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  • Writer's pictureDavid Beckmann

What I'm Doing and Learning

This is an unusually personal post. Eight months after retiring from Bread for the World, I’m now teaching in Berkeley and, at the same time, coordinating the intensified advocacy of the church bodies and organizations who are part of the Circle of Protection. You might be interested in what I’m doing and learning.

I’m a joint fellow of the Goldman School of Public Policy and the Church Divinity School of the Pacific. The graduate seminar I’m leading includes students of public policy and students preparing for religious ministry. After some introductory studies, the course is featuring a series of guest speakers starting with:

Josh Dickson, who directed the successful faith engagement program of the Biden-Harris campaign. He is now deputy director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. U.S. presidents sometimes have an influence on U.S. religion, and I hope Joe Biden will remind many Americans that opportunity for poor and vulnerable people is a religious issue.

Eric Sapp is a leader in the use of technology and artificial intelligence to promote democracy and the public good. His projects have included work to neutralize Russia-financed advertising among Evangelicals in 2020 and a current effort to better understand and address vaccine hesitancy among many people of color. Check out his website at

Henry Brady is dean of the Goldman School. His most recent book, Unequal and Unrepresented, shows how unequal participation in U.S. politics is and how inequality in economics and politics are mutually reinforcing. He has also written repeatedly on the role of churches, unions, and other voluntary groups in strengthening democratic participation.

I’m also learning from my students. I’ve again been struck by how many people in the rising generation have experienced periods of economic hardship. I am really enjoying the different perspectives that an international student from Myanmar and a Chinese student who logs in from Nanjing have brought to this seminar. The Chinese student notes that Chinese people are proud of their progress against poverty, but her grandmother is the only religious person she has ever known.

Teaching remotely has required me to learn a lot in a hurry about digital communication. I have come to appreciate that technology is a new literacy. It takes effort to learn, but allows the human mind to think and communicate in ways that are not possible otherwise.

One of my sons, Andrew, lives in San Francisco, and I have enjoyed seeing him more often.

Meanwhile, the American Rescue Plan is moving through Congress. It will help us get COVID under control and powerfully help people and communities who have been hit hardest by the pandemic and its economic fall-out. The church groups in the Circle of Protection are working to pass it through the Senate with more than 51 votes. But Leader McConnell is urging Republican senators to oppose it as a bloc, and no Republican senator has so far indicated support for the bill.

Passage of the American Rescue Plan is extraordinarily important, and its passage is not a sure thing. Call your senators’ offices (especially Republicans or conservative Democrats) and ask them to push for its passage.

Seventy-five percent of U.S. voters, including 60 percent of Republicans, say they favor this legislation. If Republican senators hear from their constituents, some may decide to vote for the final version of the bill.


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