The Common Good
November-December 1998

An Imperative to Overcome Poverty

by Duane Shank | November-December 1998

National Summit on the Churches and Welfare Reform.

As churches and faith-based organizations around the country work with people moving from welfare to work, we are becoming acutely aware of needed changes in government policy. On February 1-3, 1999, Call to Renewal’s National Summit on the Churches and Welfare Reform will bring together hundreds of key people from faith-based organizations actively involved in community-level work to make and build on these experience-to-policy connections.

Building toward the National Summit, the Christian Roundtable on Poverty and Welfare Reform convened its third meeting on September 16. Nearly 50 leaders of diverse constituencies joined in an exciting day of information-sharing and consensus-seeking on these critical policy questions.

Ron Sider of Evangelicals for Social Action opened with a presentation on the theological imperative of new policies to lift the bottom 25 percent of our society out of poverty. Analyst John DiIulio discussed the current state of efforts to overcome poverty. He noted that since 1993, it has become respectable in the public debate to assert that poverty no longer exists as a persistent problem. Call to Renewal, he said, is in a uniquely powerful intellectual and moral position to make the case that there is still serious poverty in this country. And, through our links with faith-based anti-poverty organizations, we are able to facilitate a process of developing new policies to overcome poverty.

Building on the poignant observation of one participant that we don’t view all children in our society as our children, DiIulio proposed a simple but profound challenge: Can we make a shared commitment to develop and support a genuine safety net which would ensure that no child in America goes without the basic needs of life--food, shelter, health care? Such a safety net has never before existed in America.

Ensuing discussions focused on policies that could meet this challenge, including stronger and more effective public-private partnerships in areas of child care, transportation, housing, job training, and food assistance; expanding the charitable choice provision to additional programs; and support of a living family wage.

In a serious discussion on the continuing effects of America’s historic system of racial oppression, Roundtable participants reaffirmed that a sustained effort to dismantle racism and a commitment to racial justice are central to overcoming poverty.

THESE PROPOSALS from the Roundtable are now returning to the grassroots for further discussion leading to the Summit, which will take place in the Washington, D.C. area. Key ministries--including the Christian Community Development Association, Catholic social action directors, World Vision, Bread for the World, World Relief, and the Leadership Foundation--will bring their most active local representatives to the Summit.

The heart of the summit will be interactive workshops led by people who are working in areas such as community job-training efforts or church-based daycare centers. They will talk about the most effective and innovative methods they’ve used and challenges they’ve faced. For instance, many women leaving welfare get jobs with non-standard hours--how can a church or agency help with the special child care needs that this causes? Participants will be encouraged to share from their experience, with a focus on making the link to specific public policy recommendations that would support and expand the impact of the community-based work.

Other workshops will focus on longer term programs such as faith-based community organizing, new multisector partnerships, asset-based community development, and other efforts for the economic empowerment of poor communities. In many communities, programs are emerging that move beyond providing basic services to undertake serious development efforts.

The Summit will provide opportunities to network, and to share lessons and experiences. By bringing together the Call to Renewal tables that are emerging around the country, the Summit offers a historic moment to deepen our individual voices into a strong and unified prophetic voice for justice.

Sojourners is an active participant in the Call to Renewal network, providing leadership and organizing support. Write Call to Renewal, 2401 15th St. NW, Washington, DC 20009; call (202) 328-8745; fax (202) 328-8757; e-mail:

ctr@calltorenewal.com or see the Call to Renewal home page at www.calltorenewal.com.

National Summit on the Churches and Welfare Reform will be held at the 4-H Center in Chevy Chase, Maryland, February 1-3, 1999. The center is a comfortable and affordable environment that enhances the possibility for face-to-face conversation and community building. We urge you to attend, to join in this new movement, to learn, and to be inspired (see Page 2 for more information).

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