Friday, March 03, 2006

Bread for the World -- A Rationale

Our Session recently acted to become a covenant partner with Bread for the World, and in the course of discussion it became obvious that there were questions about the nature of the organization and its lobbying activities. This article was written originally to address those concerns. Specific references to our congregation have been edited.

A consensus is starting to emerge among people of faith that, in the face of many exacerbating factors, simply feeding people is not going to end the problem of hunger. We believe that a successful strategy to eliminate hunger involves reducing or eliminating the corrosive effects of extreme poverty.

Former Senator George McGovern has teamed with Bob Dole and Donald E. Messer in the writing of a book titled Ending Hunger Now published in September 2005 by Augsburg Fortress Press. The themes of this book have considerable overlap with the goals of Bread for the World and the PC(USA).

In Africa, disease, corruption, civil war, massive debt, unfair trade and extreme poverty all contribute to hunger. Bread for the World is a partner along with many religious denominations and relief organizations in The One Campaign, an organization devoted to addressing the full range of causes of hunger in the world. The Presbyterian Church (USA) has recently joined this partnership.

While war within our borders may not contribute to hunger in the United States, poverty, corruption and disease do. We have seen how recent natural disasters have affected people of all economic strata. But we have also seen how the lowest areas in New Orleans tended to be occupied by people from the lowest economic strata, thus the long-term effects of the disaster fall disproportionately upon them.

We are fortunate in this nation to have a safety net that ensures that the poor are fed: Medicaid, food stamps, WIC, school lunches, and other programs are the basis of this support. Unfortunately such programs have proven to be vulnerable to budget cuts. The Central Missouri Food Bank struggles every day to meet the needs of the less fortunate – imagine how much more difficult it would be if the Federal programs that provide basic nutritional needs for the poor are reduced or eliminated?

Bread for the World is, in their own words, “a nationwide Christian citizens movement seeking justice for the world's hungry people by lobbying our nation's decision makers.” BFW works in a non-partisan way to encourage legislative bodies to support anti-hunger initiatives. To this end BFW has helped forge bipartisan support for such legislation as the Hunger-Free Communities Act of 2005 (S. 1120 and H.R. 2717). This legislation has 30 cosponsors in the Senate and 117 cosponsors in the House. BFW activities have been instrumental in the passage of several acts to increase development assistance to Africa as well as funding to fight disease and eliminate hunger. Former Senator Bob Dole and former Congressman Leon Panetta have written a letter endorsing BFW’s 2005 Make Hunger History initiative.
Bread for the World is a lobbying organization, but they are lobbyists with a difference:

  • They proceed from a firm Christian faith.
  • They do not advocate for themselves, but rather on behalf of those who are hungry, sick, and without shelter.
  • They are non-partisan in philosophy and action, and have built effective consensus on both sides of the political divide.

Is lobbying legal for churches and other nonprofit organizations? Yes, according to the IRS, provided lobbying does not make up a “substantial part” of the overall activities of the church (IRS Publication 1828 pp 5-6). These include direct financial support, letter writing, and time spent by paid staff and volunteers. The Presbyterian Church (USA) engages in well-organized lobbying via the Presbyterian Hunger Program and the Washington Office, yet stays well within IRS guidelines.

Covenant membership in Bread for the World entails a financial commitment that is determined by the individual church. Some churches provide as much as $5000 per year while others can afford only $50. The average yearly commitment is $500. In addition to a financial commitment, covenant partners meet their half of the covenant by helping to educate the congregation about hunger issues (Bread for the World provides educational materials) and responding to calls for letter writing to local elected officials.

As Christians we are not alone in this effort. There are hundreds of individual congregations, including 180 Presbyterian churches and three presbyteries that have joined Bread for the World as Covenant Partners. In Missouri there are 11 Covenant Partners. Nationwide, over 35 denominations and church-related organizations have partnered with BFW in local, institutional and financial ways.

Bread for the World attempts to influence public policy in a way that is consistent with our call from God (Deuteronomy 10:17-18; Proverbs 14:31; Isaiah 10:1-2; Jeremiah 29:4-7; Micah 6:8; Luke 4:16-20; Matthew 25:31-46). The Mission Committee believes it is entirely appropriate to engage in non-partisan efforts to influence public policy in furtherance of our Christian calling. Our primary Mission efforts will remain unchanged – providing direct aid to organizations that serve those in need – but by allocating a small portion of our budget toward influencing public policy issues that affect the poor among us, we recognize that the solution to hunger here and abroad involves more than just feeding people.

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