As the presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, said that our church’s commitment to those who live in poverty is “a biblical imperative for which Christ frees us to serve.”
The poverty rate fell to 15 percent in 2011, down slightly from 15.1 percent from the year before. More than one in seven U.S. citizens – or 46.2 million people — lived in poverty in 2011, including more than 16 million children.
In addition to the release of these figures, videos from U.S. President Barack Obama and the former governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney, were released this week at the National Press Club. The videos feature what each presidential candidate proposes to do to provide help and opportunity for people who are living in poverty in the United States and overseas.
“These videos can encourage us to ask all seeking public office to make those living in poverty their priority,” said Hanson.
Through the Circle of Protection, Hanson and other Christian leaders asked the 2012 U.S. presidential candidates to produce a short video addressing poverty.
“The Circle of Protection, of which we are a charter member, gives us the opportunity to hold public officials accountable to this being a shared commitment,” said Hanson.
The videos are meant to serve as a resource for faith groups across the country to engage in dialogue about hunger and poverty. According to the Circle of Protection, the videos “in no way offers or implies an endorsement of either candidate or the proposals in their
statement. Likewise, the participation of Governor Romney and President Obama does not offer or imply an endorsement of the positions taken by the Circle of Protection or its members.”
For more than a year leaders of various Christian denominations, including the ELCA, have come together to advocate for a “circle of protection” around funding for programs that are vital to people living in poverty.
“The ELCA advocacy team was glad to contribute to this effort,” said the Rev. Andrew Genszler, who directs advocacy ministries at ELCA churchwide ministries.
“I hope congregations, pastors, college and seminary classes and other groups will thoughtfully use these videos to engage in discussion about public issues during this presidential campaign,” he said.
“We are a church that rolls up it sleeves and gets to work, and the most effective advocacy I’ve seen arises out of stories from the global and community work we do together as Lutherans to combat hunger and poverty,” said Genszler, adding that Lutherans engage public officials because “we believe government should work well for our neighbors, especially those who are poor and hungry. Speaking out for strong public policy that helps our struggling neighbors is another way ELCA members serve communities in the United States and across the world.”
“Jesus worked and lived with people on the margins of society, and our call as a church is to continue that ministry,” said the Rev. Kathryn M. Lohre, president of the National Council of Churches and director of ecumenical and inter-religious relations at ELCA churchwide ministries.
“God’s church is at work bringing offerings of food to share with hungry people, shelter those without homes in our fellowship halls, and creating support networks like job clubs and employment ministries. Yet, that is not enough. We must also create a society that provides for those in need,” she said.
The Rev. Daniel Rift, director for ELCA World Hunger, said it is important to note that “this is not a partisan issue. We are pleased that (addressing poverty and hunger) is part of the platform for those who are running for president, and others seeking leadership in this country, that they are taking a very proactive role.”
Rift said some “statistics would show that we have not turned the corner on concern for poverty. In fact for many people it is increasingly difficult for them to feed their families, provide shelter and address other needs.”
The ELCA is “one of the front-line organizations responding to hunger, and we have been intensively aware of this, and the only reason that we have seen an increase in food security in this country is because of the helping ministries of this church and the kind of programs designed over many years in being really effective in addressing hunger,” he said.
“But the underlying concern for poverty in this country has got to be one that is paramount as part of our common life. Almost every congregation of the ELCA, in one way or another, ties into their local hunger work, the work we do together nationally and globally through ELCA World Hunger. It is an intensively important part of the witness of being Christ’s people in our day and age,” said Rift.
The Circle of Protection is made up of more than 65 leaders of denominations, relief and development agencies and other Christian organizations in the United States.For information contact Melissa Ramirez Cooper at 773-380-2956 or Melissa.RamirezCooper@ELCA.org.