The Common Good

Christians on Left, Right Push Plan to Aid the Poor

Date: February 16, 2009

More than a dozen Christian leaders from across the political spectrum -- including members of both the Bush and Obama administrations -- will come together Tuesday to promote a grab bag of proposals designed to help the poor at a time of rising unemployment.

The coalition includes forceful figures on the religious right, such as Chuck Donovan of the Family Research Council, and equally outspoken leaders on the religious left, such as the Rev. Jim Wallis, who leads the ministry Sojourners.

After four months of prayer and debate, the coalition members will unveil their agenda at the National Press Club Tuesday and then turn to lobbying Congress. Their package includes conservative priorities such as extending the child-care tax credit to stay-at-home mothers and liberal goals such as raising the minimum wage. They will call for stronger efforts to promote marriage, more subsidies for AIDS medication, and more federal spending to help teens and ex-convicts find work.

Members of the coalition, dubbed The Poverty Forum, say they hope the strange-bedfellows nature of the group will command respect -- and serious attention to their proposals -- from both sides of the aisle. "Overcoming poverty must become a nonpartisan commitment and a bipartisan cause," Mr. Wallis said.

The U.S. Census reports that 1 in 8 Americans, more than 37 million, live in poverty. The steady rise in joblessness puts more at risk each month. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal research group, predicts that before the recession eases, as many as 10 million additional Americans might slip under the poverty line, which would mean living on less than $22,050 a year for a family of four.

The Poverty Forum is the latest in a string of religious coalitions formed in an effort to lend moral heft to proposed policies on topics as varied as immigration, torture and global warming.

The coalition came together in the fall after two years of discussions between Mr. Wallis and Michael Gerson, a longtime speechwriter for former President George W. Bush. The men recruited pairings of one liberal and one conservative to study eight issues affecting the poor, such as health care, education and crime.

"This is an opportunity to get attention for some ideas that might not be taken as seriously if they came directly from the Family Research Council" or other advocacy groups easily pigeonholed as conservative or liberal, Mr. Donovan said.