” (Luke 15:31-32).

    The Older Brother’s upright and correct behavior was intended to be its own reward. He had everything the father had, it was all his! His years of hard work placed him in position to welcome his little brother home, and it gave him the wonderful opportunity to have spent these years of toil alongside his father, learning to become the same kind of compassionate and caring man the father was … but instead, all it imparted to the older son was a sense of entitlement and aggrievement! He can’t be happy at his little brother’s good fortune because he sees it as a slight against him.

    In this way, Fr Epps perfectly exemplifies the sadness of the Older Brother’s story. He’s unable to celebrate the victory that would have been loan forgiveness for people struggling to pay off a debt they incurred in pursuit of the same American Dream Epps is so proud of having worked hard for. He can only see that it’s UNFAIR TO ME to be forced to pick up the slack. Instead of rejoicing in the opportunity to make the burden lighter for his less fortunate brothers and sisters, he’s drawing back in selfish outrage that someone might get a break he didn’t get. (Which is in itself rich from any white middle-class male in America! You get ALL the breaks.)

    Jesus advised forgiveness, mercy, grace, and laying up treasure in heaven. Maybe one way you do that is by forgiving debts, or paying debts off for someone who finds herself drowning in them.

    If Epps, as an entitled American white man, doesn’t want his tax dollars going to forgive student debt, that’s his right. If Epps claims that right in the name of Jesus, though, he’s way off base. Jesus is the one who went to the Cross so the rest of us didn’t have to “pay for our sins” in some way, in even the least evangelical reading of the crucifixion. If you’re going to defend forcing people to pay the very last penny, don’t do it in His name. That’s not what He’s about at all.

    • Hiya Vjax–I was happy to see the comments by you and swac. So grateful for people who were/are willing to help the students. To paraphrase the Book of Common Prayer, “…not weighing their merits, but pardoning their offenses.”

      But grace is a hard sell. As author and laicized Catholic priest Brennan Manning wrote, “This vulgar grace is indiscriminate compassion. It works without asking anything of us. It’s not cheap. It’s free, and as such will always be a banana peel for the orthodox foot and a fairy tale for the grownup sensibility.”

      Brennan states simply, it is “a grace that amazes as it offends.” We can each of us choose to stand with Brennan and be only and happily amazed.

      As I know you and I have!

  2. I agree with the fundamental concept you should pay back a loan you take out, but I am not able to find satisfaction from this ruling. The context in which our courts or congress care about constitutionality has no discernible pattern.

    Which is why I take every opportunity to highlight that when our government, especially congress, does use their powers properly to turn hundreds of billions of dollars of PPP loans into grants, I object. They followed the rules, but the outcome is the same: our tax dollars given away to folks not entitled to it.

    $9.3 Billion of those dollars went to religious organizations, of which most, if not all, do not pay taxes. Guess the 90%+ of the 122,665 businesses with “Religious Organization” which got PPP loan forgiveness are wicked now.

    We can all be glad our money isn’t being given away (for now), but it all honestly I’d much rather my money go to college graduates who are more likely to contribute back into the tax base than churches that do not.

    Where’s the outcry and the lawsuits when we give our tax money away to business or church?

    • Just for the record, our church did not apply for, neither did we receive, any government funds such as PPP (loans or grants). Also for the record, the employees of our church pay income tax like everybody else. In Georgia, the churches pay sales tax. Like all non-profits under a 501(c)3 the church is exempt from contribution income (although churches pay tax on items they regularly sell–which we do none of) and it is exempt from property tax. We have a church council for accountability, financial and otherwise, and a CPA who looks over our finances each year. David Epps

      • It’s good to hear your church knew to do the right thing, though my general point still stands. All churches take from the county and city they occupy in form of government services – equal to any other business that could otherwise occupy that real estate- and contribute substantially less to the taxation that funds those very services, effectively an in kind donation from the tax payers in the county and city. Sounds like a grant with extra steps. Just because the rules allow something, doesn’t make it morally right. Everyone else pays more taxes because churches pay less, that’s just the reality.

        • No, that is not true. very church member pats income taxes, sales tax, state tax, and any other tax imaginable. Their income has already been taxed. The church is not a business. The church provides counseling, teaching, hospital and nursing home visitation benevolences both global and local, children’s programs, recreational activities, social affirmation, weddings, funerals, and other hands on ministry as may be required. Churches working together have athletic leagues which reduces the burden on already full secular programs of the same type. Most church do not sit on land that was zoned commercial. Most build on agricultural or residence plots. The food banks, the faith-based drug and alcohol programs? Funded greatly by area churches. The churches give far more in services and finances than the paltry tax that would have been paid if the land had remained residential or agricultural.
          David Epps

          • Guess when you seek the praise of God and not the praise of men – not many are aware of this impact, and for good reason.

          • Fr. Epps–Understood. Neither you, your family, nor your church ever accepted financial aid that you did not earn. And yes, that is a reason to rejoice.

            As far I as know, I could say the same. However I would be loathe to ever use it as a reason for denying help to anyone else. Including the students that you excoriate.

            They need help. Merited or not, I am happy to oblige. It is a joy.

            As the Bard assures us, mercy “is twice blest–it blesses him that giveth and him that takes”.

          • It cracks me up that Fr Epps dives into these comments to reiterate that he has never taken any financial aid from anyone and nor has his family or his church when he feels that annoyedvet is annoyed with the tax-exempt status of churches, but he answers not a word to the comments here pointing out that he seems to have completely missed the point of Christianity.

            What was that verse about straining at a gnat and allowing in a camel? Ha ha ha ha

    • Annoyed – the Student Loan ruling by SCOTUS was easy. Even Pelosi and Biden himself had previously said that no POTUS has the authority to spend without prior approval by Congress.

      Biden pulled one over on all the young voters who believed he could deliver student loan relief without going through Congress. Separation of powers among the three co-equal branches of government.

      PPP was created by Congress to incentivize companies impacted by COVID-wrecked economy and government-mandated closures to keep employees on payroll (and paying taxes). Those who did maintain payrolls are eligible to apply for a portion of that expense to be forgiven as a part of the deal.

      Nothing close to passing a private student loan debt off onto taxpayers’ backs for votes. Apples and oranges.

      • Apples and oranges paid by our tax dollars, given away for free. You are missing my overarching point. One was procedurally correct, the other was not. Both took money from taxpayers and gave it away. A “portion” turned out to be 90-100% conversion from loan to grant. Some of which went to organizations that pay no federal taxes! Forgiving the loans was a rare bipartisan effort where everyone agrees to screw the taxpayer, nobody on either side of the aisle wanted to do the hard and right thing and make business pay back what they owe, as it would be political suicide. If you don’t think waiving repayment in bulk was an effort to bolster re-election for everyone who cast a vote, you are mistaken.

  3. Father Epps is dangerously close to being against throwing the “moneylenders out of the temple” with his attitude on spending tax revenue. I am against spending my taxes on building walls to keep out immigrants, bussing immigrants to Democratic cities. sending tax money to private charter schools, bailing out banks when they go bankrupt etc etc. Most of the States that voted for Trump are “Welfare States”- they get back more than they pay in taxes and they have not earned it.

  4. Dear Fr. Epps–2,350 scriptures about how to handle money? Did you factor this passage in, as you drew your conclusions–

    “Lend, expecting and hoping for nothing in return, but consider nothing as lost and despairing of no one. Then your recompense will be great and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind and charitable and good to the ungrateful and the selfish and the wicked. So be merciful even as your Father is.” Luke 6:35,36 Amplified Bible Classic.

    So, yes! People WILL question your opinions/politics (not because you are a “man of the cloth”) but because you are a life-long follower of Jesus, the Christ. Especially when you use Holy Scripture to contradict His over-arching message of one loving God and Father! Frankly, you should know better.

    Surely you are familiar with the parables of grace–utter mercy and unmerited forgiveness. Such as the Pharisee and the Publican in the temple. Your column could be a re-write of the Pharisee’s prayer. “Lord, I thank Thee that I am not like these students! My family paid its own way and repaid it’s students loans, at great sacrifice. I am also a compassionate person; and I am all for helping people in trouble. But there are rules and guidelines and there are limitations.”

    All true, no doubt. But devoid of empathy or pity. And we are told the Publican who only pleaded for mercy went away justified.

    I agree–pardoning debts isn’t fair. It is so much better than that. It is exactly what we all need. And it has the power to change lives.

    Personally, I would have been happy to see my taxes used, helping and encouraging students burdened by debt.

    To reference one last parable, I was looking forward to celebrating with the prodigal sons and daughters, their youthful and irresponsible mistakes forgiven. I won’t say The Supreme Court canceled the festivities; just postponed it. Our Father is determined to throw a party.

    You don’t understand His heart of love when you write, “I mean people who take no responsibility for their own actions, or lack thereof, and yet still expect good things to come their way.” It’s called “grace”, dear Older Brother! The fatted calf is killed! Don’t miss the fun!

  5. I can think of several things that government does with tax money that I disapprove of- bailing out banks, building fences on our borders, flying immigrants to Democratic cities etc etc. Paying to educate our children is fine by me. They are our future.