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For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. - John 3:16

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Faith leaders from a gamut of denominations gather at a press conference in a unified denouncement of President Trumps budget and the GOP's health care bill. Photo: Joe Molieri / Bread for the World

Press Release

September 19, 2019

Christian Leaders Ask Presidential Candidates to Focus on Poverty

Washington, D.C. – More than 50 Christian leaders have sent a letter to the presidential candidates asking them to produce a short video telling the American people what they “would do as president to offer help and opportunity to hungry and poor people in the United States and around the world.”

The letter signers come from across a broad theological spectrum and include National Association of Evangelicals president Leith Anderson and Poor Peoples’ Campaign co-chair Rev. William Barber. The letter was initiated by the Circle of Protection.

The letter reads in part: “As national leaders from all the major branches of Christianity, we care deeply about many issues facing our country, but ending hunger and poverty is a top priority of our work together…. We are praying for a president who will make ending hunger and poverty a top priority of his or her administration. Are you that leader?”

The Circle of Protection and the letter signers will distribute candidates’ videos among their churches and the general public. The Circle of Protection will not publicly evaluate the proposed policy positions or endorse any candidate.

This is the third presidential election cycle the Circle of Protection has asked presidential candidates for videos. In 2012, both President Barack Obama and GOP nominee Mitt Romney provided videos. In 2016, nearly all the primary-election candidates made videos, including Hillary Clinton, and Clinton and Donald Trump provided statements. That year, we secured 85 million media impressions about the videos. A comparison of media coverage in September 2008 and September 2016 indicated that media attention to poverty during the general election season doubled.

Other signers of the letter include:

Statements from Circle of Protection co-chairs:

“This diverse group of Christian leaders has joined together to urge the presidential candidates to focus on people struggling with hunger and poverty,” said Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World.

“Church leaders may not all see eye to eye, but we are all together on this,” said Rev. Carlos L. Malavè, executive director of Christian Churches Together in the USA. “This is an invitation for candidates to speak to the Church.”

“The progress our country and the world have made against poverty and its evil twin, racism, is very much at stake in this election,” said Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner, Co-Chair, National African American Clergy Network.

“We believe these videos from the presidential candidates can help make poverty a key issue in this next election campaign,” said Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners. “Not just whether they care but what they are willing to do in overcoming the shameful impoverishment of people in America and around the world.”

Letter to Church Leaders

June 14, 2018

Poverty-Related Advocacy Issues Now

In the name of Jesus Christ, grace and peace to you from our loving God.

Since 2011, church leaders from many families of U.S. Christianity have worked together to maintain a Circle of Protection around people struggling with hunger, poverty, and injustice. You have participated alongside us in this ministry. We are now writing to share the Circle of Protection steering committee’s current thinking about the poverty-related issues facing us between now and this fall’s elections. We don’t all agree on every statement in this letter, but we think you will find it helpful to read about the issues we are discussing.

What we have achieved

The budget and appropriations packages that Congress approved in February and March marked a major step forward in the Circle of Protection’s seven-year campaign to protect funding for domestic and international programs that help people in poverty. Despite seven years of budget brinksmanship and the deep cuts proposed in President Trump’s budgets, Congress has not approved any substantial cuts in anti-poverty programs. The clear and unified position that you and many other Christian leaders have maintained–and the activism of many Christians across the country–have contributed to this remarkable result.

We are concerned about the recent surge of deficit spending, especially since only three percent of it funded assistance to people in poverty. Most of it went to the top one percent of the income distribution. When Congress and the president decide to address the deficit, as they should, no one should suggest doing so by cutting programs that help people in poverty.

Farm Bill

Right now, Congress is working on the Farm Bill. We are opposing the House Agriculture Committee’s version because it would take away SNAP food assistance for more than two million people. It would reduce food assistance by $18 billion, in large part to finance an expanded SNAP bureaucracy. It would expand job requirements. All beneficiaries would need to report their status (whether they are working, caring for small children, disabled, or elderly) monthly rather than twice a year–a six-fold increase in paperwork, frustration, and possibilities for error. The very limited funding this bill provides for job training would not allow for effective training.

The House bill is defended as a strategy to get SNAP beneficiaries into jobs. But nearly three-quarters of working-age adults who are not on disability work within the month or year of receiving benefits. Almost two-thirds of SNAP participants are children, disabled, or elderly.

The House voted down their Agriculture Committee’s bill, but Republican leaders have announced their intention to bring it back for another vote this month. The Senate Agriculture Committee just approved a bipartisan Farm Bill that does not include damaging cuts and changes to SNAP.

Please do what you can to defeat the House version of the Farm Bill and encourage passage of the Senate bill. Action on this issue is urgent.

Executive order to cut means-tested programs

President Trump has directed all the departments of government to do an immediate review of all means-tested programs. The president wants them to find ways to cut costs, mainly by imposing new or expanded job requirements in core safety net programs: Medicaid, SNAP, and housing assistance.

Evaluations of work requirements in assistance programs have found them to be an ineffective way to get people into jobs and reduce poverty. A much-cited exception followed welfare reform in 1996 when TANF work requirements were put in place. But the initial gains in employment were not sustained. Continuing job requirements on cash assistance to needy families have instead contributed to a surge in deep poverty–people living on less than $2 a day of cash income. The goal of program reforms should be to get people out of poverty, not just get them off the programs.

Policies to improve job opportunities

We are hoping that our nation’s political leaders will pivot from their current focus on job requirements to policies that would improve job opportunities, especially for low-income people. When they consider investments in infrastructure, for example, we would like them to give priority to investments in communities of concentrated poverty. Public transportation from low-income neighborhoods to centers of employment would make it possible for many more families to work their way out of hunger and poverty. Broadband internet access would help depressed rural communities connect to economic activity.

Can you educate people who look to you for leadership about the disadvantages of expanded job requirements on assistance programs and about the possibility of policies that would improve job opportunities?

Appropriations

Congress is now working on Fiscal Year 2019 appropriations, including important decisions about many specific programs. President Trump has proposed $15.4 billion in rescissions from past appropriations, including a $7 billion cut from the Child Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

Resistance to racism

In January, the Circle of Protection helped to develop and disseminate the Unity Statement on Racism and Poverty. Many church leaders are alarmed by the persistence and resurgence of explicit racism and hateful attitudes and policies toward immigrants. Racism is an attack on the image of God in each person, and racist laws and social structures are a major cause of poverty. Racial profiling and mass incarceration are realities that churches must no longer accept.

The Unity Statement led us to restructure the Circle of Protection steering committee to include stronger African-American and Latino leadership. We are grateful that the October annual meeting of Christian Churches Together will include discussion of the Unity Statement and of how predominantly white churches can educate their members about structural racism.

Criminal justice reform would be one way to address structural racism. The House of Representatives has passed a prison reform bill, but it does not address the problem of excessive mandatory sentences or effective models of restorative justice. Most of the faith community is supporting the Senate Judiciary Committee’s bipartisan Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2017 (S. 1917). It would allow for judicial review of some mandatory sentences and strengthen federal-prison programs that reduce recidivism.

President Trump’s harsh rhetoric and policies toward immigrants and refugees have done great harm. The faith community has expressed particular alarm about the separation of children from their parents at the border. We remain concerned about a regulation the White House is currently working on that would keep immigrants from becoming citizens if they have ever accepted public assistance. But the president and some members of Congress from both parties have said they want to reach a deal that would provide security for the “Dreamers.” The Dream Act (S. 1615 and H.R. 2440) would provide a path to citizenship for all the Dreamers, allowing almost two million young people to move up into better jobs and, in the process, help many people in their families and communities out of poverty.

We hope you will join in faith-grounded anti-racism education and help to achieve criminal justice reform and positive immigration reform.

International hunger and poverty

There is opportunity for positive action on international hunger and poverty issues. The Global Food Security Act is up for reauthorization. That could continue our country’s effective agriculture and nutrition assistance programs for another five years, with concentration on fragile states where conflict and climate change are increasing hunger. It would also continue hard-won improvements that have made U.S. food assistance more efficient and effective. This is important in desperate situations such as in South Sudan and Yemen.

Concerned Christian people can help by urging their members of Congress to cosponsor the Global Food Security Act. It is bill number S. 2269 in the Senate and H.R. 5129 in the House. Broad, bipartisan approval of the Global Food Security Act is possible and would help to protect appropriations for aid to hungry and poor people around the world.

Our wounded body politic, and this year’s elections

Finally, church leaders are called to be both thoughtful and bold in helping their members contribute to the healing of our wounded body politic. Some Christian leaders are speaking out about the theological dimension of the exceptional turmoil and division we are suffering. Some Christian organizations are helping people of faith have an impact during this fall’s elections.

We know you are praying for our nation and the world. Urge people who look to you for leadership to ask God to guide their conversation and behavior as citizens. Urge them to exercise their civic duty and support candidates for office who will serve the common good and improve opportunity for poor and vulnerable people. In Jesus Christ, we experience the love of God for all people and are moved to help and defend people who struggle with hunger, poverty, and injustice.


Rev. Jim Wallis
President and Founder, Sojourners

Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner
Co-Convener, National African-American Clergy Network and President, Skinner Leadership Institute

Rev. David Beckmann
President, Bread for the World

Rev. Carlos Malavé
Executive Director, Christian Churches Together USA
(in his personal capacity)

Open Letter to Congress

January 29, 2018

Unity Declaration on Racism and Poverty: A diverse body of Christian leaders calls on the churches and Congress to focus on the integral connection.

Dear Members of Congress,

As the president and Congress are preparing their plans for this year, almost 100 church leaders—from all the families of U.S. Christianity—are sharing a common “Unity Statement” on racism and poverty. As Christians, we are grounded in God’s love for all people, and we feel called to ask our churches and political leaders of both parties to work together to overcome racism and poverty which are theological, biblical, and gospel issues for us, not merely political or partisan ones.

This moment in time and the clear movement of the Spirit have brought diverse multi-racial church leaders together over the last several months for dinner conversations and times of prayer. Out of those moving times together, we developed a Unity Statement on Racism and Poverty. It has attracted many more racially and theologically diverse church leaders and is now embraced by the Circle of Protection, the broadest group of Christian leaders focused on poverty. The leaders who have signed this statement are from African-American, Hispanic, Asian-American, Native American, Evangelical, Catholic, Pentecostal, and mainline Protestant churches; and many national faith-based organizations. We are all committed to help build a fresh, newly energetic, multi-racial Christian movement to make the integral connection between racism and poverty and seek the spiritual power to end both. We are also committed and are ready to work with allies from other faith communities on the crucial intersection between racism and poverty as it shapes public policy.

We are purposefully sending you this statement before you go to your respective retreats. In addition to reading this statement thoughtfully, we ask for the following three things: first, we ask you to discuss this statement and the issues central to it—racism and poverty—at your retreats; second, we ask you to incorporate these concerns into your policy decisions and legislation in 2018 and beyond; third, we ask you to convene meetings with faith leaders in your communities to plan follow-up action on these issues in your states and districts. Racism and poverty are systemic issues that are central to the Bible and the teachings of Jesus. Therefore, they are critical to policy choices made by political leaders of faith and conscience. We will be following up with you directly to see how we can be helpful and useful to you as you consider these deeply biblical and theological issues.

We believe if we Christians from diverse backgrounds and traditions were known, not mostly for our divisions, but for our unity in a shared commitment to faithfully address both racism and poverty—together—it could be powerful force—both for our churches and the country. So help us God.


Rev. Jim Wallis
President and Founder, Sojourners

Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner
Co-Convener, National African-American Clergy Network and President, Skinner Leadership Institute

Rev. David Beckmann
President, Bread for the World

Rev. Carlos Malavé
Executive Director, Christian Churches Together USA
(in his personal capacity)

Archived Press Release

July 24, 2019

Christian Leaders Call for a 2020 Budget that Invests in Families

Christian leaders with the Circle of Protection today released the following statement on the 2020 budget:

“The Circle of Protection is an unprecedented coalition of leaders from all the families of Christianity. National budgets are moral documents, and we see the 2020 budget as a chance to strengthen opportunity for struggling families – housing and child care in this country, and investments to reduce the poverty and violence that are driving desperate families to our border. We ask the President and members of Congress across the political spectrum to spare the country yet another round of brinksmanship – and agree on a budget and appropriations that invest in opportunity for families who struggle to put food on the table.”

In March, Circle of Protection leaders sent a letter to members of Congress urging them to pass a bipartisan budget agreement that reverses harmful sequestration cuts and expands investments in critical programs serving people in poverty.

Statements from individual Circle of Protection leaders:

“We welcome the 2020 budget deal as a chance to strengthen the infrastructure of opportunity for millions of families who struggle to put food on the table. A bipartisan deal is better than a government shutdown, and Congress should use this framework to fund much needed assistance for child care, housing, and job training. They should also continue to invest in progress against world hunger – specifically, maintaining aid to Central America and appropriating $250 million in programs that are reducing child malnutrition globally.” Rev. David Beckmann, President, Bread for the World

“We believe that God judges individuals and societies by how they respond to the needs of the poor. Our goal as Americans must be the elimination of poverty in our land. The proposed budget agreement avoids damaging cuts and allows for some increase in poverty-focused programs. We support this agreement and ask Congress and the President to approve it expeditiously. Moreover, we must continue to work towards eliminating hunger and poverty. Americans must have access to full-time work that offers a realistic escape from poverty, and to good and affordable health care.” Rev. Carlos L. Malavé, Executive Director, Christian Churches Together

“Active participation in public life and the duty of government to care for its people, especially the most vulnerable, have been part of the Lutheran movement from it beginning. In his explanation of the petition ‘Give us today our daily bread’, Luther said: ‘It would be therefore fitting if the coat of arms of every upright prince were emblazoned with a loaf of bread instead of a Lion’ (Large Catechism). The Congress and Administration has now before it a responsibility to pass a 2020 bipartisan budget agreement that impacts the human realities of millions of people and families at home and our neighbors abroad. I urge our leaders to ensure that we as a nation embody the prudence and the dignity found in our ‘daily bread’ in the 21st Century we live in, until all are fed.” Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton, Presiding Bishop, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

“The Friends Committee on National Legislation has long advocated on behalf of those suffering under extreme poverty that creates barriers to affording housing, obtaining employment, and getting a good education. The current budget compromise between the president and the Congress includes critical funding for the non-defense side of the budget, a necessary and welcome development. It is critical that Congress prioritize these programs that address vital human needs in the appropriations process. We remain seriously disappointed by the continued nonstop growth in funding for defense. Spending untold billions year after year has not led to a safer America or world, and never will.” Diane Randall, Executive Secretary, Friends Committee on National Legislation

“We are encouraged to see our leaders working together to craft an agreement on both the FY20 budget and the debt ceiling. As members of Congress now begin approving appropriations bills, we pray that they will prioritize protecting and assisting our most vulnerable citizens, as well as providing life-saving support to those threatened by famine, persecution, and extreme poverty throughout the world. God has blessed our nation with the resources to care for our neighbors in need, while also exercising fiscal discipline and addressing our debt and deficit issues.” Galen Carey, Vice President for Government Relations, National Association of Evangelicals

“The Latino Evangelicals of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition stand committed to a budget that demonstrates a commitment to good financial stewardship and support for economically vulnerable communities and families.” Rev. Dr. Gabriel Salguero, President, National Latino Evangelical Coalition

“At a time when people of color are under attack in various ways, the 2020 budget deal is likely to add billions of dollars to programs that are especially important in African-American, Latino, and Indigenous communities. We support this compromise budget framework and urge members of Congress to insist on priority for low-income programs, notably housing and child care, as decisions about specific appropriations are being made.” Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner, President, Skinner Leadership Institute

“As we have said many times before, a budget is a moral document. The gospel of Jesus Christ is good news for the poor and the Bible treats the moral test of a society around how it treats the poor. This deal ensures that the United States does not default on its debt obligations, averts deep and dangerous sequestration cuts, and increases funding for non-defense discretionary programs while maintaining parity with increases in defense spending. While there are many positives to this agreement, we are concerned that the deal did not include additional revenue offsets through the closing of tax loopholes that disproportionately benefit the wealthy. Additionally, while suspending the debt ceiling until after the 2020 presidential election will ensure that the debt limit doesn’t lead to unnecessary brinkmanship during this important upcoming election, we will work to ensure that commitments to fiscal responsibility held by many will be upheld and any considerations of additional spending under this agreement will favor programs that assist the millions of Americans living in and near to poverty.” Rev. Jim Wallis, President and Founder, Sojourners

“We join with the rest of the Circle of Protection in urging Congress and the President to approve the compromise budget 2020 framework. It avoids deep cuts and allows for some much-needed increases in programs that provide help and opportunity to people in need in our country and around the world. This is consistent with our tradition’s emphasis on holiness both in our personal lives and in how we behave as a society.” Rev. Dr. Jo Anne Lyon, General Superintendent Emerita, The Wesleyan Church


Archived Press Release

Christian Leaders Urge Congress to Protect Programs that Help People in Poverty

Washington, D.C., November 2, 2017 – A diverse group of national Christian leaders from across the theological and political spectrum today sent a letter to members of Congress urging them to maintain a “circle of protection” around programs of assistance for people in poverty.

The leaders are concerned, because this fall Congress will make decisions that have far reaching consequences for people living in poverty and working families struggling to make ends meet. Specifically, the Christian leaders are calling on Congress to 1) protect funding for anti-poverty programs in appropriations bills, and 2) protect and support low-income families in any tax legislation.

The Christian leaders belong to the Circle of Protection (CoP), a broad coalition of leaders from all the families of U.S. Christianity. The CoP is working to ensure the vitality of church-sponsored programs serving people in or near poverty in the United States and around the world, while also supporting public sector efforts to alleviate poverty and increase opportunity for all of God’s children.

The letter reads in part, “These are biblical and gospel issues for us, not just political or partisan concerns. In Matthew 25 Jesus identified himself with those who are immigrants, poor, sick, homeless and imprisoned, and challenged his followers to welcome and care for them as we would care for Jesus himself. We continue to pray, mobilize, and advocate on behalf of our neighbors in poverty…”

“We are bold enough to imagine news stories about Members of Congress from both parties joining together to support the urgent needs of low-income Americans and life-saving assistance to hungry and poor people around the world—because of the religious faith of those political leaders,” the letter adds.

In the letter, the Christian leaders committed to praying for members of Congress as they develop legislation for the nation, especially as the legislation impacts America’s most vulnerable citizens and neighbors.

Read the full letter with the complete list of signatories.