Religious Leaders Chastise Politicians

Barrington M. Salmon | 9/18/2012, 7:25 p.m.

Call Lack of Attention to Poverty a Moral Outrage

No more free passes, no more excuses. That's the message that a group of spiritual leaders had for political leaders who they say have ignored the crushing poverty that is decimating more than 46 million Americans.

The faith leaders, at a September 12 press conference, promised to hold candidates accountable before, during and after the November 6 election. Now, they said, is the time to stop ignoring the issue of poverty.

"This is a scandal, a moral outrage and we have to respond vigorously to this problem," said Bishop Stephen E. Blaire, Bishop of the Diocese of Stockton, Calif., and chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. "It's affecting children, the elderly, [and] veterans. We must renew our commitment to protect human life and dignity."

Blaire was one of a cadre of spiritual leaders, representing tens of millions of congregants, who attended the press conference which was timed to coincide with the release by the U.S. Census Bureau of the latest poverty numbers. According to the Bureau, 46.2 million people are mired in poverty, with 16 million of those being children.

For more than a year, 65 leaders of various Christian denominations, relief and advocacy agencies and other Christian organizations met and advocated for a "Circle of Protection" around funding programs that are vital to the continued well-being of the poor and the hungry in the United States and the world. Members of the group signed a letter sent to President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney to ascertain their stance on poverty.

Blaire was joined by Barbara Williams-Skinner, Ph.D.; the Rev. David Beckmann; the Rev. Michael Livingston; the Rev. Gabriel Salguero; Galen Carey; and the Rev. Jim Wallis.

All said they see the corrosive effects of poverty every day in the faces and lives of their congregations and others who come seeking help. They expressed dismay that a little less than two months before the general election and after the national conventions of both political parties, neither candidate discussed poverty and what they plan to do about it.

"There's nothing inevitable about poverty. It results from choices of the poor and governments," said Carey, vice president of Governmental Relations with the National Association of Evangelicals in Southwest. "We need robust debate for the poor. This is no surprise. Few of our leaders even mention the poor, much less offer strong strategy. Panelists in the debates should ask, voters should ask at every campaign stop. We need integrity, justice and honesty, and provide those in need with programs and funding."

Wallis and Beckmann echoed their colleagues' sentiments.

"This is an unprecedented event. Finally, we have a common ground issue across political and theological lines," said Wallis, president of Sojourners, a social justice organization located in Northwest. "We're putting differences aside, protecting the poor and bringing their issues to light. Our unity around these issues has made the candidates deal with the issue."