Bread for the World Now
In this week’s webcast, Eugene Cho talks about Bread for the World, the nation’s largest faith-based advocacy organization on issues related to hunger and poverty. Eugene has now been president of Bread for a year. I led the organization before that, and I love hearing my successor talk about Bread for the World now.
Bread’s board wisely looked for a successor to me who is different from me. Eugene’s family immigrated from Korea when he was six years old, and his webcast starts with a compelling discussion of anti-Asian hate crimes. He speaks about immigration and racial justice issues from first-hand experience.
The Washington Post announced Eugene’s election with a front-page story about a comment he had made on his personal Twitter account about Donald Trump trying to get the country to call COVID-19 the “Chinese virus.” My sense is that Trump pretty much stopped talking about the “Chinese virus” after this well-publicized criticism from a prominent Evangelical pastor - an immediate advocacy win for Eugene and Bread.
Eugene was the founder and long-time pastor of an Evangelical mega-church in Seattle. He is a Christian influencer whose posts on the web sometimes reach 1.5 million people. He has also published a series of popular books and is a sought-after speaker at big Evangelical conferences. Bread for the World has always reached out to Evangelical churches, but has never had much success with the mega-churches and electronic networks that are important among Evangelicals. Eugene may be able to change this
Eugene’s deep experience with digital communication is already bearing fruit in the quality of Bread’s digital communication. Eugene was elected president just a few days before the pandemic shut down the country. Despite the challenges of adjusting to at-home work, Bread shifted quickly and effectively to digital communication with its far-flung national network. The organization is planning serious investment in its digital communication capacity - which is important to Bread’s effectiveness in today’s world and absolutely crucial to the engagement of young and middle-aged people.
I am struck that Eugene’s webcast includes lots of stories about people - the 14 pastors who founded Bread, the experiences of Bread for the World activists, the experiences of people (including his own family) who have suffered hunger and food insecurity. Eugene’s presentation finally gets to the policy changes that Bread for the World has achieved and is working on. But as a pastor and communicator, his primary focus is on people.
The biggest change he has made at Bread is to shift budget resources from inside-the-beltway policy analysis to on-the-ground and digital work with Bread’s extraordinary network of individuals and thousands of congregations across the country. He is also on the look-out for ways that Bread for the World can help to win “the battle for the narrative.” He sees that most people’s attitudes - toward people in poverty, for example - are shaped more by stories than by analysis. They’ve been shaped by stories about people who are poor because they are lazy, for example, and need to hear compelling stories about people who have been driven into poverty by forces beyond their control. They need to hear stories about the advocacy triumphs of individual Bread for the World activists and about how the resulting programs made it possible for other individuals to protect their children while they worked their way back to self-sufficiency.
Eugene’s webcast puts heavy emphasis on Bread for the World’s long-standing commitment to working with people and politicians in both parties. When I stopped being the lead spokesperson for Bread for the World, I got involved in the Biden for President campaign. I’ve been terribly disappointed this year that Trumpism has come to dominate Republican Party leadership even more than before, and I’ll be active in support of the Democrats next year.
But Eugene is right to maintain Bread for the World’s commitment to working with both parties. He wants Bread to speak up for people struggling with hunger, even if that sometimes requires opposition to one of the parties. But Bread’s work in churches needs to have broad appeal, because most churches still include Republicans, Independents, and Democrats. Also, Bread’s record of legislative success is due partly to its persistent connections with members of Congress from both parties.
The global child-nutrition legislation that Bread is helping to prepare has a good chance to pass this Congress on a bipartisan basis, and Bread’s bipartisan outreach will help the nation overcome bitter partisan division and begin to work together more easily again.
After serving as president of Bread for the World for 28 years, it’s a joy to watch this generational transition in leadership unfold successfully. I pray for Eugene Cho and his family.