Poverty, poverty

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Last month, Christian Churches Together in the USA, an organization comprising all the major Christian groupings in the country (including the National Council of Churches, the National Association of Evangelicals, the Catholics and the Orthodox, but OK, not the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), issued a report intended to strengthen its commitment to halving poverty over the next decade. This is a classic ecumenical enterprise, and readily comprehensible as such. The report consists of a series of recommendations, a little vague but with things like “Universal access to health care,
especially for children in poverty.”

Today, a new organization, the Poverty Forum, issued its own set of recommendations for combating poverty. There are 25 of them, and some are a little liberal (raising the minimum wage) while others are a little conservative (“expand new markets tax credits”) but nothing so, uh, radical as universal access to health care.

I will leave it to others to evaluate the specific proposals, which have been evolved by a set of 18 experts who are also “religious leaders.” What strikes me as odd is the religious basis upon which this Forum has been created; to wit: “To create a mechanism for constructive dialogue about poverty issues
among progressive, moderate, and conservative Evangelicals and
theologically orthodox Christians.” So, like, what’s “theologically orthodox”? There’s a couple of identifiable Catholics on board, but no one identified with a mainline Protestant denomination or organization. Do you have to declare your allegiance to the Nicene Creed in order to participate? But not the Assumption of the Virgin?

The protagonists of the whole thing are the evangelicals Jim Wallis of Sojourners and Mike Gerson, sometime chief speechwriter for George W. Bush now encamped at the Council on Foreign Relations. And they seem, in truth, a bit embarrassed to be stomping in the footsteps of Christian Churches Together–which, Wallis and Gerson claim, “plots out specific actions the Church will take to decrease poverty” (as if it weren’t also laying out a policy agenda, and a more progressive one at that). In a word, this is best seen as yet another effort to carve out common ground on which some pretty darn conservative folks are prepared to stand. Although it’s not quite sure that they actually stand there. As Wallis and Gerson put it:

Participants were not asked to explicitly endorse every item, and this
is not a package per se, but a number of ideas and options to be
explored further by our national leaders. Still, everyone did agree
that a collective introduction of these ideas would help spur the kind
of broad public debate we need. All the participants are eager to
engage with policy makers and further the public discussion around
practical solutions toward reducing poverty.

So, Gerson, are you for raising the minimum wage? Of one thing I’ve no doubt: the eagerness to engage with policy makers.