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Church leaders discuss social concerns with former veep candidate

 


Church leaders discuss social concerns with former veep candidate

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
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.
April 13, 2005      

By Erik Alsgaard*

WASHINGTON (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.

The 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.

“National 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.”

Those 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.

Other faith leaders included representatives from the Presbyterian Church USA, the United Church of Christ, the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.

Meeting 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.

“Can 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.

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Jim Winkler
“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 spotlight.”

Edwards said that was exactly where he could help.

Following 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.

“I 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 meet.”

Schol 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.

In 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.

“We’re 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.”

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Erik Alsgaard

Former Sen. John Edwards makes a point as Bishop John R. Schol (left) listens during a meeting at the United Methodist Building on Capitol Hill.
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.

To effect systemic change, he said, you’ve got to reach Congress.

“These 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.

“We 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.”

Edwards 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 past.”

Sano described the Council of Bishops’ recent emphasis and programs on children and poverty, saying this agenda could bring people in from around the nation.

Edwards agreed.

“I 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 motivation.”

*Alsgaard is managing editor of the UMConnection newspaper and co-director of communications for the Baltimore-Washington Conference.

News media contact: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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