Respect?

I never thought I’d say this, but I think I actually respect something that an offshoot of the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement is doing.  

An offshoot of OWS is called Rolling Jubilee.  I’d not heard of it before this article.  Rolling Jubilee purchased $14 million dollars of personal debt for $400,000, and then released those individuals from the debt.  How can this be?   
When you go into debt, it’s with the understanding that you’re going to pay back the institution that lent you the money.  However as time drags on and it seems less and less likely that you’re going to pay, for whatever reason, your institution may give up on trying to collect directly from you.  It’s not worth their time and effort, and so they cut their losses and sell your debt to someone else.  If you owed $1000, they might sell that debt to someone else for $100.  
Don’t worry – your default to your original lender is going to give you a black mark on your credit history and damage your credit score.  But now, the people contacting you to collect this debt aren’t going to be associated with the people who lent you the money originally.  As far as the people who lent you the money are concerned, you don’t owe them the money any more.  Oh, they’ll take it from you if you decide to send it in to them, and they likely won’t lend you any more and will impose whatever other fines and penalties are reserved to them by the stipulations of your agreement with them, but now the people collecting on the debt are a different group.
They’ll use the name of your original lender and will say that they’re collecting on the debt for the lender.  But their goal is to get you to cough up money to them, and hopefully more of it than what they paid for your debt.  Maybe you’re able to pay back $200 in response to their persistent letters & phone calls.  They’ve just doubled their money.  
This is the secondary debt market.  
Rolling Jubilee raised $400,000, and was able to buy $14 million dollars worth of personal debt – primarily medical debt, according to the article.  They didn’t know whose debt they were buying – they couldn’t say I want to buy that person’s debt but not that person’s.  They found someone who was willing to sell off a chunk of personal debt racked up by almost 2700 people across 45 states and Puerto Rico.  Then Rolling Jubilee could send those 2700 people a letter saying congratulations, your debt has been paid off and you don’t owe anything any more.  
Granted, those 2700 people still have to deal with other repercussions of their default (bad credit histories, lowered credit scores, etc.).  The institutions they racked up the debt with still don’t care much for them and may not want to do future business with them.  But those 2700 people won’t have anybody else calling on them trying to get them to pay up.  And that’s pretty cool.
It’s cool inasfar as medical debt is something we all can relate to, something that few of us actively control.  It’s easy to imagine being overwhelmed with medical debt due to an accident or an unforeseen illness.  Medical debt is no laughing matter and it’s great to think that this group is working to eliminate a small part of it.
It was more disconcerting to hear Rolling Jubilee say that they weren’t primarily concerned with the 2700 people they had freed from debt.  Falling prey to the fallacy of believing that just because you didn’t radically change the situation for everyone, changing it for a few doesn’t really matter, Rolling Jubilee views their activities as more educational in nature.  
I’m pretty sure that the 2700 people freed from some or all of their medical debt outnumber the people who hypothetically have learned something relatively intangible about the secondary debt market.  Nearly 3000 people are breathing a very real sigh of relief, I hope.  
Today at a pastor’s conference, we were talking  at lunch about ways to really make a difference in our local congregations.  We were comparing notes on mortgage debts.  One pastor suggested that rather than sending money from each congregation to our regional organizational polity (District) and national polity (Synod), we should take the money we would have normally sent them and pick a congregation in the area that has debt and send the money to them.  The goal would be multiple congregations working together to eliminate debt of sister congregations.  Debt that might be seriously hampering their efforts at ministry.  When one debt was paid off, then everyone (including the congregation now freed from that debt), would apply their monies to the next church on the list.  Over time, all the congregations in the area could be debt free.
Of course, having more money doesn’t naturally lead to knowing what to do with it.  The Jubilee concept is great, but only in a context of fiscal responsibility.  Freeing someone from debt so they can go and rack up more debt isn’t very helpful to anyone – which is why buying medical debt is more appealing than buying, say, consumer credit card debt.  Likewise, freeing up a church from a mortgage payment doesn’t automatically guarantee that they’ll use those newly available funds in a wise way.  
But it gives them a chance to.  And more importantly, it may give all of us a chance to dream and talk together about what that chance might specifically look like.  It might give sister congregations an actual interest in (instead of just an awareness of) the other churches in the area.  It might make us feel (and act) a bit more like members of one body, rather than isolated kingdoms.  
Maybe that’s a good enough goal to take chances on.  

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s