Values of a Public Faith (Part 2)

Paper Boat Creative / Getty Images

Paper Boat Creative / Getty Images

Editor's Note: This is part two of a three-part series from Dr. Miroslav Volf an a voice instructing us how to involve our values into our present politcal debates. To read part one go HEREFrom part one: 

In this year of presidential elections, I have decided to summarize key values that guide me as I decide for whom to cast my vote. ... 

6. The Poor

Value: The poor — above all those without adequate food or shelter — deserve our special concern. (“The moral test of government is how it treats people in the dawn of life, the children, in the twilight of life, the aged, and in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy, and the handicapped” [Hubert Humphrey].)

Rationale: “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and for the alien: I am the LORD your God” (Lev. 23:22). “There will, however, be no one in need among you, because the LORD is sure to bless you in the land that the LORD your God is giving you as a possession to occupy” (Deut. 15:4).

Debate: There should be no debate whether fighting extreme poverty is a top priority of the government. That’s a given. We should debate the following: How should we generate a sense of solidarity with the poor among all citizens? In poverty alleviation, what is the proper role of governments and of individuals, religious communities, and civic organizations? What macroeconomic conditions most favor lifting people out of poverty? What should the minimum wage be? 

Questions to Ask: Is overcoming extreme poverty (rather than fostering the wellbeing of the middle class) a priority for the candidate? For what poverty-reducing policies is the candidate prepared to fight?


A Lesson in Selflessness

Photo: Child sitting in the dust in  Attila JANDI /

Photo: Child sitting in the dust in Attila JANDI /

Peacemaking happens in many forms. Sometimes peace is offered to others, and sometimes given in unexpected ways.

It was early morning. The African sun had yet to rise above the mountains, and the sky was the soft yellow of newly shucked corn.

Beep, beep, sounded the horn on the old truck as it rumbled to a stop in front of my house. My old friends  Momadu, Madu, and Balamusa  greeted me with smiles, waves, and morning blessings.

We were on our way from Kenieba, a small town in western Mali, to Sitaxoto, a large village about two hours away over a broken dirt road.

A church was there, a little group of people who met each week outside under a big baobab tree to pray, study the Bible, share their stories and ask, How do we follow Jesus?


Food Assistance: A Helping Hand or a Poker Chip?

Food assistance programs have been helping millions of people get through the recession. With poverty remaining at record high levels, we should be grateful that these resources are available to protect families from hunger.

Unfortunately, some of our nation’s elected officials see it differently. New legislation (H.R 6518) introduced by Congressman Paul Broun and members of the Republican Study Committee targets some of the very programs designed to protect the most poor and vulnerable. Under the proposed legislation, six food programs administered by the federal government would be combined into a single block grant to states. 

Does that sound like Washington slang? What it means is that spending on food programs would be dramatically reduced, administration of these programs would be shifted to state governors, and benefit level would likely vary from state to state. Programs such as the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) and Emergency Food Assistance (TEFAP) would be threatened by this legislation.

Hungry in America

It’s the time of year when various government agencies release their reports for the previous year, in this case, 2011. The annual report on poverty is due from the Census Bureau next week, and, according to AP, early reports are that

“The ranks of America's poor are on track to climb to levels unseen in nearly half a century, erasing gains from the war on poverty in the 1960s amid a weak economy and fraying government safety net.”

This week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released its annual report on household food security. (If you want all the detailed statistical tables, here is the full report.) Not surprisingly, the results showed a growing number people in the U.S. going hungry. 17.9 million households (14.9 percent of households) were  “food insecure.” That means at some point during the year, those households did not have enough food due to lack of money. Of those, 6.8 million households (5.7 percent of households and one-third of all food-insecure households) had “very low food security.” That means at some point during the year, some household members went hungry. According to their answers on the survey, these folks reported that “the food they bought just did not last and they did not have money to get more,” and that “an adult had cut the size of meals or skipped meals because there was not enough money for food.”

It is hardly the time to reduce assistance to hungry families, but as McClatchy News noted,

“The survey data comes as congressional Republicans … push for massive cuts in food stamp-program funding to curb enrollment growth and to help balance the federal budget. The Democratic-controlled Senate also voted in June to cut food stamp funding, but by a smaller amount.”

Without programs such as SNAP (food stamps) school lunches, the Women, Infant and Children nutrition program; there would be many more food insecure families in America.

Here’s the data in a helpful infographic from McClatchy.

SNAP / Food Stamp Challenge, Day 4: Piatt FAIL

Rubber ink 'Failed' stamp, Dimitrios Kaisaris /

Rubber ink 'Failed' stamp, Dimitrios Kaisaris /

I don’t mind failing as much as I do admitting I’ve failed. And technically, we haven’t blown the SNAP Challenge just yet, but I know for a fact we will by the end of the week.

I went to the store last night for another loaf of bread and a frozen pizza for dinner, which I had promised my kids if they’d make it to mid-week without freaking out. This brought us down to eighteen bucks and change left in the till, which theoretically was going to be enough to fill in the gaps for other items we’d need to do our meals through the weekend.

And then reality hit.

SNAP / Food Stamp Challenge, Day 2: The Shelf

Photo: Clipping coupons, Jim Barber  /

Photo: Clipping coupons, Jim Barber /

I’m not making friends among my family members with this challenge.

Because it was my idea to do this for a week (living on the equivalent budget of food stamps for seven days), everyone ends up coming to me to “check on the rules.” Basically, this means they ask me about ways they might work around the limitations of the challenge, and then get mad at me when I don’t give them a way out.

Yesterday ended up being a mixed bag. My wife, Amy, and I had to go to the other side of town for some errands, and it didn’t occur to either of us that we’d be gone over lunch time. Fortunately, one of the errands was at an Ikea, a giant housewares store that’s known for it’s affordable cafeteria-style meals, so we made it work. But even with their reduced-rate prices, we spent more than $9 for both of us and little Zoe to eat.

“Man,” I said, looking at my empty bowl, previously filled with pasta and Swedish meatballs, “that was way less than we usually spend going out, but it was still almost double what we have in the budget for one meal.”

40-Hour Famine: Eyes Wide Open (VIDEO)

Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

A starving 2-year-old girl is comforted by her mother at a refugee camp in in Mogadishu, Somalia. Photo by John Moore/Getty.

Every day, millions of children go hungry. But it doesn't have to be that way.

  • Hunger is the world's No. 1 health risk, causing more deaths annually worldwide than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined.
    (Source: World Food Program)
  • One in seven people in the world will go to bed hungry tonite.
    (Source: World Food Program)
  • There are more hungry people in the world (925 million) than the combined population of the United States, Canada and the European Union (841 million)
    (Source: World Food Program)

Find out about the causes of hunger — and the solutions — in a new video from World Vision Australia (with music by Gotye) inside the blog...

Cutting Assistance Programs Undermines the Church's Work

SNAP stats illustration. Sandi Villarreal / Sojourners

SNAP stats illustration. Sandi Villarreal / Sojourners

A common rationalization those in religious circles make for cutting social programs that help the poor is that church should be the one helping “the least of these,” not the government. But if we know that’s not possible given the church’s means, that millions will get left behind because our efforts fall far too short, is that still a logical line of defense? Jesus told us to care for the poor, sick, and vulnerable—he didn’t prescribe how.

Sometimes Jesus healed people one-on-one. Sometimes he addressed the needs of a multitude by providing enough food to feed them all. Sometimes he sent others in his stead to provide healing. 

If we ignore the needy in our midst by getting rid of one huge way to address that need, we are not following Jesus’ example.