Louis-Armstrong

Opinion | When Churches Rescue Americans From Crushing Medical Bills

RIP Medical Debt estimates that just one dollar can purchase, and relieve, $100 in medical debt. So with a series of relatively moderate fund-raising efforts and donations from corporations, nonprofit and religious groups, and individuals, RIP Medical Debt said, it has been able to eliminate almost $2.7 billion in medical debt.

Some religious congregations have donated money from cash reserves, and others from fund-raising drives. But all of them grasp what our legislators can’t: The cost of survival in this country is unconscionable, and we all share a moral obligation to do something about it.

And yet there is still something remarkable — almost miraculous — about this faith-driven debt relief. Although American Christianity is as malformed by the harsh tug of political poles as any other realm, forgiving medical debt has managed to ally very different Christians behind the same cause.

Mr. Mabry, for example, cheekily described his theological stance as “historically boring and orthodox,” even evangelical. Most people “would associate social concern with progressivism and maybe theological liberalism,” he said, but “the great majority of actual social programs are funded and executed by really frustratingly conservative, boring, historic, orthodox people, I think we would find.”

The Rev. Traci Blackmon is associate general minister of justice and local church ministries for the United Church of Christ, a fairly liberal denomination. “The U.C.C. has no rigid formulation of doctrine or attachment to creeds or structures,” the church’s website says. “Its overarching creed is love.”

A recent campaign led by the church abolished more than $26 million in medical debt throughout New England, and the church plans to expand efforts to include the entire country.

Ms. Blackmon, like her denomination, is committed to social justice, having organized protests in Ferguson, Mo., after the police killed Michael Brown, and led an interfaith worship service in Charlottesville, Va., to oppose the 2017 Unite the Right rally. She sees this work as a natural extension of the U.C.C.’s interest in justice. “We’re buying somewhere close to $100 worth of debt for a dollar,” she told me, “and when you think about how many people’s credit is being ruined, how much access is being denied people because they can’t pay that bill, and I can come and pay your $5,000 bill with $12 — that’s not just.”

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