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  • 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.

  • David Beckmann

I am grateful for the leadership of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in the early days of this dangerous post-election period. On November 7, Archbishop Jose Gomez, president of the USCCB, congratulated President Elect Biden and Vice President Elect Harris on their election. His statement began: “We thank God for the blessings of liberty. The American people have spoken in this election. Now is the time for our leaders to come together in a spirit of national unity and to commit themselves to dialogue and compromise for the common good.”

Pope Francis spoke with President-Elect Biden by phone yesterday; they talked about peace, poverty, climate change, and immigration. But it may be just as important that the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops invited prayers for President-Elect Biden, since nearly half of the white Catholics in the country voted for President Trump.

On November 11, the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) issued a similar statement: “We commit to pray for President-Elect Joe Biden, current President Donald Trump, Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris and current Vice President Mike Pence; for cooperation during the transition period; and for a peaceful transfer of power. We pray that our leaders will listen and speak to all Americans, including those who feel that they have been left out or unheard. We pray that they will help Americans come together, heal and serve the common good.

The NAE’s strong statement is especially important, since more than three-fourths of white Evangelicals reportedly voted for President Trump.

The National Council of Churches (NCC) is on the verge of issuing a similar statement. The USCCB, NAE, and NCC together include churches with nearly 100 million members. Some leaders of church bodies and other religious groups have also made statements along the same lines.

Meanwhile, the National African American Clergy Network and Sojourners are working with others to secure a free and fair run-off election for Georgia’s two Senate seats on January 5. They recruited 1,000 clergy to be present at 60 polling places in nine states on November 3. That helped to maintain peace and protect the right of African-Americans to vote. Sojourners is providing an ongoing stream of information about transition risks and what we can do about them. You can sign up here.

President Trump and some of his allies are doing everything they can, by hook or by crook, to discredit the election. Election authorities across the country and the courts have found no serious irregularities, but Trump and some of his supporters seem likely to continue propagating their dangerous story. It might help them justify some interference in the transition process and, in any case, will stir up resentment among some voters for years to come.

As churches, synagogues, and mosques gather (for the most part digitally) during this time of transition, I hope they will pray for President-Elect Biden and all our elected leaders in this unsettled time. People across the political spectrum are anxious, and it will do us all good to entrust the future to our loving God. Families will gather or at least touch base on Thanksgiving, and many families include both liberal and conservative people. We’ll do a service to the nation if we can articulate prayers for our leaders that are grounded in reality and make it possible for everybody to say amen.

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