Poverty, God, and Politics
Updated: May 28, 2020
I’m coming to the close of nearly 30 years as president of Bread for the World and the Alliance to End Hunger. I’m excited about the next generation of leadership in both organizations, and I'm also excited to reorient my own efforts toward learning, with a focus on new strategies to build political commitment to overcoming poverty.
I hope this blog will attract a community of people who are also drawn to this challenge.
My experience at Bread and the Alliance has convinced me that we can build political will. During my tenure at Bread, its staff, board, and members across the country dramatically increased Bread’s size, effectiveness, and policy impact. This work was done step by step – constituent communications with Congress, prayers, creative ideas, financial gifts, and individual efforts to organize in churches and communities across the country.
The Alliance to End Hunger now includes 150 national and community organizations, all of them growing in their capacity to build public and political commitment to ending hunger. Auburn University, for example, has organized Universities Fighting World Hunger, which now includes 300 colleges and universities. The Indy Hunger Task Force has developed community awareness that federal food programs like SNAP and school meals provide five-sixths of food assistance that struggling families in Indianapolis receive. With that awareness, the volunteers who staff Indianapolis’ 200 food pantries also work to sign people up for SNAP and urge their members of Congress to protect funding for SNAP.
But we clearly have more work to do to get our government to do its part to make the progress against poverty that is so clearly possible. Politicians routinely push for deep cuts in domestic safety-net programs and in international aid.
Here is what I plan to write about:
The COVID-19 crisis broke just as I was planning my retirement, and Congress jumped into a series of huge COVID-response bills. I'll write about advocacy issues we are facing now as well as reflections on many years at Bread and the Alliance.
We are also in the run-up to an extraordinarily important election. I'll focus on what candidates might do to address the heavy impact of this crisis among low-income people, especially people of color in the U.S. What can we do to help elect candidates who will provide leadership in addressing poverty around the world? Once the election is over, how can we make the most of the resulting political environment in terms of addressing poverty?
This blog will also explore long-term strategies to better address poverty. How can we make our country’s politics more supportive of people in poverty? I especially want to learn more about the changing politics of low-income people and people of color.
I’m also interested in the spiritual problems that lie at the root of our society’s tolerance for gross inequality and widespread poverty. How can so many churchgoers vote for politicians who want to cut programs that help people in poverty? Why do many people who are politically progressive know very few low-income people? That's a spiritual problem too.
I plan to report on promising efforts to tap into spiritual resources for social justice. Surveys on religion in America suggest that, in general, people who experience God as a loving presence in their lives are more likely to support food stamps and foreign aid. Yet many people who experience God as a loving presence don’t go to church or use religious language, and many people who go to church experience God as remote or judgmental.
I welcome feedback on these ideas, and suggestions of related topics, too.