The United Church of Christ (UCC) has now given peace of mind to people across the country by paying off more than $100 million in medical debt.
The Cleveland, Ohio-based denomination announced Monday it had canceled $33 million of patient medical debt in the Buckeye State, bringing the total of debt canceled by the church in a two-year period to $104 million.
As a Valentine's Day expression of love, 10,757 households in 70 Ohio counties received letters telling them their medical debt had been eliminated.
They received letters that said, "The funds that abolished this debt were generously provided by the United Church of Christ. No matter who you are or where you are on life's journey, you are welcome in our churches. You are beloved by God and your debt has been forgiven."
To one recipient, it seemed too good to be true.
"To be honest, I thought it was a scam at first," said the man, who was identified as Chris A. "Nobody does this. You never hear of this happening. I have to blame it on what I did for a living. I worked in a prison my whole life."
"Whenever someone says something to you, you have to ask what their angle is. Well, I couldn't find your angle. I had to quit being so cynical. I was overjoyed and shocked that someone could do something so nice for me," he added.
The UCC's debt payoff was the latest move in a campaign the denomination has continued with its partner, New York-based non-profit RIP Medical Debt. The church sent $200,000 from its Giving Tuesday project to RIP which then bought the debt for pennies on the dollar, according to the church.
"As we close this campaign by abolishing all the debt available to us in the state of Ohio, we urge you to remember charity and celebrations were never the goal of this initiative," Rev. Traci Blackmon, associate general minister for UCC's Justice and Local Church Ministries, said in a statement. "Advocacy was."
Relief Campaign Began in Chicago Two Years Ago
The UCC long-term medical relief campaign began in 2019 at Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ. The denomination along with three local UCC churches and seven area Baptist churches began purchasing medical debt in Chicago through RIP. That first buy used an investment of $38,000 to wipe out $5.3 million in debt – and 5,888 families in South Side neighborhoods and some rural areas received letters announcing their debt had been forgiven.
Blackmon also announced the UCC would continue debt forgiveness into 2021, using funds collected on Giving Tuesday and through donations from UCC conferences, associations, congregations, and other organizations.
The UCC is a mainline Protestant denomination that is considered theologically liberal. Its latest gift also goes toward a new $5 million campaign by RIP called A Nation that Cares.
RIP is extending across denominations and geography. In it, "communities of faith across the country have formed a coalition to relieve medical debt throughout the United States, regardless of where the patient lives," according to the company's website.
The company's goal is to raise $5 million to relieve roughly $500 million of medical debt and will announce the results of the campaign right before Christmas.
"In the present times, rife with discord and polarization, this act of love demonstrates we are a nation of people who cares about their fellow Americans. Jesus Christ's love knew no boundaries. As we celebrate His birth, let our charity know no bounds as well," RIP's website said.
As CBN News has reported, other churches have also teamed up with RIP to pay off families' medical debt. In 2019, Covenant Church in Carrollton, TX, partnered with RIP to wipe away $10.5 million in debt with a $100,000 donation.
Letters went out in the mail to 4,229 families within a 20-mile radius of all four of the church's campuses in Texas, telling them their medical debt was completely gone.
Senior Pastor Stephen Hayes told CBN News at the time that debt forgiveness is a familiar message to Christians and an effort the church should champion.
"In scripture, when Jesus was on the cross, he made seven statements before he took his last breath and the sixth of those seven was the word 'tetelestai' in Greek, which means, 'it is finished.' That word, tetelestai, was the same word that tax collectors or other people that handled money would use when your bill was paid in full, it was like the big red paid stamp. So if you had a debt and you paid your debt, that tax collector would write on your debt, it is finished, tetelestai," Hayes explained.
Founded in 2014 by two former debt collectors, RIP buys unpaid medical debt held by collection agencies at significantly reduced rates.
In the case of the Covenant Church, each dollar donated bought $100 in debt.
"One-hundred-to-one, or a little more than one-hundred-to-one, is an amazing return on a dollar. Ten thousand gives one million dollars of debt forgiveness. Ten million abolishes a billion dollars of debt. A billion dollars of debt is about 300,000 people," RIP Medical Debt co-founder Craig Antico told CBN News.
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