By Bill Webb
Bread for the World describes itself as a "nationwide Christian citizens movement seeking justice for the world's hungry people by lobbying our nation's decision makers." The organization of 54,000 members "seeks justice for hungry people by engaging in research and education on policies related to hunger and development."
It is no surprise that BFW (www.bread.org), which has involved a broad array of Christians from a broad array of religious traditions for many years, is pushing the Hunger-Free Communities Act (S. 1120 in the Senate, H.R. 2717 in the House).
This legislation aims to establish the commitment of the administration and Congress to achieve two significant goals: cutting hunger in the United States in half by 2010 and eliminating it by 2015. It calls on Congress to ensure that national nutrition programs have adequate funding, including food stamps and school meals. The legislation has important evaluative components, requiring "annual reports on progress toward the 2010 goal and better data collection to inform policy makers about who is hungry and why."
The Act will establish a program of grants to community-based organizations working together to end hunger in what is arguably the richest nation on earth.
The Senate bill already has 23 cosponsors, including 14 Democrats, eight Republicans and an Independent. In the U.S. House, 96 representatives have signed on as cosponsors, including 77 Democrats and 19 Republicans. Missouri representatives Ike Skelton and Emanuel Cleaver are among them.
Domestic and world hunger are life-and-death issues; unfortunately, they are not hot-button political issues. Congress will be more likely to address the needs of hungry babies, children and parents if their constituents urge them to do so.
Bread for the World advocates a reasoned approach that includes setting aside money for direct hunger relief, working with effective community-based organizations and constantly evaluating every hunger-relief program and its expenditures.
Among the earliest peoples in Scripture, the existence of hungry people is acknowledged. Processes for providing aid to the less fortunate also were carefully outlined to the people of God. Aiding the poor is never treated as an option in Scripture; Christ Himself treated the care of the poor and lonely as a basis for judgment.
We find it too easy to dismiss this biblical mandate to care for the least among us in our complex society. We too easily dismiss government programs as wasteful and easily compromised by people bent on defrauding the system. We find it too easy to believe that most of the underprivileged are that way by choice. Indeed, scoundrels exist. But people victimized by poverty are a real and significant population segment.
In the Scriptures, many religious leaders became jaded as they saw the poor around them. Some discovered they could easily ignore such people and the scriptural admonition to address poverty. They discovered their own hot-button issues and failed to eradicate hunger in their day.
The Hunger-Free Communities Act is an approach that isn't pork-barrel legislation. It certainly includes putting money behind intentions to do good, much of it at local levels where the most good can be done on short-term and long-term bases. It is the kind of legislation that a broad coalition of religious adherents can encourage.
The reality is that hunger — domestic and international — is a solvable problem worth solving. It is biblical. It is people-based. It should be a task that attracts Christians. Encourage our senators and representatives to make a commitment to eradicate hunger in our country.