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COMMENTARY: Cuts to food stamps flout the gospel message

(RNS) In his first Advent address, Pope Francis directed Christians to be guided by the “Magnificat,” Mary’s song of praise for the coming Christ child. She proclaims that God has “lifted up the lowly and filled the hungry with good things” (Luke 1:52-53). This past Tuesday, Pope Francis heeded his own exhortation by releasing a video message calling for an end to hunger as part of a worldwide “wave of prayer.”

Hundreds of Christian organizations across the globe participated in the “wave of prayer,” which was organized by Caritas International, a confederation of Catholic charities in the Vatican.

“We are in front of a global scandal of around 1 billion people who still suffer from hunger today,” Pope Francis said in his message. “We cannot look the other way.” The wave began at noon on the Pacific island of Samoa and proceeded west with people of faith from each subsequent time zone participating at noon their time.

Participation in this global prayer wave spread well beyond the Catholic world. It drew support from across the ideological and theological spectrum. Young evangelicals prayed with Episcopal grandmothers. Protestants prayed with Roman Catholics.

In Washington, members of Congress from both parties held a noon prayer service with Circle of Protection, a group of 65 heads of denominations, relief and development agencies, and other Christian organizations.

Pope Francis’ call for prayer to end hunger could not have come at a more important time. While the world is near cutting hunger in the developing world in half by 2015, one in eight people all over the world still suffer from chronic hunger.

Video courtesy Caritas Internationalis via YouTube

In our country, however, you do not see this global exodus from hunger. Rather, it is growing. Today, 17 million children will go hungry because their parents can’t afford to feed them one or more days each month. Nearly a million veterans who sacrificed so much in service to our country depend on food stamps so they can eat. Remarkably, at a time when one in four Americans say they have struggled to put food on the table, Congress has chosen to slash one of the most effective anti-hunger programs in the country, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAP or food stamps.

Congress’ recent cuts to SNAP will eliminate 10 million meals per day that American families and veterans have been depending on. Nearly 5 million of those meals would have gone to children — the equivalent of eliminating daily meals for every child in South Carolina, Iowa, Minnesota, Colorado, Oregon, and Mississippi.

These recent cuts to SNAP eliminate more meals than what Catholic Charities, churches, food pantries, and all other charities combined are able to provide with our already stretched resources. Churches and food pantries would need to more than double what they raise to fill the gap left by Congress’ cuts to SNAP. And now Congress is considering additional cuts that would be four to five times as large!

Such actions should be anathema to all Americans, and especially to Christians. Seeking to balance budgets on the backs of hungry children and veterans does not represent American values. It clearly doesn’t heed the gospel call to lift up the lowly and feed the hungry.

david beckmann

The Rev. David Beckmann is president of Bread for the World and a World Food Prize laureate. Photo courtesy Bread for the World

It’s time for a new direction. That is why Christians are coming together, not just to pray but also to witness to our leaders that we expect more from them. We believe our capacity to achieve is greater than the obstacles that are before us. Caring for the hungry in our midst is not an unattainable dream; it is the least we are called to do.

 (The Rev. Larry Snyder is president of Catholic Charities USA. The Rev. David Beckmann is president of Bread for the World and a World Food Prize laureate. )


About the author

David Beckmann

David Beckmann is a Lutheran minister and the president of Bread for the World, a Washington-based anti-hunger advocacy group.

About the author

Larry Snyder


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  • I really don’t get how some people consider themselves Christians, but believe in the “Free market”, “Greed is good”, “Look out for your own damn self” message of the far right “Ultra Conservative” Tea party faction of the Republican party. A party that appears to be making moves to distancing themselves from it.

    Me, I’m not a believer, more accurately an “Anti-theist”, but believe it or not, I have morals and ethics that most would agree are in line with what most Christians purport to have, although not obviously not those who consider themselves right wing; I’m more centrist than left wing though.

    I’ve read their book several times, and if you throw out the OT horror story, and narrow it down to different versions of the books of the NT, I just don’t get the conservative right wing message in it.

    In fact, I get a message that is quite opposite of it. Just one example; In Mathew 14:12-21 (not written by Mathew by the way), Jesus rejected the use of the free market his disciples urged him to use to feed these people, but instead set up what some would call a socialist food giveaway program, supposedly feeding the masses with bread and fish. He didn’t call any of them “takers”, and he didn’t insists that watchdogs be put in place to insure no one took without needing. He just gave, freely, with love, and without conditions, or hesitation. How can you reconcile your beliefs with these teaching actions and still call yourself a Christian?

    I see such great divide in the Catholic church because of political opinions, and am torn by it. In one sense I am thrilled as I would love to see the demise of all stupidstitious (add that one to the lexicon as well, please) institutions, but in another sense I recognize the financial power this church has. Financial power not only because of its massive wealth, but financial power in that it can influence its membership into action as well; action which could be used to help the poor.

    I offer only one more example, and recognize this example is concerning only followers, which hopefully will resonate with some of you even more. In Acts 4:32-37, 5:1-11, with Peter & John, not only did everyone share everything, even going so far as to sell all their property and put it in a common pot (socialism), but when Ananias and his wife Sapphira got greedy, your God killed them.

  • Earold, I suggest another take on the entire welfare issue. You cite Scripture, but keep in mind that the commandments from Scripture are for its believers. You’ll find nothing in the Bible that suggests the State is responsible for taking care of us. None of the words of Jesus support this, either. The commands are that we as individuals act with charity.

    No, I do not rule out the citizenry giving the state some role in this. The problem is that the state under the liberal/socialist agenda continues to expand its power in order to make all of us dependents of the state, and the state expands its power without consulting the citizenry.

    I am amused when non-believers wish to use the Bible to support their own agenda but want nothing to do with a creche in the public square at Christmas.

  • The editor-in-chief recently asked for examples of a liberal bias in RNS. I invite him to look at the headers and substance of many of the columns presented today. I have noted before, however, that liberals cannot see their own liberalism on display and, thus, cannot acknowledge it. Conservatives have no such problem.

  • Duane, I suggest you may want read what I wrote again. The very reason I cited scripture was for the believers who think that food stamps for those who need them to eat is somehow not in concurrence with how your Christ acted in the book they believe is the words of your God. Nothing I wrote remotely suggests anything about the state being responsible for this, but since no other entity has enough money to do this, it is the only way currently possible. Also, I mention his aversion to the use of the free market,but you didn’t respond to that, but twist, twist away.
    I disagree the agenda of the state is to make citizens dependant on them. Two things would have to exist for this to be true, the “state” would have to work in harmony, and not even one political party can do this, and two there would be a logical objective for it, and I see none. The facts are that the last decade has resulted in a disparity between rich and poor unseen in modern times. Economic factors having to do with global competition has left many out of the American dream. Even your Pope has spoken about CEO’s making 5000% more than the average worker, which is nothing short of obscene.
    As a former believer I know that the majority of those who believe only do so because of childhood programming and that for the most part, have not actually even read this book from start to finish for themselves, even once. Instead they are lazy and rely on their clergy to not only cherry pick verses, but interpret what they think it means as well; a perfect recipe for keeping the flocks docile and in line. I was one of them, lost, until I started studying for myself, but now I am found, was once blind, but now I can see…sorry, force of habit.
    Finally, I was under the distinct impression that you, at least consider yourself to be, a patriotic citizen of this country. That you would support the display of a religious icon on property owned by all of the citizens, when not all of the citizens support the beliefs of the specific religion violates the separation of church and state. If any religious believers is so weak in their faith that they need to see this displayed publically, they need to question their beliefs.

  • Duane, That last part was meant to be a joke right? If not, then you are so far right you have fallen off.