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See Related 11/16/2000 NCC News Story: NCC Launches 10-Year "Mobilization to Overcome Poverty"

November 15, 2000, ATLANTA, Ga. – It is important who wins and loses elections, but the leading question facing the United States won’t change regardless of who becomes this nation’s next president – "What are we going to do about poverty in this country?"

In back-to-back addresses to the National Council of Churches annual General Assembly, both William Gray of the United Negro College Fund and Jim Wallis of the Call to Renewal made that point, challenging people of faith to, in Gray’s words, "call the nation to a new sense of commitment and responsibility" to end poverty.

Gray noted that neither Bush nor Gore talked much "about how we are going to eliminate the poverty affecting 13 million of our children, who live in the richest of lands but who go to bed hungry and without adequate health care, and 21 million of our adults."

"I know many of you are waiting to know who’s going to be the next president," he said as the recounting of ballots in Florida and the concomitant legal wrangling entered its second week. "The real question isn’t who’s going to be president but what is it we as a nation are going to do with the $4.5 trillion surplus that’s projected for next 10 years."

"We must make a moral claim," Wallis said. "In a time of unprecedented prosperity, one in six U.S. children live in poverty, and one in every four children of color lives in poverty. In this country we have a contradiction that is harder and harder to endure. I believe it’s pricking the nation’s conscience. It is the unanswered moral question, ‘What is this prosperity for?’"

Both Wallis and Gray urged the faith community’s particular attention to the demographics of poverty and the rapidly changing demographics of the United States. In 50 years, half of Americans will be people of color, Gray said, a population that is disproportionately impoverished.

Gray pointed to the work of the United Negro College Fund, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and others to ensure that impoverished minority youth of outstanding academic ability get higher education. "The biggest barrier to getting a college education is not values, culture, your SAT score or your grade point average, it’s money," Gray said.

Gray and Wallis both were thanked with standing ovations as they kicked off the NCC General Assembly’s afternoon of intensive work to launch a new, 10-year "Mobilization to Overcome Poverty." Delegates from the Council’s 35 Protestant and Orthodox member communions continued that work in small groups, the results of which will be reported out on Thursday morning.

The second major focus of the Nov. 14-17 NCC General Assembly is exploring how a divided church – U.S. Protestants, Orthodox, Roman Catholics, Pentecostals and Evangelicals – might find new ways to work together. Quite possibly, these two distinct initiatives may intersect in a broad effort together against poverty.

Declared Gray, "We need you now, National Council, more than ever before to stand up and let your light shine brightly so that children, the hungry, the needy, the millions without healthcare may know that someone is on the battlefield" on their behalf.

"I say to you, keep preaching the whole gospel," which, he said, ministers to both soul and body. "The day will come when the Lord won’t want to hear about how many sermons you preached or about your personal salvation alone. The Lord will say, ‘I was hungry, naked, thirsty … "

Affirmed Wallis, "I’m very drawn to this Mobilization to Overcome Poverty that the NCC has announced. I believe it is a concrete sign of what I see God doing across this country. When I see the Jubilee 2000 debt reduction campaign, the Call to Renewal, the NCC’s Mobiilization to Overcome Poverty – I have to believe something new is happening. This is a movement whose time has come."

"It’s time for a new ‘network of networks," he said, noting that the Call to Renewal is "a table, a safe place" where Christians from across the theological spectrum "are finding a common vision and voice. I hope these new relationships will help fuel greater unity. I see churches dropping their ‘gang colors,’ people who’ve not been together saying, ‘It’s time for us to come together.’

"We must find a way to take the National Council of Churches, the National Association of Evangelicals, the Roman Catholic Bishops … magnify our public voice and lead our nation to a different vision," Wallis said. "I’m not sure I know how to partner and coordinate all this, but we can do it if we think ‘movement.’"


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