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Religious leaders urge the presidential candidates
to use their voices for persons living in poverty
 

New York, October 13, 2008 – The worldwide economic crisis effects most households, and both major party presidential candidates are expressing their solidarity with middle class people on main street. 

But leaders of the National Council of Churches and its member communions are reminding Senators John McCain and Barack Obama that persons living in poverty in the United States and around the world are hurt the most by the economic downturn.

"As we consider bailouts and recovery plans, we now need to hear your voices demanding that the plight of America’s poorest citizens, and the needs of people living in poverty around the world, will be addressed," the religious leaders said today in an open letter to the candidates.  

The letter was signed by the National Council of Churches President, Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, and the General Secretary, the Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon. Fourteen Heads of NCC member communions added their name to the letter on October 13, and more are expected to follow. 

 “Today it is not enough simply to address the misdeeds of those who bear significant responsibility for this crisis, or to respond to the problems and anxieties of the middle class, as important as they may be,” the letter says. “Our Christian faith calls us to give particular attention to our most vulnerable neighbors, to children, and to people living in extreme poverty.“ 

“The suffering and the fear experienced by people of all economic conditions today are real,” the letter said. “Each of you has spoken with genuine concern about the suffering of the middle class, and we all need to sense your understanding, your compassion, and your commitment. But economic suffering has not been and is not now equally felt, here in the United States or around the globe. We urge you to speak with equal clarity about the suffering of people living in poverty.  As Christians called to follow Jesus in his special care for the poor, we share with you the responsibility for our neighbors who suffer the most from the reality of poverty.”  

The reality of the economic crisis, the letter said, is that as Americans grapple with financial uncertainty, “ generosity decreases to food banks and other programs aimed at emergency assistance. The impact of our crisis is not just on Wall Street or Main Street; it is also in the alleys of our urban tenements and housing projects, the lanes of rural America, and the forgotten cities and villages of the impoverished southern hemisphere. ” 

During the remaining days of the presidential campaign, as either John McCain or Barack Obama prepares for a transition to the White House, the religious leaders wrote: “We pledge to you our commitment to making poverty a moral priority for our nation.  We trust you will embrace that commitment with us.” 

The full text of the letter follows:


October 13, 2008

Senator John McCain
Senator Barack Obama

Dear Senators McCain and Obama: 

As leaders of member communions of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA, we write with prayerful concern for each of you, knowing that the profound financial crisis has intensified the burdens on you and for your colleagues in leadership. These are not easy times.

As we consider bailouts and recovery plans, we now need to hear your voices demanding that the plight of America’s poorest citizens, and the needs of people living in poverty around the world, will be addressed.   

The suffering and the fear experienced by people of all economic conditions today are real. Each of you has spoken with genuine concern about the suffering of the middle class, and we all need to sense your understanding, your compassion, and your commitment. But economic suffering has not been and is not now equally felt, here in the United States or around the globe. We urge you to speak with equal clarity about the suffering of people living in poverty.  As Christians called to follow Jesus in his special care for persons living in poverty, we share with you the responsibility for our neighbors who suffer the most from the reality of poverty.   

During the campaign both of you have shared with us the importance of your faith for shaping your public leadership.  Now is the time to give expression to that faith by placing the issue of poverty at the center of our public agenda, calling us as a nation to greater compassion and to a bold response to the demands of justice. In the words of Jesus and the prophets, it is time “to bring good news to the poor.” 

Long before the current financial crisis, poverty was a crisis in our nation and in the world.  Thirty-seven million Americans live below the official poverty line.  One in three Americans will experience poverty within a 13 year period.  Recent studies have shown that our  methods of tracking poverty rates are 50 years out of date, suggesting that the number of neighbors living in extreme poverty is actually far greater than government statistics indicate. The deterioration of the “safety-net” for poor people over the past 10 to 15 years has further exacerbated the desperate circumstances of persons living in poverty. Although it is not a new problem, we have too often ignored poverty.  We need to hear your voices now, calling Americans to confront the scandal of poverty that we have long denied. 

Today’s global financial crisis makes the desperate condition of poor people even more compelling.  Homeowners are losing their homes and renters are finding themselves without shelter and without the financial means to pay up-front costs for new apartments.  September was the ninth straight month of job losses, and the growth of the unemployment rate from 5.7 percent to 6.1 percent are evidence that many are without income and health insurance.  Revenue losses have led at least 22 states to enact budget cuts affecting services for the elderly, children, and persons with disabilities. Several states have cut vital Medicaid and SCHIP programs that provide health care for our most vulnerable citizens.  As more and more Americans face economic uncertainty, generosity decreases to food banks and other programs aimed at emergency assistance. The impact of our crisis is not just on Wall Street or Main Street; it is also in the alleys of our urban tenements and housing projects, the lanes of rural America, and the forgotten cities and villages of the impoverished southern hemisphere.  

We need to hear your voices now, reminding us of the least of these whose suffering is increasing with each passing day of this economic crisis. 

We write to you with gratitude for your readiness to offer yourselves for public service. Know that our prayers are with you as you enter into the arduous final days of this presidential campaign. 

During the remaining days of this campaign, and as one of you moves forward to inauguration as our next president, we pledge to you our commitment to making poverty a moral priority for our nation.  We trust you will embrace that commitment with us. 

Sincerely,   

       

Archbishop Vicken Aykazian                                                                            Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon
President                                                                                                               General  Secretary

 


The Rev. Wesley Granberg-Michaelson
General Secretary, Reformed Church in America

Sylvia Graves
General Secretary, Friends United Meeting

Mark S. Hanson
Presiding Bishop, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop, Episcopal Church

His Eminence Archbishop Mor Cyril Aphrem Karim
Archdiocese of the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch

Ms. Christine Laitner
Swedenborgian Church in North America

The Rev. Michael Livingston
Executive Director, International Council of Community Churches

The Rev. Dr. A. Roy Medley
General Secretary, American Baptist Churches USA

Stanley J. Noffsinger
General Secretary, Church of the Brethren

Bishop Gregory Vaughn Palmer
President of the Council of Bishops of the United Methodist Church


The Rev. Gradye Parsons
Stated Clerk, Presbyterian Church (USA)

Bishop Sharon Zimmerman Rader
Ecumenical Officer, United Methodist Church

Rev. Dr. William J. Shaw
President, National Baptist Convention USA, Inc.

The Rev. John H. Thomas
General Minister and President, United Church of Christ

The Rev. Sharon E. Watkins
General Minister and President, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

 NCC News contact: Philip E. Jenks, 212-870-2228, NCCNews@ncccusa.org 


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