My Blog
  • David Beckmann

Donald Trump consistently does what’s in his self-interest. We’ve come to know him and must expect that he will do everything he can to maximize his power and wealth, even as he stumbles and flails through the last days of his presidency.

I thank God that Joe Biden decisively won the election. Voters (both Trump and Biden voters) came out in inspiring numbers, and the election was well-run. There is no evidence of widespread fraud. More than 90 judges (some of them Trump appointees) have rejected his suits for a redo.

State and local election officials (in both parties) have resisted Trump’s intense pressure to discredit the results. In the tape of Trump’s phone conversation with Brad Raffensberger, Georgia’s Secretary of State, Trump even threatened him with criminal prosecution, but Raffensberger stood up for Georgia’s voters.

I also thank God that Congress and the President passed the $900 billion COVID relief package (including $13 billion in food assistance for hungry Americans and $4 billion in support for COVID vaccination efforts in low-income countries). Failure to agree on this package would have deepened hardship and misery across America.

As we approach the run-off election for Georgia’s two Senate seats, the Democratic candidates appear to be slightly ahead. Their victory would improve our prospects to move forward this year with a strong program to overcome the COVID crisis and then build back better from the economic crisis.

More than 11 senators and as many as 140 members of the House have now indicated they will object to electoral college results when they are read out on January 6. Most Republicans give some credence to Trump’s baseless claims, and Trump is urging them to contact their members of Congress. But after hours of theatrics, majorities in both houses of Congress are almost sure to affirm Biden’s election as President.

Trump still holds tremendous power and could do yet more damage in his last days as President. He seems to be doing nothing to improve the roll-out of COVID vaccines. He is encouraging “wild” street demonstrations on January 6, and he might find some pretext to call out armed forces to “restore order.”

In overriding Trump’s veto of this year’s defense reauthorization act last month, Congress blocked him from suddenly withdrawing troops from Afghanistan or Germany. But Trump appointed a group of his loyalists to top jobs in the Pentagon after the election, and he could order some international military action if he thinks it will serve his personal interests. This seems unlikely, but possible.

What can we do? If you have a Republican senator or representative, please call or email their office ASAP and urge them not to object to the results of the election. You will find any legislator’s email address and phone number on the homepage of his or her website.

For all of us, this is a time for prayer. Thank God for sustaining our nation and the world, and pray that God will guide President Trump, President-Elect Biden, members of Congress, and others in authority to serve the common good. We can also pray for peace of mind and a new spirit of cooperation among the people of our troubled nation.

The Book of Common Prayer offers this prayer for elections:

Almighty God, to whom we must account for all our powers and privileges: Guide the people of the United States in the election of officials and representatives that, by faithful administration and wise laws, the rights of all may be protected and our nation be enabled to fulfill your purposes; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

  • David Beckmann

The nation is exhausted by COVID and now more deeply divided by President Trump’s shameless challenge to the election results. But in the midst of this, nearly all the members of Congress have joined together in affirming what our country has been doing to reduce child stunting in the world’s poorest countries.

This week the House of Representatives passed a bipartisan resolution that affirms the importance of continued U.S. support for best-practice child nutrition programs around the world. The Senate passed a parallel resolution last year. Bread for the World members across the country made this happen. They had 586 meetings with 356 congressional offices. They made 458 calls to their members of Congress and wrote 83,000 letters.

Click here to watch a wonderful video about their campaign. Nancy Jones, an activist in Appleton, Wisconsin, sums it up, “The story I really want to tell is about persistence and teamwork, because that’s really what it was.”

The Advent season teaches us persistence. God is patiently, persistently coming into our world. In Advent we sing, “O come, O come, Emmanuel.” We read about the persistent faith of Zechariah and Elizabeth, Mary, Simeon and Anna. We hear John the Baptist’s call to get ready for the kingdom and Jesus’ parable about keeping our lamps burning during a long night of waiting.

We have two opportunities now to advance the interests of people in poverty through the political process.

First, Congress is making huge funding decisions this month. They need to approve an appropriations bill to keep the government open, and the House - but not the Senate - wants it to include $10 billion in aid to help low-income countries deal with the pandemic. Many members of Congress on both sides of the aisle also realize that another COVID relief bill is needed to avoid a sharp increase in hardship, and a bipartisan group of senators has developed a compromise package. The final package may - or may not - include a 15% increase in SNAP benefits for the lowest income families on the program.

So we can again call the offices of our senators (especially if you have a Republican senator) to urge them to help pass both these bills and to include the $10 billion in international aid and the 15% increase in SNAP benefits.

I called the office of one of my senators, Mark Warner, and asked to talk with the staffer who works on agriculture and nutrition issues. Warner is part of the bipartisan compromise group, so I asked his staff to put me on the list of constituents who appreciate his leadership on this. I also urged that Warner push to get the increase in SNAP benefits in the final bill.

In my judgment, we can also benefit poor people by supporting the two Democrats in the Senate run-off election in Georgia, Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff. If Warnock and Ossoff are both elected, Biden will be able to advance his Build Back Better investment program. If not, we will be stuck in legislative gridlock for the next two years.

Warnock and his opponent, Kelly Loeffler, had their first debate this week. Loeffler defended Senator McConnell’s “skinny” proposals for the next COVID relief package, while Warnock argued for more help for struggling families. Jon Ossoff and his opponent, David Perdue, also share their parties’ positions on this issue.

I’ve given more money to candidates this year than ever before, but I recently sent contributions to Warnock and Ossoff. I also called my nephew in Atlanta to encourage him to be active in the election. He thought he could get a couple apolitical friends to vote.

Many of us have been active in advocacy about the next COVID relief bill for months, and we are ready to be done with this year’s elections. But you might consider making one more call to a member of Congress and perhaps sending political contributions to Georgia as part of your personal observance of Advent.

  • David Beckmann

Updated: Dec 4, 2020

I’m excited to share that I’ve been appointed a Joint Fellow by Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy and the Church Divinity School of the Pacific. Starting in January, I’ll be teaching a graduate seminar, “Poverty and Communities of Faith in the Politics of 2021.”

I'll be resident in Berkeley and expect to be able to meet with some people there in a safe way. But I’ll be teaching my seminar and also continuing some work for Bread and the Alliance remotely.

You and the other people who have signed up for my blog posts should benefit, because I’ll be learning a lot about poverty, God, and politics. My seminars will include a series of presentations by national leaders in this arena, and I’ll make these presentations available to you.

I look forward to teaching a group of next-generation leaders. Some will be training for careers in public policy and others for careers in religious ministry. The two schools have never worked together before, but both deans are thinking this joint project might set the stage for further collaboration.

I’m also thrilled by the learning opportunity this opens for me. I expect the students to challenge some of my ideas. For several decades I’ve been razor-focused on maximizing the impact of Bread and the Alliance. But getting ready for this seminar has already pushed me to think broadly about spiritual and political changes that would accelerate progress against poverty in our country and around the world..

I’m planning one seminar session on the growth of African-American power in recent decades. African American voters turned out to vote for Biden in a big way, and the President-Elect clearly intends to make racial justice an important theme of his administration. The new Congress will include 56 African-American members (many in leadership positions), compared to 21 African-American members of Congress in 1985. I want to learn more than I know about how African-American churches and other organizations have built electoral power.

Another session will focus on the Religious Right. Most white Christians and almost four out of five white Evangelicals voted to reelect President Trump, even though many of his policies and much of his rhetoric have been harsh toward people in poverty and people of color. I want to know more than I do about this bloc of religious people and how different leaders are working to influence political attitudes among them.

I expect that a large share of my students will have no affiliation to a national religious body or tradition (Christian, for example, or Buddhist). If a survey would ask their religious preference, they would mark “None” or “nothing in particular.” So in preparing my syllabus, I have been reading and thinking about the “Nones.” They are the fastest growing group in American religious life, especially among young people and especially in the Western states.

Most of the “Nones” believe in and sometimes pray to God. Some Americans who don’t go to church experience God as a loving presence in their lives, while some Americans who go to church regularly don’t experience God as a loving presence in their lives. I focus on this aspect of religious experience, because the grace of God in Jesus Christ is the core message of Christianity. Also, people who experience God as a loving presence in their lives are more likely to support governmental anti-poverty programs such as food stamps and foreign aid. This information comes from one of my favorite books, American Grace by Robert Putnam and David Campbell.

I just finished a book titled Religion and Public Life in the Pacific Northwest: The None Zone (edited by Patricia O’Connell Killen and Mark Silk). Most people in the Northwest have never been part of a church, synagogue, or mosque, and I chose to read this book because of its focus on the "Nones." It outlines patterns of spirituality among religiously unaffiliated people in the region, including admirable creativity and love of nature. But this book also reports that mainline Protestants, Catholics, and Conservative and Reformed Jews and their organizations have made disproportionate contributions to social services and to political work on issues of war and peace, economic justice, race, class, and gender discrimination, and the environment.

Clearly, my teaching opportunity at Berkeley will help me think in new ways about poverty, God, and politics. I hope you will learn with me through my blog posts and share them with friends. I’m also praying that God will use this experience to open new doors for me to continue my lifelong vocation.

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