Religious Leaders Chastise Politicians

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

"Poverty is a compelling and defining issue for Christians. We stand today and say that a nation's righteousness is most determined by how we treat the poor and vulnerable, hungry, the thirsty and prisoners. How much we love Him, is how we treat them."

Williams-Skinner, called it the "Matthew 25" report card or "what we do to the least of our brothers."

"We call this the numbers morning ... our score is very bad. Without the safety net that many members of Congress wanted to cut, it would be much worse," she said. "As individuals, communities and as a nation, we should be concerned about the vulnerable."

Williams-Skinner, co-facilitator of the National African-American Clergy Network, discussed the effects of poverty on African Americans and said her colleagues were holding themselves, as well as political leaders accountable.

"People are in dire straits," she said. "They are choosing between medicine and gas, food and medicine. We're here to prick the nation's conscience."

Carey said Americans must confront and begin to deal with the plethora of fiscal problems the country faces.

"We need a balanced, bipartisan approach as we deal with the poor," he said. "... We look forward to new debates, actions and dialogue as we deal with this issue here and around the world."

Livingston said America cannot fix a problem it doesn't acknowledge exists.

"In July, $1 billion was raised and spent by the candidates," said Livingston, policy director of Interfaith Worker Justice in Northeast. "Fifty-five days before the election, over $1 billion has been spent and the candidates have not mentioned poverty. Twelve million children are living in the most desperate conditions. In 2009, only two congressional districts in the nation have seen poverty decrease significantly. In 388 districts, poverty has deepened. Congress and the candidates are not talking about this and it doesn't seem to matter."

All too often, Livingston said, politicians make backroom deals that are important to their lot.

"We can't compete with shadowy people hiding behind bad campaign laws," he said.

The latest poverty numbers represent the highest such figure in the past 50 years. When the near-poor and new poor are added, the number of Americans living at or near poverty approaches 150 million. Blacks, Hispanics, children and seniors have been hit particularly hard.

A recession that began in 2007 has bludgeoned the poor and the middle class. Life for these Americans is characterized by chronic unemployment affecting about 12 million people; a housing collapse; foreclosures; lack of access to health care; and a host of other social and economic ills.

In the wake of the 2008 economic meltdown, the disparities between America's rich and poor has come into stark contrast. It's estimated that the top one percent of this nation controls 40 percent of America's wealth, income and resources.At the same time, corporations, insurance companies and banks - spurred by loose financial regulations, corporate neglect, malfeasance and greed - brought America's economic system to near-collapse.

"As a pastor, we are often the first responders in the pantries and food kitchens," said Salguero, president of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition in New York. "While people see numbers, what we see is faces. It's about the Carrion family in the Bronx who face eviction. Churches help but it's not enough."