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My Blog
  • 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.

For many years I worked in a bipartisan way to pass legislation to reduce hunger. But I’m no longer the primary spokesperson for Bread for the World, so I’ve been able to take sides in this election. I’ve been actively supporting Biden and the Democrats.

As a Lutheran pastor, my thinking about this unique election is grounded in my understanding of God - the love of God for all people, Jesus’ mandate to help poor and vulnerable people, and biblical faith that God is alive in our world.

God’s love for the entire human family is the main message of Christianity. But President Trump is exceptionally self-centered. Right now, he is downplaying the severity of the COVID-19 crisis to help himself get elected, and he is clear that he will try to overturn the election results if he loses. More generally, his policies have favored people like himself (affluent, white American men), and he has come to dominate the entire Republican Party.

On the other hand, Biden clearly has a sense of God’s love for all people. I met him for the first time when Bread for the World was working to secure Congress’ support for a Bush foreign aid initiative, the Millennium Challenge Corporation. Biden led the two parties in developing the legislation together.

Biden is clear that he will govern for the benefit of all Americans, including those who don’t vote for him. He is also intent on taking full advantage of our current opportunity for progress against structures of racism that have long plagued our nation.

A second religious reason to favor the Democrats in this election is Jesus’ insistence on the importance of feeding the hungry and welcoming the stranger (Matthew 25).

Trump policies have been harsh toward immigrants and Black people. He and his party have consistently pushed for deep cuts in programs that help people in need. Over the last five months, they have stalled efforts to negotiate continued COVID relief, even though millions of families are struggling and child hunger is alarmingly widespread.

What Senate Republicans are now doing to block COVID relief is a clear demonstration of why it’s important to elect more Democrats to the Senate. Moderate Republicans are bound together with the 20 Senate Republicans who want zero COVID relief.

World hunger has also surged, mainly due to increased conflict, climate change, and loss of trade opportunities - all problems that the Trump administration has aggravated. The spread of COVID-19 is now further increasing world hunger, and the United States is not leading a global response.

In contrast, Biden-Harris are committed to help and opportunity for poor and vulnerable people. They will support safety-net programs in this country and effective aid programs around the world. Health care for all, child care, and elder care are important planks in their program. Racial justice is a major theme of their campaign.

My thinking about this campaign is also influenced by a biblical sense of God’s active presence in human life, not only in our personal lives but also in what’s happening in the world. I celebrate decades of progress against world hunger and poverty as a contemporary exodus - a demonstration of God’s saving power in our time.

But we are now experiencing economic hardship in this country (especially among people of color) and around the world. Our country is suffering more than others from COVID-19. We are living through extreme weather events, while our president continues to deny the reality of climate change.

The Hebrew prophets would call our current predicament God’s judgment. Pope Francis puts it differently. He says that God is calling us to use good judgment.

In my judgment, Biden’s “Build Back Better” program gives us a chance. He and his party will lead a science-based program to bring the global pandemic under control. They will focus on creating good jobs through investment in U.S. manufacturing, infrastructure, minority businesses, and the business of addressing climate change.

This election is indeed a struggle for the soul of America, and the health of our collective soul has enormous practical consequences.

So I invite you to join me in doing everything we can in the next eight days to help Biden and other Democrats win on November 3.