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Faith leaders call for end to U.S. ‘poverty train’

Families sign up for Angel Food Ministries, a grocery relief program in Allegany County, the poorest county in New York. A UMNS file photo by James Melchiorre.

By Jose Carlo de Pano*
July 10, 2008 | WASHINGTON (UMNS)

The Rev. Jim Wallis

Faith leaders say it is time to stop the "poverty train" in the United States and rescue its 37 million citizens living below the poverty line.

The Democratic Faith Working Group (DFWG) and the Out-of-Poverty Caucus (OPC) held a panel discussion June 12 aimed at bringing awareness to the worsening problem of U.S. poverty, as well as exploring solutions. Faith leaders from eight denominations and organizations participated in the discussion held in the Sam Rayburn House of Representatives office building.

Poverty is a "lifelong dilemma" that needs to be addressed now, said the Rev. Jim Wallis, president and chief executive officer of Sojourners. "The poverty train should stop by 2009," he said.

According to OPC, 37 million U.S. citizens live in poverty and the number increases every year. Since 2000, an additional 5 million people have fallen below the poverty line––defined as anyone with an annual income of $10,400 or less. OPC says a disproportionate number of those people are minorities and children. United Methodists are emphasizing ministry with people in poverty as one of their Four Areas of Focus.

Three evils

Poverty, racism and war are preventing the United States from moving forward, said the Rev. Kip Banks, director of Progressive National Baptist Convention. He said those three evils were first identified by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

"Poverty leads to violence," Banks said.

Poverty involves human dignity, making it not just a moral but a political issue, said Candy Hill, senior vice president for social policy and government affairs for Catholic Charities U.S.A. She pointed out that inequality by race, class and gender, which are at the roots of poverty, starts at birth.

Andrew Genszler, director of advocacy and the Washington office for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, said religious faith must lead everybody to public life with a common purpose to end poverty. Some solutions, he said, include promoting local agriculture, transitioning to a new green economy and increasing road funds.

Along with the problem of poverty is the issue of immigration, said the Rev. Sam Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. Rodriguez said that millions of undocumented individuals are suffering from indigence. Both immigration and education reform are needed to alleviate poverty, he said.

Rabbi Steve Gutow, executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, emphasized the importance of faith and social involvement in the complete abolition of poverty.

*De Pano, of the Philippines, is one of the 12 young adults from around the world participating in the United Methodist Board of Church and Society's summer intern program. The interns, from the five ethnic caucuses of the denomination, are working in social justice placements in Washington, D.C.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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