Sept. 1, 2004
A UMNS Report
By Steve Smith*
showing more Americans living in poverty and going without health
insurance should push United Methodists to rededicate themselves to
addressing two critical issues in this election year, according to
|A UMNS file photo courtesy Joan LaBarr
Faye Fannin helps serve lunch at Crossroads Center/Harwood Crossing, a ministry with the homeless in Dallas.
bishops and a top church agency executive are calling on congregations
to reach out to poor people living in their areas and to pressure local,
state and federal lawmakers to enact anti-poverty programs and provide
health insurance to all people. They add that now is not the time to
back off the Council of Bishops’ Initiative on Children and Poverty,
which the episcopal leaders began in 1996 to draw attention to the
plight of the poor and children and to learn more about the causes of
U.S. Census Bureau reported Aug. 26 that 1 million more people were
living in poverty and another 1 million without health insurance in 2003
than during the previous year. Both figures rose for the third straight
year, census officials said.
early November, the bishops are expected to consider the findings and
where to take their children and poverty initiative during the next few
years when they gather at St. Simons Island, Ga., for their semiannual
we saw in the 1990s is some lessening of those in poverty, but there
were signs on the horizon that the manner in which the statistics were
being created was suspect because those people engaged in food pantries
and clothing banks were reporting steady increases in the numbers of
clients coming to see them," said retired Bishop Donald Ott of Pewaukee,
Wis., the initiative’s coordinator. "There seems to be, in the last
four or five years, an unwillingness on the part of state and national
governments to address the fundamental issues keeping people from
necessities of life.
|A UMNS file photo by Tim Tanton
Churches such as Sunnyside United Methodist in Portland, Ore., respond to poverty with feeding programs.
"I am extremely
disappointed in the latest data, especially for our United Methodist
Church, which is a middle- to upper-class church where, for the most
part, people have the means but there is often a failure to act on the
behalf of others."
to the new census figures, more than 35.9 million Americans - or one in
eight people - lived in poverty last year. In addition, 45 million, or
15.6 percent of the population, went without health insurance.
latest numbers provided fodder for U.S. Sen. John Kerry - who has
sought to make the economy a top issue in the 2004 presidential campaign
- to claim that President Bush’s economic polices have "failed the
White House officials said the census figures reflected an economy
struggling through stock market drops, corporate scandals and terrorist
attacks. They added that the median income is rising slowly, companies
have added 1.5 million jobs in the past four years, and the Bush
administration has offered several plans to deal with economic problems.
Ann Sherer, chairwoman of the initiative’s task force, conceded that
eradicating poverty and providing health insurance to everybody requires
more than "quick fixes."
is an ongoing concern that cannot be settled in one or two quadrennia,"
said Sherer, who also leads the church’s Nebraska Area. "There are deep
needs that must be addressed because there is preferential treatment of
the poor throughout the biblical story. We, as the church, must learn
what that means in the 21st century.
addition to building relationships with the poor and advocating in the
legislatures, we, as a church, need to provide our own safety net so we
can continue to do the clothing closets and food pantries."
year, United Methodist bishops published their third paper on the
children and poverty initiative, "The Beloved Community." They also
produced a study guide for congregations, Community with Children and the Poor, released through Cokesbury, a unit of the United Methodist Publishing House.
want to create a critical mass of people who say that poverty and all
of these other issues are not acceptable according to our biblical
vision," Ott said. "The sense of the bishops was that if we could
personally address poverty by interaction with people living on the
margins in our communities, and asking our congregations to become
churches for all of God’s children, then we will influence governmental
and business people to bring about the changes."Four
denomination agencies are planning to do just that. The Board of Church
and Society, Board of Pension and Health Benefits, United Methodist
Communications and Board of Global Ministries are teaming up to develop
plans to publicize nationally the health problems of the uninsured.
Winkler, top executive of the church and society board, noted that
other religious organizations, such as the National Council of Churches,
also are pushing to transform poverty reduction and covering the
uninsured into major campaign issues. The Board of Church and Society is
working for "tax fairness" regarding the impact of President Bush’s tax
cuts, pushing for expansion of temporary aid to needy families and
boosting funding for low-income federal housing vouchers, he said.
are real people in pain, not only psychological pain but also physical
pain, in that they are not getting the health insurance coverage they
need," Winkler said. "We have to be reminded that God’s charge to us is
to save the dignity and pride of those who are in less-than-advantageous
situations than many United Methodists.
"We’re not a poor denomination, and we have tremendous influence if we choose to exert it."
*Smith is a freelance writer in Dallas.
News media contact: Tim Tanton, (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.