Statement on Poverty for Religious Leader's Consultation on Poverty

The Rt. Rev. John Bryson Chane, D.D.
Bishop of Washington

Two passages of Christian Scripture must always be before the children of God as the compass points of our journey on this earth: And the crowds asked John the Baptist, "what shall we do?" In reply he said to them, "Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise." (Luke 3:11)

"What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,' and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead." (James 2:14-17)

As we gather in Washington DC for this very important time of sharing and prayer, all of us need to remember that 850 million people, or one sixth of the world's population lives with hunger. Of that number, 300 million are children. Every day, 30,000 people die of starvation. In the United States, the world's "bread-basket," over 34 million persons live in poverty and one in five children lives in poverty. Globally, 43 million souls live with HIV/AIDS and every minute of every day nine more people are infected. During this decade, more people will die of AIDS than from all the wars and natural disasters of the past 50 years.

Donald Messer and Senators George McGovern and Bob Dole, in their soon to be released book, Ending Hunger Now, remind us all that feeding the hungry and caring for the poor is both a moral obligation and a religious requirement. The legal codes of Jewish tradition as found in Deuteronomy are clear about the requirement of feeding and caring for the poor. The Talmud says, "Providing charity for poor and hungry people weighs as heavily as all other commandments of the Torah combined."

The teachings of Jesus and the work of the early Christian Church were very clear in terms of caring for the least among us. Jesus Christ was less concerned about living into a religious orthodoxy and far more concerned about teaching his followers that "as you have done it to the least of these my brothers and sisters, so have you done it to me."

Jesus' Gospel teaching extended beyond the Deuteronomic Code and called his followers then as he does now, to do justice and not be content with charity alone. Prayer without action is simply poetry! We must not just gather to talk and to be together seeking fellowship for the sake of fellowship, but we must now unite in ways we have not been able to do before to live into a theology of mission and pastoral care that changes lives and seeks to do justice even while we live with our too often debilitating divisions that have caused us often to look more inward than outward. We must see and understand that the cry of the poor, the dispossessed, the hungry, the sick, and the vulnerable women and children of this world is really the cry of God. The cry of God must now be heard and understood by the powers and principalities of this world who are the political and religious decision makers of our time. God's cry is our cry. May that cry now be heard around the world.


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