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I’m encouraged by examples of low-income people and people of color becoming more active and influential in U.S. politics. This is a crucial part of building the political will we need to move toward the end of hunger and poverty.

One example is the National Latino Evangelical Coalition (NALEC), which has strengthened the voice of Latino Evangelicals on poverty-related issues. This week’s webcast in my “Poverty, God, Politics” series features Rev. Gabriel Salguero, Founder and President of NALEC.

Gabe starts by countering a couple popular misconceptions about Evangelicals and Latinos. He is deeply rooted in Puerto Rican Pentecostal church life, but studied at Princeton and Union seminaries. His thinking has been influenced by Catholic Social Teaching and Liberation Theology. This might not be the academic and theological background that people would expect of a Pentecostal preacher.

He then presents data on diversity among Latinos. In the United States, we have grouped people from various nations together as Latino, but each of these nations has its own culture, ethnic mix, and history. Latinos are also diverse in religion, with large concentrations of Catholics, Evangelicals, and religiously unaffiliated people.

Latinos are very diverse politically - 37 percent Democrat, 25 percent Independent, and 21 percent Republican. Many people swing from one party to the other in different elections. That - and the fact that one in four children born in the United States is now Latino - add to their political importance.

Bread-and-butter issues (COVID, jobs, housing) are the highest priority among Latino voters. These are survival issues for many Latinos; hunger and poverty are twice as prevalent among Latinos as among non-Latino White people. Many Latinos are also concerned about abortion and same-sex marriage, issues that are stressed in Catholic and Evangelical churches.

Most Latinos favor humane immigration policies, and their churches (especially Catholic parishes) sometimes organize advocacy on immigration issues. But contrary to what I used to think, immigration is not a high priority among Latino voters. This helps to explain why Congress hasn’t updated the nation’s immigration policies for 35 years. Gabriel Salguero says that advocacy partners, politicians, and the press most often seek his views on immigration issues, even though the people he represents are more concerned about hunger and poverty within the United States.

Gabe and other Evangelical Latino pastors founded NALEC eleven years ago. Inspired in part by the hard-won political achievements of African American churches, they decided to organize Latino Evangelicals for advocacy on common-good issues from a Gospel perspective. Their issues agenda has reflected the Bible’s focus on poverty.

NALEC has grown to include 3,000 churches. They have no communications staff, but get significant media attention. Gabe is courted by politicians in both parties, and the Democratic Party asked him to pray at the beginning of their 2020 convention. It helps that there are concentrations of Latino Evangelicals in some of the swing states.

NALEC is a leader on immigration issues. They have repeatedly brought hundreds of people from across the country to speak with members of Congress on these issues. Pentecostal youth choirs have rocked Capitol Hill with songs about Jesus and justice. NALEC has also organized Evangelical churches to take care of unaccompanied migrant children until they can be reunited with their families.

I asked Gabe how the Biden administration should respond to the recent influx of undocumented immigrants. He welcomes the return to more humane immigration policies. He recommends partnership with faith groups to help take care of children, more judges and attorneys to process claims for asylum, and restoring the aid to Central America that President Trump slashed.

NALEC has also become a leader on questions of funding for safety-net programs and tax credits for low-income workers. They are a strong partner in the Circle of Protection, working with diverse church bodies and organizations to influence and then pass the massive legislative packages that have moved through Congress during the pandemic. On these issues, they are moved both by religious conviction and by the pressing needs of many of the people in their churches and communities. Their personal connections to the realities of poverty and near-poverty add to the intensity and credibility of their advocacy.

  • David Beckmann

African Americans turned out to vote in 2020 and tipped the results of the election in several swing states. They now have influence and commitments in the White House, and issues on the agenda of the Congressional Black Caucus are also high on the agenda of both houses of Congress. There are now 57 African American members of the House, up from two in 1955.

It has been a long climb, and African American churches have been preaching about voting and organizing to get people to the polls every step of the way.

In a webcast released today, Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner and Representative Barbara Lee share African American struggles over the centuries and the contribution of the Black Church throughout this history. The webcast is drawn from their presentation to my class in Berkeley. Dr. Barbara is head of the Skinner Leadership Institute and Co-Convener of the National African American Clergy Network. Rep. Lee is an influential member of the House of Representatives and chair of its foreign affairs appropriations subcommittee.

Dr. Barbara retells the long story of African American struggle as sacred history, with a clear eye to practical lessons for right now. Everyone who listens will be humbled and inspired.

She begins with analysis of the uniquely brutal enslavement of African American people. Many countries have tolerated slavery, but African Americans were systematically stripped of their culture, language, family, and dignity.

Dr. Barbara sees a cycle in African American history - repression, revolt, and advance. Again and again, periods of advance were followed by periods of repression - the violent repression that followed Reconstruction after the Civil War, for example. More recently, President Trump after President Obama.

She reports on the work she helped lead in 2020 to promote voting and counter voter suppression She and her colleagues recruited 600 clergy (mostly African Americans) to serve as chaplains at vulnerable polling stations in 16 states. This clergy presence contributed to an election day that was surprisingly from violence and intimidation.

Dr. Barbara expresses appreciation for White allies, but notes that White allies have repeatedly proved unreliable. Many White supporters of Dr. Martin Luther King pulled away when he focused on economic justice (issues such as wages for sanitation workers). Public support for the Black Lives Matter movement has dropped since last summer.

Rep. Barbara Lee represents Berkeley in Congress, and when she joins the class she is eager to connect with her constituents. I invited some community leaders of Bread for the World to join the call, and she celebrates their important work.

She says that African Americans in Congress are insisting that Biden and the Democrats deliver on their commitments. Rep. Lee is building support for a racial truth-telling commission (modelled after post-apartheid South Africa) and for reparations for African Americans.

As chair of foreign affairs appropriations, she is pushing for a big increase in international development assistance. She argues that we rely too heavily on military spending for our national security.

The congresswoman notes that many Jesus-loving members of Congress repeatedly vote against her people, but recalls that many of the men who managed the slave trade were also devout Christians..

Both of these remarkable leaders speak joyfully about their own experience of church and

God. They both close with exultant, rapid-fire recitations of well-worn words of praise and persistence from their own lifelong experience of the Black Church.

Right now is a time of decision on racial justice issues. There seems to be a good chance that a policing reform bill will become law. Democrats in Congress are also intent on passing voting rights legislation and some version of the President’s Build Back Better legislation (which is also on the Congressional Black Caucus agenda).

Meanwhile, Dr. Barbara and others are gearing up to help churches expand on their election-related work in the run-up to 2022, now including grassroots opposition to the voter suppression legislation that Republicans are pushing in state legislatures across the country. If you want to help, consider a contribution to the Skinner Leadership Institute.

Updated: Apr 29

The webcast we’re releasing today features Josh Dickson, who was National Faith Engagement Director for the Biden-Harris campaign. Josh explains how the Biden-Harris campaign reached out to faith communities more than prior Democratic presidential campaigns had done. He also shows that the shift of some religious voters to Biden in several swing states arguably won the White House.

During the campaign, Bread for the World was working with the other church groups in the Circle of Protection coalition to get presidential candidates to talk about what they would do to provide opportunity for people in poverty. I got to know Josh in the process of asking Biden to make a general-election statement about poverty. We were delighted that he made a strong speech at a digital rally of the Poor People’s Campaign. The three big pieces of legislation he has proposed to Congress this year were outlined in that speech.

Bread for the World works in a bipartisan way. But when I stopped serving as Bread’s principal spokesperson, I endorsed Biden and did some work for the campaign, Trump’s policies and rhetoric were harsh toward poor and vulnerable people. On the other hand, Biden had a serious plan to move us out of the pandemic in a way that would lead to less poverty and injustice than we put up with before.

People who want to make U.S. politics friendlier toward people of color and low-income people need to rally around progressive legislation and, even now, get to work on the 2022 election.

We need to convince Congress to move forward with all three of the big legislative plans of President Biden’s first 100 days. The American Rescue Plan Act has already passed - sadly, without one Republican vote. It is doing more for people in poverty than any legislation in decades. The focus is emergency assistance to people and communities hard hit by the pandemic. The President’s Build Back Better program is now being rolled out in two parts. The American Jobs Plan, recently released, would fund infrastructure to support sustained economic growth and, at the same time, address racial and economic injustices and reduce carbon emissions. It emphasizes investments and policy changes that would allow many low-income workers to increase their EARNED income. The American Families Act, to be released soon, will set up structures to help all American families thrive - expanded educational opportunities for the bottom half of the income distribution, for example.

We can help family and friends (including people in our church) realize the importance of what’s happening in Congress in these months. Right now, people across the country need to hear about the new and not well-understood Jobs Act. My April 5 blog post on the Jobs Act is worth a second read. We can also contact our members of Congress, especially if they are moderate Democrats or moderate Republicans, to urge support for the President’s Build Back Better plans. In the Senate, every possible vote is crucial to this legislation becoming law.

In addition to legislative advocacy, we need to turn our attention to the 2022 elections. Efforts to resist voter suppression and get out the vote are important. We also need to give time and money to Democrats who will face tight races in 2022. While most Republicans across the country support elements of Biden’s plans, the Republican members of Congress now seem committed to voting against everything Biden as a bloc. If they secure a majority in either or both houses of Congress in 2022, we won’t fully realize the hopes that Biden’s election and early months have raised. Josh Dickson is a model of Christian leadership in electoral politics.