Congress

Cuts to Food Stamps Flout Gospel Message

The Rev. David Beckmann is president of Bread for the World and a World Food Prize laureate. Photo courtesy Bread for the World.

In his first Advent address, Pope Francis directed Christians to be guided by the “Magnificat,” Mary’s song of praise for the coming Christ child. She proclaims that God has “lifted up the lowly and filled the hungry with good things” (Luke 1:52-53). This past Tuesday, Pope Francis heeded his own exhortation by releasing a video message calling for an end to hunger as part of a worldwide “wave of prayer.”

Hundreds of Christian organizations across the globe participated in the “wave of prayer,” which was organized by Caritas International, a confederation of Catholic charities in the Vatican.

“We are in front of a global scandal of around 1 billion people who still suffer from hunger today,” Pope Francis said in his message. “We cannot look the other way.” The wave began at noon on the Pacific island of Samoa and proceeded west with people of faith from each subsequent time zone participating at noon their time.

Immigration Reform: It Ain't Over Until God Says It's Done

An ornament hanging on the Fast for Families tree. Photo: Juliet Vedral/Sojourners

Saying an opening prayer at the Nelson Mandela Memorial Service on Wednesday, in Washington, D.C. was both an honor and a blessing for me. The theme of the homily, by my good friend Rev. Dr. Allan Boesak, was “it ain’t over until God says it’s done.”

I sat there listening to those words from an African American gospel hymn in the midst of my own circumstance of being on the ninth day of a water-only fast for comprehensive immigration reform. In my weakened condition, I was grateful that I had done the opening prayer and wouldn’t have to do the closing prayer! But fasting focuses you and it made me consider how Nelson Mandela would feel about a broken immigration system that is shattering the lives of 11 million immigrants, separating parents from children, and undermining the best values of our nation.

In our nightly meeting at what is now a packed fasting tent, I could imagine Nelson Mandela there with us, telling us to never give up until we win this victory for so many vulnerable people reminding us, "it ain’t over until God says it’s done." Or, as he would tell cynical pundits and politicians, “it is always impossible until it is done.” Today, following a procession from the Capitol which will now include many members of Congress, we will go to that tent and proclaim that immigration reform is not over, and we won’t give up until it’s done.

Congress Should Give the Interim Deal with Iran A Chance

Everett Collection / Shutterstock
Congressional hearing in session. Everett Collection / Shutterstock

After a decades-long standoff, Iran and the West (plus China and Russia) have signed an interim agreement to halt Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for modest sanctions relief. While some are calling it a historic breakthrough along the lines of Nixon’s visit to China, the U.S. media has been mostly skeptical. And in a rare display of bipartisanship, Congress is already looking for ways to derail the deal by passing legislation to impose new sanctions on Iran and tie the President’s hands for future negotiations. Despite the fact that President Obama has successfully passed tougher sanctions on Iran than any previous administration, the U.S. media in lockstep with Congress continue to thumb their noses at anything that resembles diplomacy when it comes to Iran. And while other U.S. allies in the region — primarily the Gulf States led by Saudi Arabia — have expressed their concerns over this deal, few Americans care about what the Saudis think. As representatives of the American people, what Congress really cares about is what Israel thinks.

That’s where things get dicey.

Congress, Please.

U.S. Capitol Building. Photo: trekandshoot / Shutterstock

I live in community. What constitutes living in community means different things depending on whom you're talking to. To my 80-year-old grandmother it means that I have joined a cult. In reality, I live with my 10 fellow interns.

Together, we are all learning what it means to live and function as a cohort, how to pour the love of Christ into one another, and how to borrow strength from friends when we need it most. This includes sharing a home, sharing a budget, and sharing the last bit of ice cream that is left in the freezer.

A few nights ago during dinner sharp demands bounced from person to person. Many of our simple requests were stated as demands. Of course, when feeding 10 hungry people there is understandably a bit of an urgency to get food. But, there were no pleases and very few thank-yous.

We Can Help Stop Rape in the Military

Photo: Audrey Burmakin/Shutterstock
Congress is considering a new law on how sexual assault cases are handled in the military. Photo: Audrey Burmakin/Shutterstock

By official estimates, 26,000 people are sexually assaulted in the U.S. military each year. That comes out to 71 people every day. It’s an epidemic that’s been widely reported in the news.

As if that weren’t bad enough, most of the assaults go unreported – only 11 percent of assault victims ended up filing reports last year (3,374). Studies show that those who do not report the assault cite fears of retaliation and a concern that nothing will be done.

Leaders in Congress are trying to change that this week with the Military Justice Improvement Act.

Right now, if a woman is sexually assaulted in the military, her case is evaluated by a commanding officer. This officer decides whether to bring the case to trial. Once it has been tried, the same commanding officer is responsible for enforcing the consequences. That’s called “convening authority.”

Not So Merry Christmas

Illustration by Ken Davis

DESPITE THE heart-felt and hand-written requests from thousands of American children in their Christmas letters, Santa has just announced he cannot bring them a new Congress this year. He tried, Santa wants us all to know; he tried hard. But he and his elves finally gave up when even the parts imported from China couldn’t make the thing work.

They first attempted to construct something with U.S.-made components, but it was almost as if the parts didn’t want to work together, like they had minds of their own. This surprised the elves since Congress—which has no apparent moving parts—hasn’t had a sentient thought in years.

However, as a small concession to all those disappointed little children, Santa this year will be honoring Christmas wishes that have traditionally been difficult to fulfill.

If Sally from Shreveport can’t get a workable electoral body in the nation’s capital, then she gets a pony. Simple as that. She asked for it last year—in fact she’s been asking for a long time—but this year she’ll get it. If her parents are not sure what to do with a 600-pound animal that requires constant attention and care, then maybe next time they’ll think twice before voting for a member of Congress who wears a three-cornered hat and proudly refuses to be treaded on, even though nobody’s trying.

And Jimmy in Toledo, if you still want that race car, that real race car, it’s no problem this year. His parents might not think it’s safe for a 6-year-old to have a vehicle that can reach 200 mph before flipping over in the cul de sac, but that’s what happens when mommy and daddy send crazy people to Washington, D.C. (Not to mention the problem of squeezing another car into their garage, which already has two SUVs with bumper stickers that say “Repeal Obamacare! I’m Not Sick!”)

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Cutting Food Stamps is a Bad Way to Balance the Budget

The Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World. Photo via RNS/courtesy Bread for the World

“Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” (Luke 3:11)

Many of us are blessed enough to not know what it is like to be hungry, to regularly miss meals, or to consume a diet void of essential nutrients for a healthy life. But now, millions of our brothers and sisters here in the United States may, sadly, be facing these situations because of a reduction in their food stamp benefits.

Starting Friday, all households receiving food stamp benefits will see their food budgets shrink as a temporary increase expires. A family of four could lose up to $36 a month in food stamps (also known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP).

When Prayer Is More Powerful Than Politics

Photo by Brandon Hook/Sojourners
Jim Wallis holds the waterlogged Poverty & Justice Bible Wednesday morning outside the Capitol. Photo by Brandon Hook/Sojourners

Watching the dysfunction in Washington over the past two weeks has been painful. Our leaders have grown too comfortable with pushing the limits, and we let a few dozen of our own representatives — the people elected to promote the common good, or “general welfare,” as the Constitution calls for— hold the nation's economy hostage for the sake of their political self-interest.

But after the storm comes the promise — the hope of lessons learned and new ways forward together. A few key groups of people have renewed my faith that this is possible.

Here Comes the Sun ... on Capitol Hill

Photo via WUSA9's Bruce Leshan on Twitter, @BruceLeshan
Photo via WUSA9's Bruce Leshan on Twitter, @BruceLeshan

When I began to read, I started by going through the Psalms. An elderly gentleman paused to listen, and then requested if I could read aloud his favorite, Psalm 91. As I read it, he also began to softly quote the verses by heart, praising God and saying “hallelujah” before thanking me and walking on.

Later, a local pastor from the District Church in Colombia Heights came to read. We met a couple visiting from Louisiana. The wife was a furloughed federal employee with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. It was interesting to hear her point of view working first-hand with immigrants in a deportation capacity. She said as a Christian, it is sometimes very difficult to find a balance between desiring to deport violent criminals, and also wanting to keep hardworking, law-abiding immigrant families together. She and her husband thanked all who were participating in the Faithful Filibuster for keeping Christ present during the government shutdown.

As the next speaker from Salvation Army was reading, several teens participating in a rally at the Supreme Court came to ask about what we were doing. After explaining the filibuster’s mission, a young boy thanked us, shook hands, and said “God bless you.”

Our Prayer from Capitol Hill Is Trending

Photo by Brandon Hook / Sojourners
Faith leaders pray with Sens. Kelly Ayotte (left), Lisa Murkowski, and Susan Collins. Photo by Brandon Hook / Sojourners

During a sunrise vigil at the U.S. Capitol this morning, three senators unexpectedly joined us. They were all women, all Republican and, it turns out, all Catholic. Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire are part of a new 14-senator bipartisan, women-led group engaged in their own kind of vigil: trying to end the government shutdown and prevent the nation from going into debt default.

chuckling comment from a male colleague in the Senate perhaps expresses a hope in the midst of this incredibly dangerous political crisis: “The women are taking over.” This morning, the senators walked over to thank us for praying for them and the government at this critical moment and told us how much they felt the need for our prayers right now. The looks on their faces showed us the seriousness of their plea for prayers.

People of faith are instructed to pray for their political leaders, and their need has never been more evident in this completely dysfunctional Capitol City. For the seventh day now, faith leaders, pastors, young people, and passersby lifted up prayers for the common good across from the Capitol. Until this morning, there was no response from our elected officials or the national media pundits.

But the #FaithfulFilibuster has taken off across the country through word of mouth and social media — our prayers are trending.

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