Deliberately making hungry people hungrier is unacceptable

That’s me with two ushers, Jay and Tim, saying a prayer of dedication for our Offering of Letters on April 29, 2012. Photo credit: Patti Cash

Note: This post was originally published on the Bread Blog.

Have you ever been hungry? I mean, Really. Hungry. As in no-food-in-the-house-and-no-resources-for-getting-more hungry?

I haven’t. Oh sure, there’ve been some months when expenses were bigger than income and I didn’t know how to pay some bills. But I’ve always had support – financial and otherwise – from my family when needed.

We all know that’s not the case for everyone. Right now:

  • 48.8 million Americans are at risk of hunger.
  • 15% of Americans – including more than 1 in 5 children – live in poverty.

Tragically, the House recently passed a budget that could make more Americans hungry.

That is unacceptable to me.

That is why the church I serve, Woodridge United Methodist, recently sent 100 letters to Senator Mark Kirk and Senator Dick Durbin urging them create a circle of protection around domestic nutrition programs vital to hungry and poor Americans, programs like SNAP and WIC.

I signed Bread for the World’s petition urging Congress not to cut SNAP for the same reason: deliberately making more people hungry – and making all ready hungry people even hungrier – is unacceptable. It is unacceptable to me as a father, as a pastor, as a Christian, as a human being.

I need my members of Congress to know that. So Senator Durbin, Senator Kirk, and Representative Judy Biggert will see my name on Bread’s petition. I hope your members of Congress will see your name as well.

To make up the gap created by those proposed cuts to SNAP churches and charities would need to do everything they’re currently doing to fight hunger…and come up with an average of an additional $50,000 each year!

$50,000!? I know our church does not have that kind of spare change sitting around. And I know that our friends at the West Suburban Community Pantry have already seen demand for their services increase sharply – from serving 750 families per month to 1200. That Pantry does incredible work in our community, feeding over 35,000 people last year, including over 15,000 children. They are maxed out too.

That’s another reason I signed the petition. I seriously doubt Woodridge has the resources to care for even more hungry people in our community.

I agree that budget deficits, especially at our current level, are unsustainable. But reducing our deficit by making hungry people hungrier is immoral.

The biblical witness is clear: as followers of God in the way of Jesus we are called to protect hungry and vulnerable people. We are called to speak with them. Signing this petition is a terrific, and let’s be honest, easy way to do exactly that.

Will you join me in raising your voice with and for hungry and vulnerable Americans?

2000 and 6%

At the end of last year I wrote about why my wife, Joann, and I support Bread for the World.

Today, I think I can sum up our advocacy with and for Bread in two numbers:

  1. 2000
  2. 6%

2000 isn’t much of a revelation. Along with others, I’ve been sharing that number for years. 2000 represents the number of verses in the bible that mention poverty. (I say “represents” because it isn’t an exact number. I’ve also heard 2100 and 2200. Obviously it depends on which verses “count.” I could add a qualifier by saying: “at least 2000” or “2000 or more”…but I find that cumbersome. Regardless, I’m with Bono: “That’s a lot of airtime.”)

Here’s just a few examples. A taste of these scriptures, if you will:

“Speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute. Speak out, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.” Proverbs 31:8-9

“I’ll tell you what it really means to worship the Lord. Remove the chains of prisoners who are chained unjustly. Free those who are abused! Share your food with everyone who is hungry; share your home with the poor and homeless.” Isaiah 58:6-7

“Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king’s son. May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice. May the mountains yield prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness. May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor.” Psalm 72:1-4

“When I was hungry, you gave me something to eat, and when I was thirsty, you gave me something to drink… Whenever you did that for any of my people, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you did it for me.” Matthew 25:35ff

There is no doubt that God cares passionately about issues of poverty and justice. So it seems to me it is just as clear that we who strive to follow God in the Way of Jesus must also care passionately about issues of poverty and justice.

Nothing new there. Nor is it all that insightful. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who thought providing a meal for a hungry or poor person was a bad thing.

As long as we’re only talking about charity.

Providing one meal or a place to stay for the night.

Start talking about advocacy, though – as in, “pleading the cause of another, siding with, vindicating, recommending publicly” – and church people get…shall we say…uneasy.

And that is where 6% comes in.

Last night, Joann and I were at a gathering with other Bread activists to hear Bread’s President, Rev. David Beckmann, speak. He was, as expected, informative and inspiring. He told us something I didn’t know. Something I hadn’t heard before. Something that puts the lie to the tired idea that the federal government needs to get out of the way and just let our nation’s churches do the work of helping poor and hungry people.

You see, he told us about 6%:

Many churches across the country collect food for hungry people, but all the food churches and food banks provide is equivalent to just 6 percent of the food federal nutrition programs provide–mainly through SNAP, WIC, and school meals.*

6%. Think about that. How would churches come up with the other 94%?

As David added:

We’re not gonna food bank our way to ending hunger!

-14.5 percent of U.S. households struggle to put enough food on the table. More than 48 million Americans—including 16.2 million children—live in these households. Source: Household Food Security in the United States, 2010 . U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, September 2011. (Table 1A, Table 1B) 

-About half of all American children will receive SNAP benefits at some point before age 20. Among African-American children, 90 percent will enroll in SNAP before age 20. Source: Household Food Security in the United States, 2010 . U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, September 2011 (Table 1B, Table 3)

-SNAP participation nearly doubled pre-recession levels, an increase of 18 million people.  Source: Monthly Program Data comparing July 2011 and November 2007. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service.

More hunger and poverty facts here.

2000 and 6%. That’s why we advocate for laws that reflect God’s desire for justice for poor and hungry people. That’s why at Woodridge UMC we’ll offer two sessions leading up to our Offering of Letters, so we can delve into the issues of poverty and hunger and ask all kinds of questions.

What questions do you have about Bread, about poverty, about hunger, or about advocacy?

I’m no expert, but I’ve got smart friends.

*Update: I just saw this post by David on the Bread Blog. It contains a good portion of what we heard from him last night, including the piece about 6%. Check it out to learn more!