Caring for Poor People: Should the Church Do It Alone?
[This article was originally posted on The Huffington Post.]
When I open my Bible, it isn't hard to find a verse that underscores our responsibility as Christians to care for the least among us. Proverbs 19:17 tells us, "Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed." Unfortunately, some members of Congress don't buy into this notion. They believe instead that taking care of the most vulnerable people in our society is for the church to do alone.
Recently the U.S. House of Representatives passed a budget resolution for fiscal year 2013 that places a heavy burden on poor Americans who rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) to feed their families. The House recommended cutting more than $169 billion from SNAP. Some representatives even argued that feeding hungry people is really the work of churches, not government.
But churches can't be solely responsible for feeding poor women, children, seniors and disabled people. We also need strong government programs. In fact, all of the food churches and charities provide to hungry and poor people in the United States amounts to only about 6 percent of what the federal government spends on programs such as SNAP and school meals for students.
The Hartford Institute for Religion and Research estimates there are 335,000 religious congregations in the United States. If the House's proposals to cut SNAP by $133.5 billion and $36 billion are enacted, each congregation will have to spend about $50,000 more annually to feed those who would see a reduction or loss of benefits. Some congressional leaders are essentially saying that every church in America -- big or tiny -- needs to come up with an extra $50,000 to feed people every year for the next 10 years to make up for these cuts.
In response, Bread for the World asked people to tell members of Congress that churches can't be solely responsible for feeding hungry people. Thousands from around the country answered our call, telling us they just can't afford to do more than they're currently doing. Here are a few of their comments:
"As a small church in the middle of the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex, we are inundated with needs all around us. The proposed cost is more than we pay our full-time minister for compensation, the only full-time staff we have. We contribute to multiple charities that distribute food to those who are in need in order to ensure the best stewardship of our resources. And, yet, we are still not able to meet all of the needs. These cuts will overwhelm us." --Sarah from Arlington, Texas
"Feeding the hungry is not a choice -- it is a moral imperative. But the food pantries and soup kitchens in this area funded by the generosity of church members already are serving those in need at capacity and beyond in these tough economic times. We are doing our part. We expect that our government will do the same." --Alexandra from Troy, N.Y.
"Addressing the needs of the hungry and poor is something that requires BOTH local congregation action and ALSO local and national government support. I urge our legislators at all levels to maintain strong support of government programs that help the poor and needy." --Brian from Fond Du Lac, Wis.
"Already we get innumerable calls for emergency assistance. We have no idea how these families are sufficiently getting the necessary nutrients for their children and family. To increase the number of people would be overwhelming and those churches who try to help with their shrinking congregations might totally give up." -Tempe of Jamestown, N.C.
"We fed over 32,000 people last year and we are tapped! We can barely pay our own bills, and if we are pushed any further we won't be able to keep our doors open, thus NOT being able to feed the ones we already are!! PLEASE DON'T cut any feeding programs." -Kirk of Sparks, Nev.
It's time for members of Congress to tell people -- like Brian from Wisconsin, Alexandra from New York, Tempe from North Carolina and Sarah from Texas -- that they're going to do their part and support legislation that creates a circle of protection around programs that are vital to hungry and poor people.
Photo caption: Senior Pastor Judith VanOsdol leads the noon church service at El Milagro (The Miracle) Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, MN. The parish, which is Spanish-English bilingual, is made up of many members who depend on WIC and SNAP to feed their families. VanOsdol spent 17 years as a missionary pastor in South America. Photograph by Laura Elizabeth Pohl
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