April 13, 2005
|A UMNS photo by Erik Alsgaard
Bishop Roy Sano (left), executive secretary of the Council of Bishops, meets with former U.S. Sen. John Edwards.
By Erik Alsgaard*
(UMNS)—Former vice presidential candidate John Edwards met with two
United Methodist bishops and several other Protestant leaders April 11
to discuss poverty, homelessness and hunger.
topics, near and dear to United Methodists and other people of faith,
are the agenda for Edwards, a United Methodist and former Democratic
senator from North Carolina.
political leaders have not paid much attention to these issues,”
Edwards said. “Local and regional leaders have. This is going to have to
work from the ground up.”
at the meeting included United Methodist bishops John R. Schol of the
Baltimore-Washington Conference, and Roy Sano, executive secretary for
the Council of Bishops. Jim Winkler, top staff executive of the United
Methodist Board of Church and Society, and staffers John Hill and
Gretchen Hakola also attended.
faith leaders included representatives from the Presbyterian Church
USA, the United Church of Christ, the Episcopal Church and the
Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.
at the United Methodist Building on Capitol Hill to get advice from the
group, Edwards said he would like to see a grass-roots movement to
motivate the U.S. Congress. Only then, he said, will lawmakers act more
favorably on behalf of the poor.
you get me into your churches?” Edwards asked. “Is there a way to
establish a national campaign that we can draw attention to?”
The answer to both questions around the table was yes.
“We’re an untapped resource,” said Winkler, referring to the mainline
Protestant denominations represented in the room. “What we do is get
into the community. What we don’t do so well is get into the national
Edwards said that was exactly where he could help.
his unsuccessful run for vice president with U.S. Sen. John Kerry,
D-Mass., in 2004, Edwards said he can hardly walk down the street
without someone saying “hello” and asking what he’s doing now. What he’s
doing is trying to bring national attention to the poor.
met a woman on the campaign trail in North Carolina who is literally
working herself to death,” he told the group. “She represents, however,
everything that America wants to be—hard working, respectful of others,
dedicated to her family. But she’s not earning enough to make ends
noted that one of the hardest aspects of fighting poverty is the unfair
perception that poor people are poor because of themselves. There’s a
real feeling, he said, that poor people are lazy, drunk or both.
addition, other systemic issues, such as the minimum wage, the lack of
affordable or national health care and lack of education, play critical
roles in increasing poverty.
great at clothing the naked and offering food to the hungry,” Winkler
said of the churches. “We’re not so great at effecting structural
change. We need to ask, ‘Why are there so many hungry people?’ We need
to effect systemic changes.”
Edwards agreed, saying that he, too, has experienced the frustration of
working to feed the poor and hungry, only to have them multiply in
numbers over time.
|A UMNS photo by Erik Alsgaard
Sen. John Edwards makes a point as Bishop John R. Schol (left) listens
during a meeting at the United Methodist Building on Capitol Hill.
To effect systemic change, he said, you’ve got to reach Congress.
guys,” he said, pointing across the street to the Capitol, “will
respond to only two things, and I know because I was one of them:
momentum or letters and phone calls.”
Data and statistics don’t motivate people to action; human stories do, he said.
have to show the poverty,” said Eleanor Giddings Ivory, director of the
Washington Office of the Presbyterian Church USA. “We can’t deal with
systemic issues until we put our hands on it.”
said he will know his job is being done when the average person knows
there is momentum. The only way that will happen is through a movement
because, he said, movements have led to “the great programs of the
described the Council of Bishops’ recent emphasis and programs on
children and poverty, saying this agenda could bring people in from
around the nation.
don’t think that the political and business leaders at a national level
are going to do anything about this issue until a grass-roots movement
forces them to do it,” he said. “They’ll nibble around the edges, but
that’s about it. If we want something serious to happen, we need
*Alsgaard is managing editor of the UMConnection
newspaper and co-director of communications for the Baltimore-Washington
News media contact: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.