food stamps

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.

My Journey Through Food Stamps

Cosmocatalano/Flickr/Creative Commons
Cosmocatalano/Flickr/Creative Commons

Fear, anxiety, and secrecy marked the roughly year and a half I received federal food stamps.

Like the New Testament’s famed Samaritan woman who snuck to the well at an odd hour to get water, I tried to retrieve the sustenance my family needed outside the view of my immediate community.

I tried never to let those around me see me using the food stamp card, and certainly wouldn’t have ever told my extended family or friends. I wanted no one to know I was living outside the bounds of “acceptable” life.

I had decided to find out whether I qualified for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) while a full-time seminary student trying to raise three teens — one of them in college. I worked jobs as much as I could around my school schedule, but in the end I never had enough money to pay bills, meet my children’s needs, and buy enough groceries for the month.

The Budget and Your Neighbor

Mosaic of the Good Samaritan, Renata Sedmakova / Shutterstock.com
Mosaic of the Good Samaritan, Renata Sedmakova / Shutterstock.com

Gov. John R. Kasich (R-Ohio) did a shocking thing recently. He broke with his political allies and decided to expand Medicaid to 275,000 poor people in his state through the Affordable Care Act. Then he called a spade a spade, saying: “I’m concerned about the fact there seems to be a war on the poor.”

Kasich’s statement came just two days ago. And today, 47 million low-income Americans will see their food stamps benefits decrease as stimulus funding ends. In light of this newly named “war on the poor,” I’ve been reflecting on Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan, and the man’s question to Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” What an intriguing question.

Of course one of the most incredible things about this story is that Jesus never answers the lawyer’s question. Rather, he tells a story about a man beaten by robbers on a dangerous road. He was stripped naked left lying there, clinging to life. Both a priest and Levite pass him by, but a Samaritan went out of his way, broke his usual routine, used up his own gas (or at least his donkey’s energy) to bring the man to an inn. And he took care of him overnight at the inn, offering the innkeeper what would today be about $330.

And then Jesus flips the script! The lawyer asked who exactly is my neighbor? Who do I have to love? And conversely who can I cross off my need-to-love list?

Jesus doesn’t answer the question. Jesus returns his question with a question: “Who was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

Nowadays we hardly have a concept of what it means to be a neighbor anymore.

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).

NASA's Earthbound Solutions

Illustration by Ken Davis

WITH THE HEAT of mid-year finally over—judging by the fact that Dallas has settled into a sweater-friendly 97 degrees—it’s time to look back and see what we’ve learned from another summer filled with unpredictable weather extremes.

For example, a couple weeks in August were actually extremely comfortable, which was no help to my crusade to convince Fox-loving friends that the earth is warming. Lately, even scientists have been of little use, adamantly refusing to blame rampant forest fires and extreme droughts on climate change. They insist on “analyzing” patterns of weather “over time” to honor “standards of science.” There’s nothing worse than climatologists dragging their feet when there are righteous accusations to be flung. Global warming is behind EVERYTHING wrong! You know it. I know it.

Okay, sorry.

But this summer had way too many examples of the extreme consequences of climate change, including deadly tornadoes, inundating floods, and town hall meetings that brought forth a storm of discontent. Unsuspecting members of Congress had left the comforting gridlock of Washington, D.C., and, failing to first check for a full moon, had innocently invited questions from constituents in their home districts. This is almost always a mistake. You really need to test the water before you just walk into a home district unprepared.

According to many vocal Americans sitting in air-conditioned town halls, climate change is a hoax, President Obama has still not been born in the United States, and he refuses to renounce his Kenyan birthplace. (Even though he wasn’t born there, it would be a nice gesture.) In a related matter, Texas senator and presidential hopeful Ted Cruz—is “notgonnahappenful” a word?—renounced his Canadian citizenship after discovering he was accidentally born outside the United States. It happens.

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Jim Wallis Talks Food Stamps Recipients on Ed Show: 'You Must Not Know Them'

Last night, Jim Wallis appeared on "The Ed Show" to discuss why it's imperative to avoid cutting social programs like food stamps that feed millions of poor and hungry in our country. Those pastors who disagree, he says, usually don't know the faces of those directly affected by such cuts. You can watch the segment Jim appeared on here:

 

My Mission: The Salad Bar

JENG_NIAMWHAN / Shutterstock.com
Closeup of fresh organic strawberries. JENG_NIAMWHAN / Shutterstock.com

Some read Romans 13 and lean toward faith being a personal thing (pay your taxes and don’t break the laws, avoid sexual immorality, debauchery, jealousy, and instead clothe yourself with Christ), but the chapter also says God has established government as his “servant to do good.”

This is why, in a country where the public is encouraged to participate in government, I want to encourage people of faith to voice the heart of God when it comes to issues like feeding the least of these.

Pope Francis: We Need You in Washington, D.C.

Lefteris Papaulakis and catwalker / Shutterstock.com
Pope Francis: We Need You in Washington, D.C. Lefteris Papaulakis and catwalker / Shutterstock.com

Suddenly, unexpectedly, and almost miraculously, the values of simplicity, humility, welcome, and the priority of the poor have burst on to the international stage. A new pope named Francis is reminding us that love is also a verb — choosing the name Francis because of his commitment to the poor, to peace, and creation in sharp contrast to the values of Washington, D.C.  

Last week the House of Representatives voted to cut food stamps. The previous week marked the 5th anniversary of the financial collapse, and showed more American inequality than before the recession. And now we face a threatened shutdown of the government unless the health care promised to tens of millions of uninsured people is repealed.  

Pondering all that, I saw the interview with Pope Francis in America magazine and his profile in the new issue of Sojourners. And from every direction, things that the new pope was saying were breaking through the political news cycle. Even my students at Georgetown were telling me that their young friends, Christians or not, were putting Francis quotes up on their Facebook pages.  

Your Christian Hypocrisy Is Showing: On Pope Francis and the U.S. Congress

Flickr.com / Shutterstock.com
Pope Francis, by Catholic Church (England and Wales) / Flickr.com; U.S. Capitol Building, Orhan Cam / Shutterstock.com

The message of Christ is not often so clearly presented in American media as it was yesterday, nor is that message as clearly contradicted in the same news cycle.

Yesterday, Pope Francis, while not actually changing any doctrinal stance of the Catholic church, clearly asserted in a rare and frank interview that compassion and mercy must be the light that radiates from the global church for the world to see, rather than the church’s current “obsession” with gays, birth control, and abortion.

At the same time that the pope’s words were cycling through the media, other words were also coming through loud and clear: those of Republican lawmakers who have decided that the least of these will remain just that and, accordingly, voted to slash the food stamp budget by almost $40 billion.

The juxtaposition presented between these two events is striking. It also represents an enormous divide among Christians, and, frankly, demonstrates why so many feel Christianity is a religion full of hypocrisy. 

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