The following Op-Ed was published in the Asheville Citizen-Times on Sunday, April 17, signed by many friends of the NC Council of Churches in Western North Carolina. If you would like to sign on to participate in the fast this Friday, please go to the Facebook page for the Fast.
Come, Join The Fast
Special to the Citizen-Times
April 17, 2011
Hunger is stalking the land. But not everyone is vulnerable to its advances.
Despite the economic downturn, the wealthiest Americans continue to prosper. Today the richest 400 individuals control more wealth than 50% of all U.S. households combined.
Outside the upper sectors of the economy, however, the news is not so good. Rapidly rising rates of hunger and poverty continue to drive more and more Americans out of the middle class. Nation-wide one in five children live in households without reliable access to adequate food, and in some states the percentage is closer to one in four.
David Beckmann has decided to mount an effort to slow hunger’s steady advance into still more American households. Beckmann, the president of the venerable anti-hunger advocacy agency Bread for the World, is calling on people of faith and conscience to join him this month in a national fast intended to focus attention on the plight of the poor.
As a Christian, Beckmann drew inspiration for this effort from the famous prophetic admonition found in the book of Isaiah: Is this not the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the bands of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free? (Isaiah 58:6).
In that spirit, the broader intention of this fast is to draw attention to proposed budget cuts to federal programs that provide food aid to America’s most vulnerable citizens, including literally millions of women and children.
On Good Friday, some 30 faith leaders in Asheville, Swannanoa and Black Mountain will join this fast, including all the signatories listed below.
As citizens, we understand that the political response to poverty in America and to our poorest citizens varies. And we respect the diversity of viewpoints on how best to address these twin concerns.
But as clergy, and despite our many theological differences, we agree that the scriptural response to the poor does not vary. The Hebrew and Christian scriptures, along with the sacred texts from virtually all the world’s major religions, consistently affirm God’s preferential concern for the poor.
In the Bible, this affirmation is buttressed from Exodus to the Gospels by strong calls for God’s people to share in the divine concern for the poor and the hungry with practical, public gestures of justice, mercy and compassion.
As faith leaders, we also share the belief that budgets are moral documents. Just as a household budget must provide for all family members, the federal budget in particular must serve the interests of all American citizens.
We believe that H.R. 1, the budget bill that contains these proposed cuts, fails this basic test of fiscal morality.
The cuts are justified in the name of helping to balance the federal budget. But in truth, two of the main programs targeted for deep cuts—the Women Infant and Children (WIC) program and the food stamp program—represent only a tiny fraction of the federal budget.
H.R. 1 also calls for a substantial increase in defense spending. Providing for our national security is clearly a vital concern. And yet we believe that slowing hunger’s steady advance into still more American households and feeding our children are far more urgent national priorities. Countless American families are suffering the painful effects of a sustained economic downturn. Millions of children are going to school hungry in the morning and going to bed hungry at night. As such we believe it’s time to change our swords not into plowshares but into actual bread.
For all of these reasons, we intend to follow the prophet Isaiah’s powerful exhortation and to join in this fast with David Beckmann and thousands of people of faith and conscience across this country.
We hope that readers will consider joining this effort and fast from at least one meal on Good Friday. If you are a clergy person or a member of a faith community, you might also consider mobilizing other members of your congregation to join this nation-wide effort.
Even more, we hope that you will join us in calling on Congressman Shuler to remember that budgets are moral documents, and in asking him to work with his colleagues to find a way to balance the federal budget that does not place the burden for doing so on the shoulders of those vulnerable Americans who are least able to bear that burden.
It’s often been said that how a country treats its poorest citizens is the true test of a nation’s moral character. If that’s true, it’s time once again to show the world what America is made of.
For more information on how to join this fast, please contact any of the signatories listed below or visit our Facebook page at Join The Fast Asheville.
Rev. Linda Briggs, Rev. Randall Boggs, Rev. Mark Burnham, Rev. Brian Cole, Rev. Laura Collins, Rev. Todd Donatelli, Rev. Charles Davidson, Rev. Joe Friddle, Rev. Amanda Hendler-Voss, Rev. Joyce Holliday, Rev. Fitzhugh Legerton, Rev. Roberta Martin, Rev. Shannon Johnson Kershner, Rev. John LaMotte, Rev. Alex McClean, Rev. Leah McCullough, Rev. Anne Morgan, Rev. David Morgan, Rev. David Nash, Rev. Beth Newman, Rev. Scott Oxford, Rev. Michael Poulos, Rev. Mark Ramsey, Rev. Robert Randolph, Rev. Steve Runholt, Rev. Guy Sales, Rev. Ken Sehested, Rev. Mahan Siler, Rev. Mark Stanley, Rev. Margaret LaMotte Torrence, Rev. Sara Wilcox, Rev. Lamar Williamson, Rev. Gene Witherspoon