The Common Good

Wanted: 1,000 Pastors for the Poor

Sojomail - June 16, 2011


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Hearts & Minds by Jim Wallis

Wanted: 1,000 Pastors for the Poor

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We are looking for 1,000 pastors to debunk a myth based on the political assertion that government doesn't have any responsibility to poor people. The myth is that churches and charities alone could take care of the problems of poverty -- especially if we slashed people's taxes. Both this assertion and myth contradict the biblical imperative to hold societies and rulers responsible for how they treat the poor, and ignore the Christian tradition of holding governments accountable to those in need. Faith-based organizations and government have had effective and healthy partnerships, and ultimately, the assertion and myth have more to do with libertarian political ideology, than good theology.

This is why six pastors recently launched an "Open Letter from 1,000 Pastors" to let our political leaders know this isn't true. (Pastors can click here to join them.) These pastors believe that churches must provide strong leadership in responding to poverty, and they are doing so, but the government also has responsibilities -- vital ones. The letter reads:

We are local pastors. Our lives are committed to our churches and communities ... We work, pray, and do whatever we can to remain faithful to the responsibility of every Christian to help the poor. Still, we can't meet the crushing needs by ourselves. We do our best to feed the hungry, but charitable nutrition programs only make up 6% of total feeding programs in the country while the government makes up 94% ...
We have seen this support allow young people to be the first members of their families to get college degrees, ensure mothers can feed their children a healthy diet, enable those with disabilities to live fulfilling lives, give much-needed medical care to those who can't afford it, support seniors, provide housing for families, and help people in finding a job.
… There is more need today than Churches can meet by themselves. This is why we join in the "Circle of Protection."

One proposal being considered in Congress this week is a $833 million cut from the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program. If you do the math, this cut is less than the revenue lost from just one week of the tax cuts that were recently extended for millionaires alone. According to a Children's Health Watch study, economists estimate that "every $1 invested in WIC saves between $1.77 and $3.13 in health-care costs in the first 60 days after an infant’s birth" by reducing the instance of low birth weight babies and improving child immunization rates. And, "The program has the highest rating possible from the U.S. Office of Management and Budget's Program Assessment Rating Tool." Christians who consider themselves pro-life only need to know one thing: It is estimated that the WIC program has saved more than 200,000 babies from dying at birth.

The local pastors who are signing this letter are close enough to the problems of poverty to really know what some of these vital programs mean for the poorest and vulnerable people. They also know that anyone who says churches can do it all is simply not close enough to the poor to know the magnitude of the need, especially in tough economic times like today where poverty is on the rise again.

Important decisions about the federal budget will be made in the next few weeks. The voices and actions by all of you have already made a big impact in Washington, but more work is needed. If you are a pastor, please sign the "Open Letter from 1,000 Pastors." Pastors need to squash the rumor that only churches and charities have a responsibility to the poor. This rumor is both bad theology and bad public policy. If you aren't a pastor, forward this email to your pastor or sign on to the Circle of Protection yourself.

There is great need in this country, and it is growing -- needs that are not being met. Individuals and churches, who are themselves experiencing tough times, still need to be more generous and compassionate than ever. But churches are also called to prophetic action -- to challenge public policies that continue to reward the wealthy and target the poor with painful cuts. So, it's time to affirm public-private partnerships that work, and not abandon our public responsibility to the poor.

Jim Wallis is the author of Rediscovering Values: A Guide for Economic and Moral Recovery, and CEO of Sojourners. He blogs at Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.

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