How Two Minutes Can Help Feed 2 Million People

 

child hunger

Copyright: <a href=”https://www.123rf.com/profile_djedzura”>djedzura / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

SNAP benefits, which help to feed the hungry, are on the chopping block. Today is a national call-in day to urge our Representatives to vote “no” on the House Farm Bill due to the immoral cuts to SNAP. SNAP or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is the federal program that helps feed people across the country.

The threat of moral failure

42 million people in the US don’t have consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life. We used to simply call this hunger.

One in eight Americans, including 13 million children in our country don’t have enough food to eat.

In the richest country in the world.

For Christians, this fact represents our complete moral failure to address the most basic requirement of our faith: to feed the hungry.

The Christian imperative to feed the hungry

When the crowds in Luke asked John the Baptist how they were to live, he told them:

Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise. (Luke 3:11)

And in describing the judgment of nations, Jesus again makes it clear how we are to live:

Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food,I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me. (Matt 25:34)

Why SNAP matters

Many people don’t know that the SNAP program, which used to be known as “food stamps,” is part of the US Farm bill.

The US House of Representatives is on the verge of passing a new Farm bill that will cut SNAP benefits for about two million Americans, many of them children. If you want more details about the bill, you can find them here.

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All I Want for Mother’s Day is . . . An End to Poverty

poor people's campaign

We are here; we are poor; we don’t have any money; you have made us this way. . . and we’ve come to stay until you do something about it.

Fifty years ago, in the spring of 1968, three-thousand people set up a protest camp on the Washington Mall to demand economic justice. Those protestors were part of the Poor People’s Campaign, an initiative spearheaded by Martin Luther King, Jr and his colleagues at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to raise awareness about poverty and economic justice in the country.

King and his colleagues had turned their focus to economic justice after recognizing that the approach of demanding civil rights was not adequately addressing the reality of poverty that faced so many African Americans in the late sixties. What they knew was that poverty in this country is not due to laziness or generational neglect or any of the other dozens of clichés that dominate public perceptions of the poor.

Structural Nature of Poverty

The leaders of the Poor People’s Campaign rightly recognized that there were structures in our society that worked to keep people poor. Some of the ways that we have shaped an unjust society include these structures:

  • Wage structures that do not pay people a living wage.
  • Poverty thresholds that do not adequately measure poverty.
  • Biased requirements for business loans, home ownership loans, car loans.
  • A lack of affordable housing units or rent or purchase.

The point of highlighting the structural nature of poverty is to help people see that individual poor people can’t do anything about low wages, or poverty thresholds, their inability to get a loan, or their inability to find housing they can afford. No matter how hard they work. While we may never be able to overcome poverty, societies can structure our economies in ways that are more just.

Issues of economic justice had long been key to King’s vision of a just world.  In his 1964 Nobel Prize speech he noted, “Just as nonviolence exposed the ugliness of racial injustice, so must the infection and sickness of poverty be exposed and healed–not only its symptoms but its basic causes.”

The Biblical Call to Overthrow Poverty

Recognizing that poverty is a result of injustice is as old as the Hebrew bible. In Isaiah 58, as the prophet lays out God’s vision of justice, we hear these words:

Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?  (Is. 58:6-7)

The vision of justice in the Bible is a vision of a world where those who have share with others and where we work together as a society to break the bonds that hold people in poverty – the bonds of injustice.

In 1968, 12.8% of the population lived in poverty. The protestors who showed up for The Poor People’s Campaign camped out on the Washington Mall for six weeks to raise awareness about the plight of poverty in the U.S.

King was in the midst of organizing the Campaign when he responded to the call of the sanitation workers in Memphis to help out with their campaign. Indeed, he spoke about the sanitation strike as a major part of the Campaign. The sanitation workers strike highlighted both the unjust economic conditions of some of the hardest working laborers in our country as well as the unsafe working conditions threatened the health and safety of poor, working-class people.

A New Poor People’s Campaign

Remarkably, the poverty rate today is virtually the same as it was in 1968. In 2016 (the most recent year data available) stood at 12.7%. Though the incidence of poverty is arguably higher today than it was fifty years ago as economists widely agree that the poverty thresholds, which were established in 1963, should actually be doubled to capture the lived reality of poverty in the U.S.

 

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Reflecting on Theological Giants

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James H. Cone. Photo credit: Union Theological Seminary, NYC

On Saturday, like many people across the country, I heard the news that James Cone had passed. Serving on the Union Theological Seminary faculty for almost fifty years means that Dr. Cone literally taught generations of seminarians, and I was fortunate to be one of those folks.

I still remember the first day of his systematic theology class, in the first semester of my first year of seminary. Sitting in that lecture hall in 1992, with nearly 100 students and watching him take the podium and explain to us that he was a the-o-lo-gian (in his classic, high-pitched, Southern drawl), and what that meant for him as a scholar and a black man from Arkansas, was highlight of my seminary career.

He taught the contemporary “half” of the systematic theology course which focused largely on the twentieth century, but he came alive when lecturing about liberation theology! As the father of black liberation theology and one of the leading liberation theologians since the publication of his 1969 book Black Theology and Black Power, Cone had a front-row seat for the development of liberation theologies across the globe from the 1960s through the 1990s when I had him as a professor.

He could be an electric lecturer, and more than once, his weekly lectures ended in standing ovations. It was inspirational to learn about the liberation theology from a man who knew personally most of the people whose work he taught. He told personal stories about their lives and their work and made the social contexts out of which their positions developed come alive.

Cone’s own development of black theology was a response to the notion that Christianity was “the white man’s religion.” He responded with an adamant, “No! The Christian gospel is not the white man’s religion. It is a religion of liberation, a religion that says God created all people to be free.”

This message, which is at the heart of all liberation theologies—that Christianity is a religion of liberation—is what drew me to Union Theological Seminary to study with the giants of the field at the time, including Beverly Wildung Harrison, James Cones, Delores Williams, and Larry Rasmussen.

While giants in the field, they were also folks, and folks are flawed—all of us. Cone was criticized throughout his career for his failure to adequately address his own sexism (though he had been persuaded to use inclusive language by the time I had him in class). Likewise, my mentor, Beverly Harrison, struggled with her own internalized racism throughout her career as well. I learned from these theological giants both the importance and necessity of liberation theologies that transform our faith, our life, and our world as well as the reality that we all fall short in this lifetime. In watching these mentors, I learned the necessity of always being on the lookout for my own demons and shortcomings.

The liberation insights I learned from Cone and others are foundational to my own feminist liberation ethics and particularly informed the argument in my new book, Trust Women: A Progressive Christian Argument for Reproductive Justice. Like Cone, I refuse to cede Christianity to those who seek to own and define it in ways that reject liberation and freedom. In my case, I refuse to cede Christianity to the pro-life voices who insist that Christianity is against abortion.

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The Danger of Evangelicals – It’s Not About Hillary Anymore

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leirbagarc / 123RF Stock Photo

We Didn’t Have a “Choice”

In the aftermath of the 2016 election many evangelicals claimed that with Hillary on the ballot, they had no choice but to vote for Trump. One prominent evangelical went so far as to systematize and categorize the many reasonsthat evangelicals dislike Clinton.

Apparently, there are six such categories ending with the simple “we just don’t like her.” It has become a well-worn fact that eighty-one percent of white evangelicals voted for Trump. A statistic that absolutely floored me and many other non-Evangelical Christians after the election.

Trump is the “Dream” President – Really?

However, the fact is Hillary has virtually disappeared from the national political stage and Evangelicals continue to support Trump in record numbers undermines any credibility that white evangelicals are “values voters.”  At least with regards to any values that I have ever known to be associated with Christianity.

Jerry Falwell Jr. even dubbed Trump evangelicals’ “dream President.” This is baffling to anyone familiar with the traditionalist politics and rhetoric of the Moral Majority. The Moral Majority, which was spearheaded by Jr.’s father, was notorious for its moralizing against gays and lesbians, feminists, abortion, and other issues deemed “sinful” by Falwell’s conservative, traditionalist brand of evangelical Christianity.

But, it appears that philandering, participating in prostitution, sexual assault and generally boorish behavior are ok with Falwell and his crowd of evangelicals.

This new generation of evangelicals – the Trump-evangelicals – don’t seem to care about personal character at all. Their primary interest in promoting an ideological agenda of capitalist individualism has eclipsed any capacity to recognize the common-sense values of decency, kindness, and radical love of the stranger that marked the ministry of Jesus.  The man these men claim to follow.

Ideology Trumps Christianity

While I have no love lost for their fathers (Billy Graham and Jerry Falwell), the fact that the sons – Franklin and Jerry, Jr. actually supported the campaign of Roy Moore in Alabama, who was largely regarded as a sexual predator, raises serious questions about the morality of this generations evangelical leaders.

The fact that evangelical support of Trump is at an all-time high now, 18 months out from the 2016 election speaks to a deeply dangerous fact about evangelicalism in America today. Ideological commitment to capitalism and individualism has “trumped” the majority of evangelicals ability to recognize the radical call of the gospel and the prophets to love of neighbor and shaping our society in ways that care for the least of these.

Christian Values I was Taught

I think about the words of the benediction that my father spoke at the end of every service while I was growing up:

Go out into the world in peace;
have courage;
hold on to what is good;
return to no one evil for evil;
strengthen the fainthearted;
support the weak, and help the suffering;
honor all people;
love and serve the Lord,
rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit.

It is a simple but profound message of what I learned is the heart of what it means to be a Christian.

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