I was recently appointed Dean’s Advisor for Political and Economic Justice at Virginia Theological Seminary. This is a three-year appointment. I’ll teach classes and help to develop the seminary's St. Nicholas Faith and Justice Center. VTS is an excellent, gospel- and justice-grounded seminary in the national capital area - a great place to continue my work in legislative advocacy and the politics of poverty. VTS is very much a community, and I live nearby.
I continue to serve as Coordinator of the Circle of Protection, an advocacy coalition of church bodies and Christian organizations that together include 100 million members. The wide array of Christian leaders who lead the Circle strongly support the momentous anti-poverty programs that are part of the Build Back Better Act - which failed to pass the Senate in December by one vote. An immediate result was the end of the improvements in the Child Tax Credit that were included in the American Rescue Act of March 2021. These provisions reduced child poverty by about 30 percent, and child poverty surged again this January when they ended. The Circle and its members, including Bread for the World, are urging Congress and the President to develop a new version of Build Back Better that can pass the Senate.
As the Senate considered the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act in January, the Circle disseminated statements on voting rights from a wide array of church bodies and related agencies. This bill would have blocked the current wave of state laws, which are mostly targeted against African-American and Latino voters. But all Republicans and two Democrats voted no, and it failed by two votes. We are now encouraging bipartisan efforts to develop a much more modest democracy-protection bill that can pass the Senate.
Meanwhile, the leadership of Congress’ appropriations committees, both Republican and Democratic, is pushing to pass appropriations legislation for the current fiscal year. It would likely include much-need funding for housing, nutrition, and other domestic needs. The Circle is focusing, in particular, on the funding it may provide to meet urgent needs among poor people around the world. The U.S. government is now leading a drive to make COVID-19 vaccinations available everywhere: 55 percent of the world’s people have received two shots, and additional funding is needed to finish the job. More widespread vaccination will likely slow the rate at which new variants attack people everywhere. The need for additional humanitarian assistance is also urgent; 45 million people are now living on the edge of famine, the great majority of them in countries that are also suffering armed conflict.
In this election year, I’ll be giving time and money to get Democrats elected. The Republican Party is now dominated by Trumpism, and nearly all congressional Republicans have repeatedly voted as a bloc against programs to reduce poverty and against measures to protect democracy. Despite this opposition, President Biden and congressional Democrats have, in my judgment, done remarkably well in dealing with all the plagues that now buffet our nation and world.