Archive for the ‘poverty’ tag
The following is a synopsis of the Greeley lecture on peace and justice given by Rev. Dr. Shanta Premawardhana at the Center for the Study of World Religions of Harvard University on February 3, 2014. This lecture is a precursor to SCUPE’s Congress on Urban Ministry (June 23-26, DePaul University, Chicago) which will address the theme: Together, Building a Just Economy. Rev. Dr. Premawardhana is President of the Seminary Consortium of Urban Pastoral Education (SCUPE) , and a Board Trustee of the Parliament of the World’s Religions
The unimaginable level of income inequality has become a serious public conversation and scholarly inquiry. President Obama has addressed it several times over the past couple of months, including in the recent State of the Union speech. The week before that, when some 2,500 participants from business, government, academia and civil society convened in Davos, they considered the Global Risks 2014 report which points out that this massive income gap is the risk that is most likely to cause serious damage to the global economy in the coming decade.
Immediately prior to the Davos meeting, Oxfam, the international organization that addresses issues of hunger, poverty and economic justice around the world, in its report said that the world’s richest 85 people control the same amount of wealth as half the world’s population, over 3.5 billion people. In other words, each of the wealthiest 85 has access to the same resources as do about 42 million people. These are incredible numbers. In his message, Pope Francis urged those who gathered at Davos to promote inclusive prosperity. “I ask you to ensure that humanity is served by wealth and not ruled by it,” he said.
Last November Pope Francis issued an Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, or the Joy of the Gospel, where he connects evangelization with a strong critique of consumerism. In a section entitled “No to the new idolatry of money,” he points to its causality: one cause of this situation is found in our relationship with money, he says, “we calmly accept its dominion over ourselves and our societies. The worship of the ancient golden calf,” he goes on, “has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose.” Human beings are reduced to one of their needs alone, he says, and that is “consumption.”
The rise of plutocracy, where the super-rich increasingly control the political and economic processes that leave everyone else out is already a serious global problem. My concern is that in the United States we may be reaching a tipping point where laws such as Citizens United and the dismantling of the Voting Rights Act, both driven by big corporate interests, will tilt the playing field in favor of the super-rich for a long time to come. I believe that this is caused by greed, which – in both its individual and structural manifestations — is a spiritual problem.
This position was affirmed by an advisory body of the World Council of Churches, the Churches’ Commission on International Affairs (CCIA) when it met in March 2009, in Matanzas, Cuba, about six months after the global financial crisis hit. Its working group on Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation made three important affirmations.
First, they identified the cause of the crisis as unbridled greed, and declared it as a form of violence. “[T]he accumulation of wealth and the presence of poverty are not simply accidents but are often part of a strategy for some people to accumulate power and wealth at the expense of others. As such, greed is a form of violence which, on personal, community, national, regional and international levels isolates and injures us.”
In offering the provocative comment “greed is a form of violence,” the CCIA is connecting a word—violence— which it knows evokes a sense of strong condemnation, with a word that it believes is equally condemnable –greed, and advocating as robust a reflection on greed as the churches have had on violence. Indeed, churches, like other institutions caught up in systems of structural greed, find its reflection on greed muted, and its advocacy on behalf of economic justice compromised. A “greed is good” doctrine, popularized by the fictional character Gordon Gekko in the 1987 movie Wall Street, and daily and forcefully asserted by some Fox News and CNBC commentators, as well as proponents of prosperity theologies, therefore goes largely unchallenged.
While many religions address greed, it is important to recognize that today’s structural greed is almost unprecedented. A new robust and self-critical reflection that pertains to today’s realities, by all religious authorities, I suggest, is therefore urgent.
The WCC has engaged such a process over the past several years. Its program Poverty, Wealth and Ecology has engaged economists and theologians in dialogues that have now resulted in a proposal for a new financial architecture released in Sao Paulo, in October 2012. One interesting feature of this is the inclusion of a “Greed Line.” If there’s a poverty line below which a person can be said to be in poverty, there must be greed line, above which a person can be said to be greedy!
Second, they recognized greed as a spiritual problem requiring spiritual interventions. Christianity alone does not have the resources to address this problem, they said, and affirmed that religions over centuries have deeply reflected on the question of greed and have significant wisdom to offer. They specifically identified Buddhism as having a sophisticated reflection on greed and its disastrous consequences, about the value of simplicity for the lay community of disciples, and renunciation and voluntary poverty for the monastic community.
Affirming the value of having its internal reflections lead to interreligious engagement, the WCC together with the Lutheran World Federation convened a Buddhist-Christian consultation in Chiang Mai, Thailand in 2010. Buddhists from several countries and a variety of traditions engaged with Christians from a variety of traditions in a consultation entitled “Buddhists and Christians engaging structural greed.” The resulting statement, “A Buddhist-Christian Common Word on Structural Greed” has helped to move Christian and Buddhist communities to deeper common reflection and action.
Third, it identifies the need to listen to the voices of the poor. “We acknowledge that in our various positions of leadership we are not always well-placed to hear the voice of the oppressed, of indigenous people, of women, of the disabled, of refugees and displaced people, of the poor and of the most silenced among us.” We who gather around theological tables, religious leaders and scholars, because of our social standing as educated, middle class elite, do not have access to the conversations that are going on among those who are poor in our communities.
This is a difficult but critical question. Prof. Harvey Cox of Harvard University, in a 1980 Christian Century article entitled “Theology: What Is It? Who Does It? How Is It Done?” addressed this question. The elitism is understandable, says Cox, given that the minimal conditions for doing theology include the ability to read and write, familiarity with the received tradition of concepts and categories, sufficient leisure to reflect on these, and the power to get one’s ideas published or otherwise heard. Are theologians prepared to take the next step, he asks, beyond the self-critical awareness we now have, for example, of how the rhetorical conventions and cultural symbols of any period shape even its most original theology, to a recognition of how the pervasive ideology of the dominant class influences the theology it produces?
So, how do you dialogue with those who are poor? One of my mentors, Aloysius Pieris, offers us an insight from his Sri Lankan context. In Asian Theology of Liberation  he insists that an authentic Sri Lankan theology must undergo a double baptism, in the Jordan of its religious diversity, and the cross of its grinding poverty. These two axes of religious diversity and poverty are basic facts of the Sri Lankan context. Dialogue, he says, is more than an academic exercise done in religious seminars organized and financed by western agencies, by people who do not have their feet on the ground. It is not an abstract concern, but a daily existential experience; never merely an intellectual exercise, it is a moral commitment. Pieris’ analysis suggests that if we want to engage in dialogue we need to incarnate ourselves in the context. Not only does it require a double baptism of immersion, it requires us to engage core-to-core with the other religious partners.
The question, however, is even more complex. There is plenty of dialogue that goes on in poor communities. Poor Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and those of other religions often live in the same communities, share each other’s concerns and needs, and reflect with each other about their fortunes and misfortunes and the ultimate meanings of day to day events. The difficulty for us middle class theologians and dialogicians is that we have no access to that conversation. Many difficulties, including those of communication and building trust become serious obstacles when we try to listen to that dialogue.
So, is there any hope for theology or interreligious dialogue? According to Pieris, there is no alternative but to engage in voluntary poverty, which for religious people, he reminds us, is a positive value. We must struggle against forced poverty, but voluntary poverty is a spiritual calling we must embrace. Some of the greatest saints and revered gurus in religious traditions, he reminds us, were people who renounced worldly comforts and pleasures. Some entered the monastic life, others such as Gandhi, became engaged in issues of social justice.
For those of us in religious leadership or theological academia, who assumed that theology can be done in the comfort of the seminary and its library, this is a problem. Indeed, for most of us, whose perceptions are colored by the dominant economic ethos, and where the desire to reach higher in the economic ladder is the positive value, voluntary poverty does not make sense. Therefore, Pieris asserts that it is simply not possible for people with such a middle class mindset to really understand and appreciate those who are poor, and recommends that those who engage in the disciplines of theology and of interreligious dialogue undergo a conversion, and undertake the baptism of voluntary poverty themselves.
This is what SCUPE does. We put our students into the streets of the city, to its local communities, to areas of concentrated poverty, where we teach our students to listen to the questions, struggles and stories of pain and laughter. We bring those questions together, subject them to deeper analysis, and then ask what scripture and tradition have to say about these questions. Indeed, in the margins our students have seen dialogue burst into argument, controversy and creativity. There, it never stays a mere dialogue, but moves quickly to action. At the margins people are conscientized, they strategize, organize and move in to light a fire under their leaders. Indeed, when religious or political leaders do not have the courage to do the right thing, it is the organized people at the grassroots who are able to hold them accountable.
A useful hermeneutical key to this conundrum was offered in November 2013, at the 10th Assembly of the World Council of Churches. It’s Commission on World Mission and Evangelism issued a new statement on mission entitled Together Towards Life, which turned all previous understandings of mission on its head. “Mission from the margins invites the church to reimagine mission as a vocation from God’s Spirit who works for a world where fullness of life is available to all,” it declared. In other words, mission is not to those who are a poor as we always thought, rather, mission is from those who are poor and marginalized to those at the
This is a profound statement. Those of us at the privileged center, the theologians, the religious leaders, the pastors and teachers, the middle class elite, are the very ones that need to be missionized. It says to us powerfully that those who are hungry today have something important to teach us about economic justice, about life and its meaning, and about the importance of sharing and community. Those who are working two or three jobs at minimum wage and have kids to take care of at home also have something important to teach us about faith, because at the end of the day they still have strength left to say their evening prayers with the kids. Those who are suffering climate catastrophes, such as the recent one in the Philippines have something important to teach us about climate justice and about life’s fragility and resilience. When we are able to deeply comprehend that, we will discover that our questions are different, our answers are different, and more than anything else, our attitude towards life and our lifestyle will be different.
What happened in 2008 was a result of unbridled structural greed. It was violence that was perpetrated against massive numbers of people around the world. But the religious communities’ voice was muted. We were conflicted because we too participate in that structural greed. Given today’s context it is critical that the religious communities’ voices be powerful and resilient. But in order for that to be so, we must allow those in the margins to teach us, missionize us, and indeed, convert us.
The Rev. Dr. Shanta D. Premawardhana is President of the Seminary Consortium for Urban Pastoral Education in Chicago. Originally from Sri Lanka, he was most recently the director for the Program Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation at the World Council of Churches (WCC), a worldwide fellowship of 349 Protestant and Orthodox churches based in Geneva, Switzerland. Prior to moving to Geneva, Premawardhana served as the Associate General Secretary for Interfaith Relations at the National Council of Churches of Christ, based in New York.
 Martin Sinaga (ed.) A Common Word: Buddhists and Christians Engage Structural Greed (Lutheran University Press, 2012)
 Aloysius Pieris, Asian Theology of Liberation (T&T Clark, 1988, 86)
by Jim Wallis
Many people in America are poor, due to no fault of their own—and their numbers are growing.
If you really know any poor people, you know that to be true. If you don’t, the first sentence of this post runs against the grain of many cultural assumptions in America that tend to blame people for being poor.
On the eve of the first Presidential debate, Sojourners premiered The Line — a film about the new faces of poverty in America. In this powerful documentary from award-winning filmmaker Linda Midgett, those popular judgmental assumptions against poor people clearly and convincingly are debunked.
The Line, which I am asking everyone who reads this column to watch, deftly dismantles many stereotypes about poverty and shows why a growing number of Americans find themselves falling into it. The film does so by telling the personal stories of people who have fallen beneath “the line.”
My 14-year-old son Luke, watched the story of John: a banker who once made a six-figure salary, but who now finds himself a substitute teacher making $12,000 a year while trying to raise his three kids. John painfully talked about what it feels like to have to go to a food bank because he has no other viable choice.
His story caused Luke to ask his mom after the film, “John said he got straight A’s in school, so could that happen to me?”
by Nina Pine and Rachel Finn, Faiths Act Fellows for the Tony Blair Faith Foundation
While the two of us have been planning the San Francisco CROP Hunger Walk as our World Malaria Day Event, often we are asked the question, “Why are you supporting malaria prevention efforts at a hunger walk? Isn’t that a conflict of interest?”
The fact of the matter is, however, that malaria and hunger are incredibly intertwined. Just check out this video [http://www.youtube.com/watch?
Delivering food to a community in need is a noble act. It is a life-saving act. And yet unfortunately, it is not a sustainable act. Extreme hunger worldwide is not caused by a lack of food, but rather, systemic social corruption and flawed distribution. To change the narrative on hunger, we must change the systems of power and the societal structures in which communities live. To do so is a daunting task, and incredibly complex.
Yet, one effective step we can tangibly make is on the issue of malaria. Malaria is a disease of poverty – it has been eradicated in parts of the world with access to needed finances, such as here in California. Malaria is both treatable and preventable. And yet, a child still dies every 60 seconds from this deadly disease. It is less a problem of complexity than a lack of resources.
Malaria prevention, elimination, and hopefully one day, eradication, are excellent goals in and of themselves. And yet, the ripple effect from treating it has far larger reaches. It improves education, because children do not miss days of school due to severe illness. It improves maternal health by significantly decreasing the number of deaths in pregnant women. Perhaps most importantly, malaria elimination would drastically improve the situation of extreme hunger around the globe. Individuals will not have to miss days of harvesting crops due to illness. Families will not have to decide whether to spend their money on medicine for a sick child, or food for the rest. Men, women, and children will have the strength they need to fight against the societal blockades keeping them impoverished.
We hope you’ll support us this World Malaria Day in taking a holistic approach to tackling extreme poverty, by recognizing the interconnectedness of problems around the world. Please visit cropwalksf.org to learn more about our Walk and how to be a supporter.
Will you walk with us?
by Katherine Marshall
from Huffington Post
Marley’s ghost, in Charles Dickens’ great moral parable, The Christmas Carol, reflected in anguish on what, beyond the grave, he finally understood to have been his core moral obligation in life: “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”
“Bah, humbug”, responded Ebenezer Scrooge, Marley’s partner in life. So Marley pursued his plan to awaken Scrooge to the realities of need and to tug on his deeply latent conscience. Finally when one of the three Spirits who visits Scrooge by night confronts him with two pathetic children, a vestige of moral sense begins to stir. Asked whose they are, the Spirit answers that they are Man’s. “This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased.”
Just as Marley and his Spirits exhorted Scrooge to confront the realities of poverty and his responsibility to help, we also are confronted during this end of the year holiday season with appeals to our conscience. They come, thick and fast, framed as frantic pleas for help or as generous offers or gentle reminders to contribute to a cause. Each day the mail, phone, and email deliver an extraordinary range of requests to support causes that respond to the urgent needs of our community. The urgent tone of the appeals seem all the more poignant at this time when the “Bah, humbug” Scrooge-style response seems to need seems to have gripped America’s public debate.
The tugs of conscience and appeals for charitable donations call to mind moral values deeply rooted in spiritual teachings. Perhaps the strongest common ground that links the world’s great faith traditions is the call to compassion, to fight precisely Dickens’ ghostly images of ignorance and want. Charitable giving has deep spiritual roots in history. Even in today’s far more pluralistic and secular world, the appeal to spiritual values evokes both the nobility of mankind’s capacity to care and the shame of turning one’s back to those in need. Even the very wealthy, who give less to explicitly religious causes, see religion as key to transmitting their own commitment to charity to their offspring.
What does lead people to give to charity? And what evokes responsibility and caring as Americans look to the nation’s responsibilities towards the world? As always in such matters, the answers are complicated and there is much we do not really understand. But a recent public opinion survey offers evidence of how far values linked to religious teachings do color attitudes towards the broadest policy issues. And it also offers encouraging signs that the appeals to conscience resonate with most Americans. That people respond to an appeal to their better nature echoes long-standing evidence that charitable giving is highest among those who count themselves as believers. What is of particular interest here, however, is the degree to which religious and spiritual values color attitudes to issues that tend to be debated in more technocratic terms.
This program airs throughout December and will be online after Dec 18.
FINDING COMMON GROUND: TODAY’S INTERFAITH MOVEMENT looks at how the interfaith movement has evolved over the years.
The program visits with Rev. Dirk Ficca, Executive Director of the Chicago-based Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions. The Parliament hosts the world’s largest interreligious gathering, meeting every five years in a different part of the world. People of every faith are invited to share their religious identities, dialogue and voice their hopes and concerns for the future.
One of the most interesting things about the modern interfaith movement, according to Rev. Ficca, is that cooperation among people of different faiths is more mainstream than ever. He says, “For me, it’s when a local imam and rabbi and Catholic priest in Downers Grove meet every Thursday for lunch and talk about how to get their three communities to know each other, and somehow replicating that all over the United States, all over the world. That’s where I put my hope.”
We also hear from Dr. Eboo Patel, founder and president of the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC) based in Chicago, Ill. This nonprofit organization was founded in 2002, based on the idea that the most powerful common ground between all faith traditions is the inspiration to serve others. Dr. Patel and his organization are working with the youth of today as a means to thwart religious extremism and encourage interfaith understanding and leadership. “I think the world looks different,” Dr. Patel says, “if America’s college campuses become models of interfaith cooperation and graduate a critical mass of interfaith leaders.”
When the White House announced the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge in March of this year, IFYC worked as an advisor and partnered to craft the nationwide program.
One of the schools participating in the President’s challenge is Albright College, a private liberal arts school in Reading, Penn. Rev. Paul Clark, the school’s chaplain, will be shepherding the project with a group of interfaith student leaders. He says, “If we can apply this kind of model of talking to one another, and then reaching out to the larger community, then something really important could happen here.”
Recently, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that Reading, Penn. has the largest share of residents living in poverty per capita. In an effort to help the marginalized, the religious community of Reading has come together and worked in partnership to help alleviate the symptoms of poverty. We hear from Rabbi Brian I. Michelson, Rabbi of Reform Congregation Oheb Sholom; Elsayed [Steve] Elmarzouky, President of the Islamic Center of Reading, and Michael J. Kaucher, Executive Director of the Reading Berks Conference of Churches, about how working together to serve their community has reinforced their belief in the need for interreligious dialogue and cooperation at the local level.
John P. Blessington is the executive producer and Liz Kineke is the producer. FINDING COMMON GROUND is produced in cooperation with the National Council of Churches, Consortium of Roman Catholic organizations, the Islamic Society of North America, the Union of Reform Judaism and the New York Board of Rabbis.
|Wednesday, December 14, 2011
10:00am U.S. Central Time
This webinar will address spiritual and practical imperatives that emerge from the intersections of religion and development. We now approach the culmination of the Millennium Development Goal challenge set in the year 2000. What are the successes, flops, and challenges we must face to create greater equity in our communities and around the world?
Katherine Marshall is a Senior Fellow at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs and Visiting Professor in the School of Foreign Service. She leads the Berkley Center’s work on faith-inspired institutions working in development, that has involved both a regional “mapping” and explorations of priority development topics, around the basic questions: what can we learn from faith inspired work and why is it important for global development efforts? She is Executive Director of the World Faiths Development Dialogue.
Title: Ending Poverty: Practical Steps for Those Inspired by Their Faith
Date: Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Time: 10:00 AM – 11:00 AM CDT
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Space is limited.
Reserve your Webinar seat now at:
by Oralander Brand-Williams
From The Detroit News
African-American and Jewish community leaders from around the country are expected to wrap up today a conference in Detroit about poverty.
The Mission to Detroit conference, sponsored by the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, brought together activists from both groups to explore ways to battle poverty in their cities.
The year’s conference participants came from around the country, including Nashville, Tenn.; Jacksonville, Fla.; and Providence, R.I.
Jim Vincent, the president of the NAACP branch in Providence, came to Detroit along with Marty Cooper, community relations director for the Community Relations Council of the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island, and Scott Libman, a board member of the Jewish Alliance.
The three men spent a part of Wednesday afternoon weeding an urban garden at the Romanowski Park on Lonyo Street near Livernois. The three said they are taking note of Detroit residents’ use of blighted lots for growing food.
Rhode Island has a 10.9 percent jobless rate, one of the highest in the country.
“Urban gardening is great because it’s about people coming together around a positive issue like food,” Vincent said.
Libman said the conference has given community leaders a chance to look at what they can do to help their cities…
by Ruth Messinger
from the Huffington Post
Last spring, my organization, American Jewish World Service (AJWS), asked its supporters to set an empty place at their Shabbat tables. This was a gesture to show solidarity with the hundreds of millions of people who go to bed hungry every night.
As I prepare for Passover, this year, I’ve decided to incorporate the empty place at my table as a new Seder ritual. This empty place will stand for all those around the world who still lack the basic freedoms that our Seders celebrate. I want my guests to understand that none of us will be truly free until marginalized people everywhere can realize their human rights — access to food and water, gender equality and freedom from violence, government accountability and transparency, access to education and health care, and the list goes on. So, before we begin to sip our first cup of wine, I and my guests will be reciting the lines below.
As we enjoy bountiful food and drink this night and remember our starvation in Egypt … We commit to support those who struggle today with the horrors of hunger.
Among those I’ll be symbolically inviting to join my Seder are the hungry. The Hagaddah itself invokes, “All who are hungry, let them come and eat.” This is more important today than ever, as more than a billion people globally are now living on less than a dollar a day. It is common for people in the Global South to spend 75 percent of their income on food, yet food prices have skyrocketed recently. And in Washington, politics have trumped compassion. Our government is putting the final touches on a federal budget that cuts by 11 percent food aid that is designed to help those who are starving.
By setting an empty place in solidarity with the hungry, I commit myself to promoting food justice by protesting cuts to humanitarian aid, and by supporting communities’ work to grow food.
From The Huffington Post
A Census Bureau report released recently released found the percentage of Americans now living in poverty rose to 14.3 percent in 2009, the highest in decades.
For many of us, this was a huge shock. News like this sends a shudder through our collective spine. And for every family that finds itself now living in poverty, it isn’t a headline at all; it is a personal tragedy.
But as we come to grips with this most recent statistic, we have a dual set of challenges. On one hand, we need to do all in our power to help those struggling here at home. But we also have the challenge of viewing poverty with “global bifocals.” With one portion of the lens we see and attack needs close to home. With the other portion of the lens we focus on the realities of global poverty that may seem far away.
From Florida Today
For two years the Brevard Interfaith Coalition, initiated by Catholic Charities of Central Florida, has helped struggling families and their children during these tough economic times.
Sunday, they took a break from helping the less fortunate to gather and celebrate the work of the last two years by presenting their second annual “FestivALL of Faith” at the Melbourne Auditorium. Government, private non-profit and faith-based organizations sat side by side at information tables answering questions and handing out pamphlets while a band played on stage and folks ate cooked food and baked goodies.
The agencies represented a wide band of social services including child protection, adoption, abuse prevention, drug and alcohol counseling, health care and housing.
“Our goal is to strengthen families and their children, where families are struggling so children don’t get removed to foster care,” said Beverly Lampley, regional director of Catholic Charities of Central Florida.
The coalition was created at the request of area social service agencies and Brevard County to find ways to close the gap in services for families in crisis, look for alternative methods to stem the economic crisis and relieve the burden on government agencies by tapping into the large faith-based volunteer network.