WASHINGTON (ABP) — The nation’s most broadly ecumenical Christian group is urging the new administration of President-elect Obama to include help for the poor in any economic-stimulus package.
Leaders of Christian Churches Together in the USA met with journalists, members of Congress and the Obama transition team Jan. 15 in Washington to implore them not to let the new economic concerns of the middle and upper classes crowd out the ongoing travails of the nation’s poorest citizens.
“It is typical of political leaders to focus on the middle class, and we too care about the middle class,” Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners, said at a press conference announcing the push. “However, it is our religious responsibility to make sure the poor — who are so close to the heart of God — are not left out and left behind in this severe economic crisis. They are already in crisis, so we don’t recall Jesus saying, 'I was in the middle class and I lost my 401(K).’”
Wes Granberg-Michaelson, general secretary of the Reformed Church in America, said he was part of a similar group that discussed poverty issues eight years ago with then-incoming President Bush and his transition team.
“Eight years have passed, much has changed,” he said. “Poverty in many parts of the world has seen some such reduction, as in Africa. But in the United States, four million people more have fallen into poverty.”
Formed in 2005, Christian Churches Together includes diverse mainline Protestant, African-American Protestant, evangelical and Pentecostal Protestant, Catholic and Eastern Orthodox denominations, as well as parachurch organizations.
The American Baptist Churches USA, National Baptist Convention USA, National Baptist Convention of America and Cooperative Baptist Fellowship all belong to CCT. Other Baptist groups — including the Baptist General Convention of Texas and the Progressive National Baptist Convention — are either considering or in the process of joining.
William Shaw, president of the National Baptist Convention USA, told reporters one of the broad Christian principles giving the group common ground was God’s concern for the poor.
“We really can’t be true to the integrity of our calling and our Christ without addressing the issue of poverty,” he said. “Because, as our theological statement says, he was rich, but became poor for our sake.”
Sign up for our weekly email newsletter.
The leaders said the organization does not advocate specific policy proposals, but agreed on the principle of including poverty-reduction provisions in the stimulus package.
Some denominations and organizations within CCT, however, have offered specific policy proposals.
For example, the Christian anti-poverty group Bread For the World is asking Congress and Obama to include provisions boosting benefit levels for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as the Food Stamp Program) by 15 percent for the next two years. They are also asking for a significant funding boost for fiscal year 2009 for the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition-subsidy program, as well as a boost in federal funding for food banks.
Other member organizations in CCT have advocated strongly for an expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, or SCHIP, which the House of Representatives passed Jan. 14. The program provides federally subsidized health insurance to children whose families can’t afford it.
–Robert Marus is managing editor and Washington bureau chief for Associated Baptist Press.