Evangelicals, Mainliners in Poverty Fight

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Solving the problem of poverty in America requires the cooperation of leaders and activists from across the theological and political spectrum, said organizers of the “Pentecost Conference,” held in Washington, D.C.

Organized by Call to Renewal and Sojourners, the conference drew about 600 social activists who met with politicians and unveiled a new “covenant” that lays out a blueprint for eradicating poverty. “Many people of faith are coming together to affirm that justice for those who live in poverty is a deeply held religious commitment on which we are all firmly united,” the Sojourners’ “Covenant for a New America” reads.

Senator Barack Obama (D-Ill.), was one of the keynote speakers. He noted that it will take time to bridge political divides. “We can affirm the importance of poverty in the Bible and discuss the religious call to environmental stewardship all we want, but it won’t have an impact if we don’t tackle head-on the mutual suspicion that sometimes exists between religious America and secular America,” he said. “It is imperative that America have a serious debate about how to reconcile faith with our modern, pluralistic democracy.”

The 10th anniversary of sweeping welfare reforms also brought responses from half-a-dozen leaders of mainline Protestant churches, who told Congress that poverty remains a problem.

“Welfare may have ended as we know it, but poverty in our nation has not,” wrote five representatives of national church groups. Signatories were Rev. Frank Griswold, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church; Rev. Mark Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, stated clerk of the Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly; Rev. John H. Thomas, president of the United Church of Christ; and Bishop Beverly Shamana, president of the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society.

Bishop Roy Riley, chair of the ELCA’s Conference of Bishops, appeared on a panel that marked the anniversary. Riley pointed out that while the House committee has stated that welfare caseloads have been reduced 64 percent over the past decade, the number of people living below the poverty line in the United States has increased since 2000 and requests for emergency food assistance are also on the rise. “That welfare caseloads have been reduced dramatically is not finally the proof of successful welfare reform,” he said. (RNS)

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