Social and Economic Justice and Progressive Christianity
by Rev. Paul J. Bern
For this week’s message, I’m going to be doing a bit of a departure from my usual Jesus-following, peace-loving old hippie stuff that I usually write. It’s not that I’m losing my faith or deviating from it, it’s just that there’s something going on in my life that needs to be shared because this information is potentially beneficial to all who read this. First I wish to give credit where credit is due, and that is to my new friend Ms. Monica Ball, otherwise known as “Real Talk With Monica” on the radio, as well as You Tube and Facebook (@Monica_RealTalk). After meeting her at Atlanta’s Piedmont Park while I was promoting my books, it was she who suggested that I write about some things I am currently going through during a phone conversation a few days later. What in the world am I talking about here? Debt!! No, I’m not going to try and sell you a book about how to invest in real estate or so-called “precious metals” (as far as I’m concerned, the only truly precious thing that exists is the person and the deity of Jesus Christ). What I am going to write about are two things: How to sue your creditors, and how to legally replace a revoked drivers license. I’d better start at the beginning. I’m not trying to elicit sympathy from anyone, but I was recently the victim of an elaborate on-line check scheme that caused my one lone bank account to get emptied out. Poof, all my money was gone, end of story. In a way, this is an embarrassing thing to have to write about, but write I must so that no other nonprofits or individuals get victimized by this scheme.
It all started with what looked like a donation, the first I’d had in a long time. I can’t say how much it was, but the check was over $1,000.00. It was a cashier’s check drawn on a bank in Oklahoma. Before I deposited it, I verified it was OK, so everything seemed fine. Ordinarily I would have jumped in my car and scooted on down to the bank to deposit the check. But in my case I took the bus instead because I’m temporarily prevented from holding a drivers license, but through no fault of my own. I got a speeding ticket in Murphy, North Carolina back around 1994-95. I don’t remember exactly when but it was in the fall. I paid off the ticket a couple of weeks later and moved on. OK, now let’s fast forward to November 2008 – my Georgia driver’s license is expiring. So I dutifully go and wait in line to renew it only to find out my license is suspended. The reason I was given was – you guessed it – my old traffic ticket in North Carolina. Their computer showed the ticket was unpaid even though I had paid it off well over 20 years ago. Now I have law enforcement from both North Carolina and Georgia telling me it will cost me $550.00 altogether to get my license back. Unfortunately for me, I’m a disabled retiree, and my income is woefully insufficient to be able to pay these legalized extortionists. My drivers license is now revoked as a result, it’s been that way for nearly 8 years, and for now there doesn’t seem to be much I can do about it. So, I don’t sweat about it, and this is my life as it currently is. But, as the apostle Paul wrote in the New Testament of the Bible, “When I am the weakest, then God becomes that much stronger” (paraphrased). Now, hold that thought for a minute while I finish my short story about the D-word, debt.
I was going through a dry spell financially, so I welcomed that check. I went to the ATM at the downtown branch of the credit union I belong to the following morning and deposited the check. That was on a Saturday. The following Monday afternoon I was sitting at my computer working. I get a frantic email from the lady who sent the donation the previous Friday. She has been in a real bad auto accident, and her car is totaled. She has been injured, she wrote, but she will probably be OK “eventually”. But in the meantime, her purse with all her money and credit cards are in her wrecked car, and so is her medical insurance card. She wants to know if I can send her some of the money she donated back to her so she can pay a down payment on her hospital bill. I thought about it for a minute or so, and it seemed to be a reasonable request at the time, so I agreed, and I wired her the amount she asked for. This turned out to be a major mistake on my part. As you have guessed by now, the check eventually bounced, a process that took an entire week.
So the next thing I know, I’m on my way to a Fulton County government building here in Atlanta to get a copy of the police report, which I then brought to one of the branch managers at my credit union at that time in the hopes of recovering the rest of the money that was in my account. Instead, they want me to repay the money, but I explained that I was retired and on disability and so I had no way to repay the money. Once I saw that the credit union was going to come after me for the money, I opened another account at a different credit union and changed my direct deposit info. When it came time for my disability check to arrive early the following month, my old credit union withheld it. This, of course, left me with no money to pay rent or to buy groceries and medicine, an impossible situation if ever there was one. I would like to publicly thank the church where I attend and where I have the privilege of playing keyboards every Sunday, none other than the Prayer of Faith Church of God in Christ in West Side Atlanta for their invaluable assistance during this trying period in my life.
What ultimately happened within days is I ended up being forced to take out a loan from this same credit union so I could have money to live on. Even then, they still withheld my disability check and I only got a portion of the remaining balance in question. So I ended up being forced – coerced, actually – to take out a loan while having over half of the amount withheld for what amounted to fees and penalties. So, I am suing them this coming week. The paperwork is almost ready, all I’ve got to do is grab a bus downtown (I live about 1.5 miles from the Atlanta Falcons new stadium, so it’s a short ride) and go file the papers at the court house. You know, you can sue your creditors, it’s perfectly legal. Moreover, contrary to what these lawyers who advertise on TV are telling people, filing bankruptcy is NOT the only way out of a financially impossible situation. Find something in the loan agreements that is disputable. In my case, since I’m a disabled person, I can and will sue for discrimination as well as for exploitation of the disabled. In this case I am suing my former credit union, who capitalized on the fact that I was a crime victim without the resources to defend myself, and who pilfered my disability check without any due process whatsoever. Not only that, but I’m acting as my own attorney because:
 I can’t afford to hire an attorney, and
 I’ve done this before. I once sued Pay-pay in small claims court and won a settlement while acting as my own attorney. It’s not that difficult to do if you do your homework first.
Got a student loan you can’t repay? Sue the financial institution who made the loan and charge them with “predatory lending”. Ditto for any other loans you may have, including your mortgage, and that’s just one example. You can keep your creditors tied up in court for months, even longer, so you can give yourself some financial breathing room. Don’t worry about acting as your own attorney, your suit in Small Claims Court will most likely never go to trial anyway. It will be settled out of court, or through an arbitration process that is pretty simple and straightforward. Oh, and what about my drivers license? I’m having my name legally changed, and then I am going to get a new drivers license in that name (although I recommend getting a passport in that new name. I already looked it up, and it’s perfectly legal in all 50 states so long as you stop using your old name permanently. (Disclaimer: I strongly advise all who read this to do this legally to avoid any unwanted contact with law enforcement. Check your local laws before proceeding).
Social and economic injustice arises when the governmental and economic systems become rigged against the people and in favor of the wealthiest Americans, which has become the case today. I have openly and passionately stood against social and economic injustice in all its forms for the entire five years that I have been a Web minister and preacher. One of the ways I can do so is to write about different ways one can legally circumvent injustice in order to obtain justice. By posting this, I hope I helped somebody somewhere.