Congress

Give (The Department of) Peace a Chance

Heart-shaped American flag,  pashabo / Shutterstock.com

Heart-shaped American flag, pashabo / Shutterstock.com

The U.S. has resisted this peacemaking policy for generations. Even as far back as 1792, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Rush, along with Benjamin Banneker, suggested the blueprint for an Office of Peace (intended to counter what was then known as the Department of War). President George Washington stated that his first wish was “to see this plague of mankind, war, banished from the earth,” yet legislation for a Department of Peace was not introduced until 1935, which, by 1969 wasfollowed by 90 additional bills. And so, while many U.S. citizens state a longing for peace and nonviolence, we seem to lack the political will and public motivation to make it a reality, and the result is a continued state of destruction. 

Is SNAP Congress’ New Hunger Games?

Supermarket, Ibooo7 / Shutterstock.com

Supermarket, Ibooo7 / Shutterstock.com

House leaders are proposing a massive cut to SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), America’s frontrunner in combatting hunger. This new proposal consists of a $40 billion reduction in funding, and SNAP households across the board would be feeling the pinch beginning as soon as November. 

Potential cuts reveal stark and sobering statistics that millions of Americans would face: 

  • The average benefit per person, per meal would decrease to below $1.40, dangerously low to maintain the minimum standards of a healthy diet;
  • 210,000 kids would be cut from free school meals;
  • SNAP cuts would be the equivalent of taking away 21 meals per month from a four-person household; and
  • 170,000 veterans would lose out on food benefits.

10 Myths About the Food Stamp Program (That Thing Congress is Trying to Gut)

Healthy food pyramid, Bogdan Wankowicz / Shutterstock.com

Healthy food pyramid, Bogdan Wankowicz / Shutterstock.com

About a year ago, I wrote about my family participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Challenge, which encourages families to try to live on the equivalent of SNAP assistance (food stamps) for one week. It was a growing experience for all of us, and we actually fell short of our intended goal. It turns out that it’s not easy to feed a family of four well — especially without great time and effort — on less than $20 a day.

In looking back on that experience, a number of myths come to mind that I’ve heard from folks about SNAP, which I thought I’d share here.

Lessons from August Recess

Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.)

Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.)

As Congress left Washington for August recess, advocates for immigration reform knew it would be a critical month for the effort to fix our broken immigration system. Legislators would be talking with their constituents at countless events about the issue and gauging how public opinion had (or hadn’t) shifted based on the Senate’s recent passage of a bipartisan bill.

Several officials used recess as an excuse for increasing their attacks on immigrants in an attempt to stop the growing momentum across the country for finding a solution to this challenge. For example, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) has stated: “For everyone who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there that weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”

Thankfully, other members have been far more constructive. Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.) embraced immigration reform and the need to provide a path to legalization for the millions of aspiring Americans who are already major contributors to our communities and our economy. He was clear that his motivations were rooted in his religious beliefs, saying: “with my Christian faith, it’s hard for me to say that I’m gonna divide these families up.”

The 5 Rules of Recess

Child swinging, Ana de Sousa / Shutterstock.com

Child swinging, Ana de Sousa / Shutterstock.com

As a kid, the school day revolved around recess. The bell rang, the books closed, and we bolted out of the building and onto the playground. For a few brief minutes anything was possible. Imaginations ran wild, transporting us to far off lands and transforming us into superheroes and sports stars. We cemented friendships and started fights; we formed alliances and enemies. And while our teachers and parents assumed that math, science, reading, and social studies structured our day, in reality our lives were defined by what transpired during recess.  

Congress is in recess during the month of August. While many assume they have taken an extended vacation, nothing could be further from the truth. Recess is just as important now as it was when we were kids, but the rules have changed. Here are five things you need to know about the next month.

Who Is My Enemy?

Opposing chess pieces, Dima Sobko / Shutterstock.com

Opposing chess pieces, Dima Sobko / Shutterstock.com

Our church community in Salt Lake City has been going through a series titled “Love God, Love Neighbor.” We’ve been going through Jesus’ famous response to the question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus of course turns the questions back to the man asking, “What is written in the law?” the man responds by saying,  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” It appears the man who asks the question — described as either a lawyer or expert of religious law — does not like Jesus’ response very much and so he asks another question. “And who is my neighbor?”

Jesus’ response to the question is perhaps one of the most well-known parables in the Bible: that of the Good Samaritan. But the question, “Who is my neighbor?” is a question we must still wrestle with today, as distressing and upsetting as it most definitely will be.

Who is my neighbor? If we are to examine the parable of the Good Samaritan it appears that Jesus wants to make it clear that our neighbors are everyone, especially — perhaps even specifically — our enemies. So another way of asking the question is, “Who is my enemy?” When I confront the question on a personal level, I realize that even though my neighbors or enemies are perhaps atypical from the norm, I am still called to love them.

Who are my enemies? For me, it’s simple really. My enemies are politicians, Congress, rich people, Wall Street Bankers, rich Christians, and the most hated form of all: “rich, white, Christian politicians.” I jest, but it’s not too far off.

6 Things Congress Needs To Do in July

The month of July stands as an important time for Congress as members of the House and Senate attempt to make decisions about six major U.S. issues.  Some vital decisions that need to be agreed upon before next month’s recess involve: immigration reform, student loan debates, budget planning, and fiscal issues. The Washington Post reports:

Significant debates await the House and Senate in the coming weeks over a new budget, a new farm bill, federally-subsidized student loans, several key Obama administration nominees and an overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws, which remains the year’s biggest political fight.

Read more here.

Senate Passes Immigration Overhaul; Top 10 Reasons It Matters

Katie Anderson / Sojourners

Pray4Reform gathering at the Capitol. Katie Anderson / Sojourners

By a 68-32 vote, the Senate just passed S.744, a bipartisan immigration reform bill that people of faith have held up as part of a solution to the United States’ broken immigration system. While it still has to make its way through the House of Representatives, here are the top 10 things that would happen if S. 744 became law:

1.  It would create a roadmap to citizenship for aspiring Americans. 

Current immigration law has no way forward for immigrants who don’t have the right documents. The Senate bill would open doors for them to become full members of society.

2.  It would bring hope to lots of people. 

Around 8 million of the 11.4 million aspiring Americans living in the shadows would be able to gain legal status, giving them hope and opportunity. That’s as many people as live in the entire state of New York – a huge impact.

Feds Release First Guidelines for Confronting a Church Shooter

Photo courtesy RNS/iStockPhoto.

Gun laying on top of a wooden cross. Photo courtesy RNS/iStockPhoto.

For the first time, the federal government has issued written guidelines for houses of worship that are confronted with a homicidal gunman.

Vice President Joe Biden released the new rules on Tuesday, six months after the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., that left 26 dead, including 20 children.

Beyond seeking shelter and waiting for police to arrive, as many Newtown victims did, the new rules also advise adults in congregations to fight back — as a last resort — in a bid to stop the shooter. The new federal doctrine is “run, hide or fight.”

White House Pushes Gun Safety

President Barack Obama is expected to call upon lawmakers and Congress Tuesday as he asks for their support in backing his measures concerning gun safety. In the wake of announcing 21 of 23 tasks completed on the “executive to-do list,” Obama is hoping for funding as conversations about gun safety continue. The Los Angeles Times reports:

Administration officials say there has been progress on several actions taken by Obama under executive authority, including directives to end the freeze on gun violence research and to reduce barriers that keep states from submitting records to the national background system.

Read more here.

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