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Mike hopes to see the world turned upside down through local communities banding together for social change, especially churches which have recognized the radical calling to be good news to the poor, to set free the prisoners and oppressed, and to become the social embodiment of the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven. He lives with the blessed memory of his wife, in Durham, NC, and has three adult children living in three different states. He also shares his life with the Mt. Level Missionary Baptist Church in Durham, the faculty and students of Shaw University Divinity School in Raleigh, NC, and the faithful fans of Duke and Baylor Basketball in his neighborhood.

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Saturday, May 14, 2011

Witness at Bank of America Shareholders Meeting

On May 11, 2011, North Carolina United Power (NCUP) gathered with some allies to challenge Bank of America to clean up its act concerning mortgage modifications and foreclosures.  We brought banners and posters, including a banner displaying the text of Micah 2:1-2.
Associated Press photo
Alas for those who devise wickedness
  and evil deeds on their beds!
When the morning dawns, they perform it,
  because it is in their power.
They covet fields, and seize them;
  houses, and take them away;
they oppress householder and house,
  people and their inheritance.
Rev. Clyde Ellis came from Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement (VOICE) came to speak about the disaster of foreclosures in Prince William County, VA.   Peter Skillern of Community Reinvestment Association-NC (CRA-NC) and Josh Zinner of Neighborhood Economic Development Advocacy Project (NEDAP) in New York City addressed the slow pace of improvement made by Bank of America in dealing with the enormous number of troubled mortgages they service.

Iraq Veteran Blackmon of the Harry Veterans Community Outreach Service in Winston-Salem addressed B of A's work with military families.  Rev. Spencer Bradford of Durham Mennonite Church spoke about bankers and homeowners sharing the same neighborhood, in the spirit of rejecting the utilitarian vision condemned by the Prophet Micah.  Rev. Dr. Greg Moss of HELP, Rev. Dr. Carlton Eversley of CHANGE, and many more from Durham CAN, Davidson County HOPE, Orange County Justice United, and the NC Latino Coalition, gave comments or stood to represent the continued efforts to bring change and justice to the foreclosure crisis.

The big news of the day came from information shared with us by the County Clerk of Court of Guilford County.  In our effort to slow down the railroading of foreclosures perpetrated through "robosigning" and other fraudulent practices of a hasty and careless banking industry, we have been meeting with County Clerks of Court in NC to promote the use of best practices in foreclosure procedings, especially in the determination of who holds the original promissory note on the mortgage.  We found that in Guilford County alone, the Clerk of Court had identified over 4500 fraudulent or forged documents presented to support foreclosures.  That is one county.  We had specific numbers for each bank, as well as the names of robosigners whom banks had employed.  We are calling for a county by county audit of foreclosure documents in NC to get to the bottom of this illegal practice.
Associate Press photo

The following is the speech I gave to open the witness outside the shareholders meeting.

Good morning.  I am Dr. Mike Broadway of Shaw University Divinity School and Mt. Level Missionary Baptist Church in Durham.

When theological educators in North and South Carolina issued a statement on this economic crisis, we identified key convictions about justice and the economy from our tradition of faith.  Among those convictions was that all people should share in the gifts of God's creation.  Another was that no society can allow a permanent debtor class to emerge, a kind of debt-sharecropping.  A third, among many more, was that the risks and benefits of the economy should be shared by all participants, not dumping all risks on the weak and paying bonuses to the elite.  It is with these kinds of convictions that we stand here today to address foreclosure fraud and mortgage modifications.

Some people say theologians and preachers should stay out of this business.  That's nothing new.  Long ago in the days of the Prophet Micah, the so-called leaders of the people  did not want to hear what he was sent to say.  The economy was in turmoil and people were suffering mightily.  But the leaders preferred a preacher who would gloss over it all and say, "Live it up!  Go have another drink!  Life is good!"  They wanted happy talk while people were losing their homes and livelihoods through fraud and injustice (Micah 2:6-7, 11; Isa. 1:15).

We don't want to be those kinds of preachers.  We don't want to be churches of the sort that Fannie Lou Hamer came to despise during her civil rights work.  She saw so many churches as hypocrites gathering "for the sake of paying the minister's way to hell and theirs, too."  No, we do not want to join the misleaders of the people.

Both the Prophets Micah and Isaiah challenged the financial and political elites of their day for being misleaders.  To the financial leaders they said, "you mislead and confuse the people," and "the spoils of the poor are in your houses" (Micah 2:1-2, 8-9; Isa. 3:12-14).  Back in those days, and now in our time, the financial elite manipulated the structures of the economy "because it is in their power" (Micah 2:1).  They preyed on the hard-earned livings of the working people.

The prophets said that the "add house to house" and "field to field," leaving "many houses desolate" (Isa. 5:8-9; Micah 2:2, 9).  In ancient Israel they foreclosed on the working class in massive numbers, transferring wealth from the producers to the predators, just as is happening in our day.  They turned from leadership to predation.  The prophets say the obvious:  the poor are losing their homes and livelihoods and widows and orphans are abandoned.

Why can this happen?  It seems patently unjust that some can ruin others simply "because it is in their power."  The prophets go on to say that the foreclosures and mass economic turmoil happen because political leaders "write oppressive statutes" and "turn aside the needy from justice" (Isa. 10:1-2).  Just yesterday, ten Attorneys General of the states met in Atlanta to oppose and try to derail a fair resolution of the mortgage crisis.  Recently, the Comptroller of the Currency suggested that the banks need not bear the weight of setting things right in this foreclosure crisis.  Then who will bear it?  If it is not a shared burden, then average homeowners will bear this burden that is too great for us.  We don't need this kind of misleader deciding our futures.

We think that Bank of America wants to be a leader for the average consumer.  We think that Bank of American can be a leader in finding a resolution for the foreclosure crisis that will be good for all parties.  That is why we are here today.  We are calling for leadership toward a just, streamlined process for mortgage modification, foreclosures as a last resort, and a solution that makes the Bank more profitable while keeping people in their homes.

It may seem that we are just a few average, unimportant people standing here today calling out for justice in the tradition of Micah and Isaiah.  But to quote Marian Wright Edelman, "You just need to be a flea against injustice.  Enough committed fleas biting strategically can make even the biggest dog uncomfortable and transform even the biggest nation."  And enough fleas can transform the biggest bank, too.


Michelle O. said...

Witness at Bank of America Sharholders Meeting:

I can certainly understand the message provided by Dr. Broadway's blog against Bank of America and I understand the scriptures; however, if Bank of America (and other banks) bears the brunt of the mortgage crisis who will ultimately pay the price. It certainly will not be the banks or the shareholders themselves. It will be the bank's employees (such as myself and other employees' who will lose raises and 401K matches).

I agree that we should not foreclose on anyone illegally. That is totally wrong. However, many people purchased homes that they knew they could not afford if they had to make the full principal and interest payments. Others overextended themselves after the purchase of the home.

So how do we determine those who lost homes due to over-extending themselves versus those who lost their homes due to job losses medical illness or other unforeseen issues. The 2 groups should be treated entirely different.

Next, all banks are not created equally. Many community banks cater to their small town communities and don't sell off mortgages to investment companies. Failing to foreclose and not receive the loan's principal balance could potentially bankrupt the bank.

This is a very tough subject that presents a no-win situation. Everyday workers will be the people who ultimately pay the price. It will not be the stockholders and executives; it will be working class Americans. If the government intervenes, it will continue to be the middle class; not the millionaires because the millionaires will continue to push the expenses down to the working class employees through the loss of benefits.

Roosevelt Ethridge said...

I think the foreclosure crisis is a major factor in North Carolina living. However,I do think that many homeowners are clueless to the concept of "robosigners." Having 4500 homeowners who are products of this vice is ludacris. Big banks and many of its white collar staff only become concerned about themselves and not the people that the system intraps. I do commend, Dr. Broadway on his heremuntical approach to the issue. I believe this theological position puts the responbility of this crisis on the ones who created it, "the banks." Also it frees the home owner from their forced ignorance.

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