The Poverty Forum's Three Points of Common Ground

By Jim Wallis 2-20-2009

It is the power of relationships that make new things possible. Relationships are the foundation of and the means for creating a culture shift. The Poverty Forum represents four months of policy work, but also years of relationship-bridging across theological and political differences. If it were not for many lunches, conversations, and prayers, the trust and the relationships would not have been there for this project to have even been a consideration, let alone produce results.

We all found three substantial things on which we could agree. First, the moral test of any society is its treatment of the poor. It is from that vantage point that we should both formulate and judge policy proposals.

Second, in order to see anything change, to ensure that our policies and our budgets reflect our moral values, we need greater political will and better policy ideas. Democrats and Republicans often get stuck in sometimes knee-jerk reactions to policies and approaches based upon a political worldview shaped decades ago. Some politicians have been fighting the same fight for 20 or 30 years; sometimes that shows persistence and other times it shows that they haven't been paying attention. To make sure some of these better ideas become reality, we also need to form the political will. Some of these changes will be hard and rub up against the status quo for both parties.

Third, bipartisanship is easy to say and hard to do. However, when you are able to start with a common end goal and a shared vision, it can be done. In the meetings of The Poverty Forum, we were able to get beyond left or right, liberal or conservative. Left and right are political categories, not religious ones. We asked instead what is right and what works.

The proposals from the Forum don't cover all the big stuff, but nor are they only symbolic token gestures. They are substantial mid-level policy measures that are doable and have the possibility of fighting and rolling back the deepening poverty crisis.

In putting The Poverty Forum together, people of faith, from both sides of the political aisle, discovered that they respected each other and even liked one another. When asking what God might want, instead of already spinning for the mid-term elections, we were able to find broad agreements on many things. Best of all, the members of The Poverty Forum want to stay together and keep working with one another.

As The Christian Science Monitor put it:

Capitol Hill may not be embracing bipartisanship, but some in America's faith community are making strides in that direction. Christians from the right and the left have begun bridging political and religious differences to seek solutions to one of the nation's most persistent problems: poverty.

I wonder what will be next?

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