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.
“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).
I couldn’t believe what I heard. On my television screen a member of Congress quoted the Bible in defense of cutting SNAP benefits. He stated in his testimony, “Scripture says if you don’t work you don’t eat.” The only Scripture that came to my mind as I looked on in sadness was “Jesus wept.”
You see, I had just come from the food pantry my church has operated for more than 20 years. With the economic downturn, our pantry volume has steadily increased from 15 to an average of 40-50 families each day we are open. These families are able to shop with us one time in 30 days, and we attempt to provide three meals a day, for three days, for each member of the household. Our clients are beautiful people who are struggling. Each and every day we hear statements such as, “I never thought I would have to come to a food pantry to feed my family,” or “We just can’t make it to the end of the month.” Our clients come from all walks of life and have one thing in common: they’re struggling.
So, as I listened to the congressman use Scripture to marginalize the very people I care for every day, I felt I needed to do something. I could no longer be silent as the Bible was being used to hurt vulnerable people. I had to speak, and I remembered the Faithful Filibuster. I sent a tweet to Jim Wallis asking if they needed support or extra voices, and he replied that in fact they did. This was a Friday afternoon at 4 p.m., my daughter and I were on the road from Ohio to Washington, D.C., the next morning at 5:30.
We arrived in D.C. at 1:45 just in time to change and walk to the small pulpit labeled #FaithfulFillibuster for our 2:30 time slot. As I stepped onto the grass and began to read, the long hours of the trip began to fade away as the words of the Gospel began to cross my lips. I remember feeling that I would have driven a thousand miles to be able to proclaim the good news of the message of Christ and to speak the Word out loud in a way that comforted God’s people. I would have kept on reading until I couldn’t do it anymore, true filibuster style, all the while looking at the Capitol building with all her power. Our Christian story is one of liberation, new life, abundance, and mercy. It is a story that brings good news to the poor, and I will tell it until I no longer have breath.
It’s a rough month to be a Washingtonian.
My morning bike ride past the Capitol Building is leaving me less with the sense of inspiration I used to feel at being so close to the heart of democracy, and more with a creeping sense of disgust. Sometimes it’s tough to live in a city whose very name is a synonym for Congress. “Washington” recently decided to cut off all funding for national parks, health research, and, oh yeah, programs that serve poor Americans.
Thanks to Congress, poor women might not get help from the Women, Infants and Children program to feed their babies. Head Start preschool programs have been canceled, leaving parents unable to work. People who need the SNAP program to feed their families could be left with nowhere to turn, while sick and elderly people who get regular visits from Meals on Wheels volunteers are worried about where their food will come from over the coming weeks.
There are about 40 members of an extremist ideological minority who are ruining the reputation of the place I live and work, and taking the poor down along with them.
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.
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.
Yesterday, before Republicans in the House of Representatives voted to push through a plan to slash nearly $40 billion from the food stamp program, Jim Wallis said we would keep an eye on which way of our elected officials voted.
So, who voted for that $40 billion cut to the food stamps program, which would kick an estimated 4 million hungry people out of the program next year? Here's your list. Is your Congress member on it?
1. Shamed in Edina for Using Food Stamps
Read this moving 'apology note' from one mom in Edina, Minn., an affluent Minneapolis suburb, to the woman behind her in line at the supermarket: "I did not observe you, but my daughter was with me packing the groceries and saw it all: 'EBT: Yeah, right,' you muttered, with that look of disgust that would have shattered someone feeling just a little bit of shame over needing food stamps."
2. WATCH: The Most Beautiful, Haunting Infomercial You'll Ever See
If you haven't caught the latest, "advertisement disguised as an anti-commercial animated short," check it out. With Fiona Apple on vocals covering "Pure Imagination" from Willy Wonka, the Chipotle ad / commentary against factory farming has drawn 4 million views on YouTube already.
3. From the Mouths of Rapists: The Lyrics of Robin Thicke's 'Song of the Summer' Blurred Lines
Warning: This post contains graphic descriptions of sexual assault.
Featuring images from Project Unbreakable — an online photo essay that features images of sexual assault survivors holding signs with sentences their rapists told them — The Society Pages breaks down popular, yet somewhat lyrically disturbing, song "Blurred Lines."
4. Pope Says Church is 'Obsessed' With Gays Abortion, and Birth Control
Laurie Goodstein at the New York Times has the excerpts from Pope Francis' lengthy interview: “We have to find a new balance,” the pope continued, “otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.”
5. How Stop-and-Frisk is Creating a Generation of Young People Who Don't Trust the Police
In interviews with New Yorkers age 18-25, only 40 percent said they would feel comfortable calling the police if they needed help and only 25 percent would report someone for committing a crime, The Atlantic Cities reports.
6. INFOGRAPHIC: 16 Mass Shootings Since Newtown You Haven't Heard About
The definition of "mass shooting" is a shooting event in which four or more people other than the shooter are killed. Huffington Post collected information on 16 such incidents that have occurred across the country since December's horrific Newtwon, Conn., massacre.
7. The Language of Lament
Diana at A Deeper Story reads all of our minds as we grieve another difficult week for our country. "It is lament that carries us directly into the presence of God when we are feeling furthest away; it is lament that addresses our unanswerable questions honestly, even profoundly; it is lament that opens the door to worship."
8. Talking Sex With a Married Catholic Priest
With Pope Francis' inclusive language and prioritization of love above divisiveness, many have speculated about possible changes to the Catholic Church's stance on priestly celibacy. Christian Piatt sat down with a married Catholic priest (who joined the priesthood from the Anglican clergy) to discuss the pope, celibacy, and more.
9. The Dramatic Rise of Life Without Parole, in 3 Charts
From The Atlantic Cities: "Nationally, almost half (47.2 percent) of life-sentenced inmates are African American, though the black population of lifers reaches much higher in states such as Maryland (77.4 percent), Georgia (72.0 percent), and Mississippi (71.5 percent)."
10. WATCH: Rick Warren on Guns, God, and Son's Tragic Death
Shining a light both on mental illness and gun sales in the U.S., Rick Warren and his wife Kay sat down with CNN's Pierce Morgan to talk about their son, who took his own life in April. "“One of the hard things was forgiving the person who sold him the gun,” Rick Warren said. “Because I didn't want to forgive him.”
The House of Representatives on Thursday evening narrowly passed a plan that cuts about $40 billion* from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or food stamps program. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the move will push nearly 4 million low-income people off of the program in 2014. USA Today reports:
"The House voted 217-210 for the bill that cuts nearly twice as much from food stamps as a bill the House rejected in June. It is also far more than a Senate measure passed earlier this year that would trim about $4.5 billion in spending. The bill failed to draw the support of a single Democrat, many of whom have said the steep cuts would erode a key safety net depended upon by families with children, seniors, veterans and people looking for work."
Earlier on Thursday, Sojourners President Jim Wallis condemned the then-proposed cuts, saying, "These same politicians are not willing to go to where the real money is: the Pentagon budget, which everyone knows to be the most wasteful in government spending, or the myriad subsidies to corporations, including agribusiness subsides to members of Congress who will be voting to cut SNAP for the poor. ... They are going after cuts to the poor and hungry people because they think it is politically safe to do so. So let’s call that what it is: moral hypocrisy."
Check back with Sojourners for details on how your congressperson voted.
If you know the facts and faces of the hungry families that are helped by SNAP, I believe it is a moral and even religious problem to vote to cut them. The Bible clearly says that governmental authority includes the protection of the poor in particular, and instructs political rulers to promote their well-being. So the argument that the poor should just be left to churches and private charity is an unbiblical argument. I would be happy to debate that with any of our conservative Congressmen who keep telling our churches that we are the only ones who should care for the poor. To vote against feeding hungry people is un-Christian, un-Jewish, and goes against any moral inclination, religious or
Finally, for politicians to defend these SNAP cuts because of our need to cut spending generally is un-credible and incredible.
These same politicians are not willing to go to where the real money is: the Pentagon budget, which everyone knows to be the most wasteful in government, or the myriad subsidies to corporations, including agribusiness subsides to members of Congress who will be voting to cut SNAP for the poor.
Tea Party-elected Rep. Stephen Fincher, (R-Tenn.), who likes to bolster his anti-poor rhetoric with misused Bible verses, collected $3.5 million in farm subsidies between 1999 and 2012, according to the New York Times. Fincher is helping to lead the effort to cut food stamps to working families with children by illogically quoting: “The one who is unwilling to work should not eat,” all the while collecting millions of dollars in agricultural subsidies. Congressman Fincher's position is hypocritical — and it's this kind of hypocrisy that makes Christians look bad and turns young people away from the church.
You see, for many House conservatives this isn't really about SNAP, but about their opposition to the idea that as a society we have the responsibility to care for each other, even during the hard times or when resources are few. Conservatives know their ideas for privatizing Social Security or cutting funding to Medicare and Medicaid are politically unpopular, but their ideology of individualism that borders on social Darwinism remains unchanged. SNAP is the perfect target for them. The image of what it does and whom it serves has been widely distorted by the media, while the people who benefit from it have little influence in the halls of Congress and pose little risk to the political careers of Republican members.
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.
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.
The acquittal of a person who is not black for the murder or beating of a black person is nothing new: Remember Yusef Hawkins. Remember Rodney King. Remember Amadu Diallo. Remember Alex Moore. Remember Latasha Harlins. Remember Sean Bell. Remember… remember… remember.
Many of us can recall these names without much effort. So, why is the death of Trayvon Martin so different?
It’s different because of the law — and the timing.
The number of those who’ve benefitted from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) has increased nearly seven percent from 8.7 in 2007 to 15.2 in its most recent study. Despite the economic challenges America has faced over the past several years, the Houses’ decision to do away with food stamps has not only caused controversy between the House and the Senate but has caused controversy between the government and the American people. The New York Times reports:
Something terrible has happened to the soul of the Republican Party. We’ve gone beyond bad economic doctrine. We’ve even gone beyond selfishness and special interests. At this point we’re talking about a state of mind that takes positive glee in inflicting further suffering on the already miserable.
Read more here.
A campaign to hold former Pope Benedict XVI responsible for crimes against humanity floundered on Thursday as the International Criminal Court in The Hague threw out a case filed by victims of clergy sex abuse.
The case had been presented in September 2011 by SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, and the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, accusing the pope and other senior Vatican officials of failing to stop abusive priests.
According to a SNAP statement, the court’s prosecutor’s office said on May 31 that the file presented against leaders of the Roman Catholic Church does not meet the “preconditions of the court” and thus “do not appear to fall within the (court’s) jurisdiction.”
The United States is the richest country in the world, but only three-quarters of Americans have enough to eat.
New data from the Pew Research Center shows that nearly a quarter of Americans had trouble putting food on the table last year — 24 percent is a lot of hungry people in the richest country in the world. It’s not normal, either – most other advanced economies had much lower rates of hunger. We think that the U.S. economy is similar to that of Canada or Britain; our hunger rate is closer to that of Indonesia, South Korea, or Greece.
Numbers like that are shocking, because we prefer to think of ourselves in nationalistic terms. “The richest, most powerful country on Earth” definitely makes us feel better than realizing that things aren’t so great for many of us. One in four of us is hungry.
We don’t like to think about this, but we aren’t doing so well by a lot of standards. Last month, UNICEF published a report on child wellbeing in developed countries. The United States was ranked 26 out of 29, above Lithuania, Latvia, and Romania. Our children were doing worse than those of Greece.
Is this really where we want to be?
The Farm Bill might not sound like the most exciting piece of legislation ever to come out of Congress, but it has huge implications for nutrition in the United States. Among other things, the Farm Bill determines support to small farms, promoting farmers’ markets, and, oh yeah, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), what we used to call food stamps.
SNAP is one of the most effective anti-poverty programs, set to expand with increased need and decrease when people no longer need help. Most benefits are modest, and the majority of recipients who are able to work do. In fact, SNAP is effective because it not only helps people get the food they need, but its benefits encourage them to find work.
Unfortunately, it seems like both houses in Congress are set on changing the SNAP program for the worse. Putting aside the cuts the House has planned for nutrition assistance that would kick 2 million people off the program, the Senate recently accepted a change to SNAP that flies in the face of the criminal justice system and will probably have racially discriminating effects.
Today a $4 million plan was announced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The plan will increase the use of federal food credits at farmers markets by allowing retailers to use wireless technology to connect sellers with the SNAP program. The Washington Post reports:
“These grants increase the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables to SNAP customers and further encourage them to purchase and prepare healthy foods for their families using SNAP benefits,” said Agriculture Undersecretary Kevin Concannon.
Read more here.
The discussion we are having about “the fiscal cliff” is really a debate about our fiscal soul. What kind of nation do we want to be? We do need a path to fiscal sustainability, but will it include all of us — especially the most vulnerable? It’s a foundational moral choice for the country, and one with dramatic domestic and deadly global implications. It is the most important principle for the faith community in this debate.
I had a recent conversation with an influential senator on these fiscal issues. I said to him, “You and I know the dozen or so senators, from both sides of the aisle, who could sit at your conference table here and find a path to fiscal sustainability, right?”
“Yes,” he said, “we could likely name the senators who would be able to do that.” I added, “And they could protect the principle and the policies that defend the poor and vulnerable, couldn’t they?”
“Yes,” he said, “We could do that too.” “But,” I asked, “Wouldn’t then all the special interests come into this room to each protect their own expenditures; and the end result would be poor people being compromised, right?”
The senator looked us in the eyes and said, “That is exactly what will likely happen.”
It will happen unless we have bipartisan agreement, at least by some on both political sides, to protect the poor and vulnerable in these fiscal decisions — over the next several weeks leading up to Christmas and the New Year, and then for the longer process ahead in 2013.
But for that to be viable, the arithmetic must work.