A Church Purchased $3 Million Worth Of Local Residents' Debt & Burned It All

They heard "forgive us our debts" and said, "okay, hand me a match."

Trinity Moravian Church debt jubilee Instagram

Nearly everyone in any developed country is in some amount of debt — it's the literal lifeblood of capitalism, after all. But only here in America do people plunge into seemingly endless pools of medical debt — in part from ludicrous practices like charging people for crying in the emergency room.

And one church has decided it's had enough and is taking the "forgive us our debts" part of the Lord's Prayer literally to address the impacts of medical debt in its community.


A North Carolina church purchased $3.3 million of medical debt from its surrounding communities.

Trinity Moravian Church in Winston-Salem, North Carolina saw people in its area suffering needlessly under the burden of medical debt — the #1 reason Americans go bankrupt, even more than mortgage defaults and foreclosures, accounting for more than 66% of all bankruptcy filings. So it decided to do something about it.

The church holds a Debt Jubilee Project to buy up locals' medical debt and then burns it in a ceremony.

Reverend John Jackman calls the Debt Jubilee Project, "a perfect real-world parable for what God does for us," going on to outline the impacts of medical debt on families. "A stay in the hospital can send a family into poverty or bankruptcy." He's determined to keep that from happening in the communities near his church.


The Debt Jubilee Project takes its name from the "Year of Jubilee" in the Biblical book of Leviticus, which required that debts be forgiven and slaves be freed every 50 years. "We’re setting people free from the slavery of medical debt," Jackman said.

To do it, he and his church don't just stop at buying the debts. They also torch them in a ceremony on the church's altar and throw confetti to celebrate — something many of us have probably fantasized about with our own debts.

RELATED: New Mom Records Her Husband's Reaction To Hospital Bill Charging $4,000 Because He Held Their Baby



Nearly one-third of Americans are struggling with the impacts of medical debt, and its ripple effects on the economy as a whole.

Reverend Jackman and his church's initiative is more than just a kind gesture. It's potentially life-changing in a country with a staggering medical debt problem.


According to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, the impacts of medical debt are myriad. They found that 41% of Americans — some 100,000,000 people — owe a medical debt, and 12% owe medical debts of $10,000 or more. With roughly two-thirds of Americans unable to afford a $400 emergency expense, it's easy to see the financial ripple effects a medical debt that size can have.

Those medical debts can have catastrophic impacts on people's credit scores, which in turn knee-caps their buying power for things like houses and cars and make their other debts, like credit card balances, more expensive due to high-interest rates.

But the negative impacts of medical debt on the economy as a whole go even further. Kaiser's study found that 63% of those with medical debt said it forced them to cut their spending on food, clothing, and other necessities. It wasn't just the poor cutting their spending either — more than half of people making incomes of $90,000 or more also reported cutbacks due to medical debt.

Given the enormity of the problem, Trinity Moravian Church decided to fight fire with fire — not just with its burning ceremonies, but by taking a page out of the debt collection industry's playbook.


RELATED: Mom Breaks Down Her Nearly $1.5 Million Hospital Bill After Giving Birth To Triplets

Trinity Moravian Church paid just $15,000 for the medical debt by 'using the system against itself.'

The debt collection industry makes money by purchasing debts for pennies on the dollar, then collecting the full amount the indebted person owes and pocketing the difference. So, with the help of the New York-based organization RIP Medical Debt, Trinity Moravian Church purchased $3.3 million in North Carolinians' medical debt for just $15,047 in donations from the congregation — which goes to show just how extraordinary a racket medical debt is in the US.

As Jackman explained to the Winston-Salem Journal, this method of using the debt collection industry "against itself" has resulted in thousands of people receiving notices in the mail that their medical debt has been erased.


So far, Trinity Moravian Church has helped more than 3,000 families receive notification that their debt is no longer valid and can no longer be collected — and given the impacts of medical debt and the breadth of America's medical debt crisis, that's a life-changing piece of mail. 

RELATED: Husband Tells Wife He Won't Split Her Hospital Bills Giving Birth Because She's The One Who 'Jacked Up The Bill'

John Sundholm is a news and entertainment writer who covers pop culture, social justice and human interest topics.