The Common Good
September-October 1998

Putting the Poor on the Map

by Duane Shank | September-October 1998

A day of preaching compassion to Congress

A day of preaching compassion to Congress.

In this Washington summer, it sometimes seems the only issue gripping Congress and the media is the ongoing saga of alleged sex scandals in the White House. People who are being removed from public assistance programs are sliding out of sight and out of mind, with few stopping to ask where they are going.

On June 1, Call to Renewal convened a daylong "Capitol Preach-in" to bring the message of God's concern for the poor to the U.S. Congress. Hosted by Rep. Tony Hall (D-Ohio), a dozen of the best-known preachers in America participated in the event. Call to Renewal Convener Jim Wallis set the tone for the day: "The poor in America have become missing persons. We are going to put poor people back on the map in American politics."

Rev. Yvonne Delk, from Chicago, began by saying:

As preachers, we have come to bring the Word of God to the nation's capital. We are here to say that we will not continue to tolerate the fact that most people coming off welfare are not finding jobs, but instead are finding themselves on the streets, in shelters, and in increasingly longer lines for the soup kitchens.

One after another, the preachers proclaimed the Word in the House office building. Rev. James Forbes, of Riverside Church in New York City, declared: "We have all been under a powerful mandate ever since Jesus said that it is illegal in the sight of God to have any economic system that factors in the inevitability of a permanent underclass." Rev. Ray-mond East, of Washington, D.C., told us that God has already given us a welfare reform plan—it's in Leviticus 25 and it's called Jubilee! And Rev. Bill Pannell, from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, reminded us that preaching is not only about words but about announcing our intention to live out the words we proclaim.

Other participants included Tony Campolo, Rev. Eugene Rivers, Rev. Cheryl Sanders, Rev. Leah Gaskin Fitchue, Rev. Will Willimon, Rev. Wallace Charles Smith, and Rev. Nancy Sehested. Ken Medema provided a powerful musical response to the sermons.

Jim Wallis concluded the day: "In our discussions of public morality, it is important that we remember that morality is also about how we treat the poor. On June 1, we reminded Congress about what is important and called America to a new moral awakening about its responsibility to our nation's poorest families."—Duane Shank

Sojourners is an active participant in the Call to Renewal network, providing leadership and organizing support. Write Call to Renewal, 2401 15th St. NW, Washington, DC 20009; call (202) 328-8842; fax (202) 328-8757; e-mail or see the Call to Renewal home page at

Mark your calendars!

National Summit on the church and Welfare Reform

The newly forming Call to Renewal Board of Directors held its first meeting on June 25 and solidified plans for a National Summit on the Church and Welfare Reform. The summit will be held Monday and Tuesday, February 1 and 2, 1999, in Washington, D.C. It will also focus on putting poverty back on the American political map.

The summit goal is to bring together people from organizations and ministries working on the ground to assist families moving from welfare to work. We will share our experiences with each other, analyze what is working and what isn't, and develop a set of policy recommendations to urge on the new Congress—what "mid-course corrections" are needed two years into the post-welfare era.

Churches and faith-based organizations around the country have been developing a variety of creative and innovative new ministries. In areas from job training to child care, mentoring to transportation, people are finding assistance to change their lives. The stories of this work need to be told to the nation. Out of the experience in these ministries, we are also learning what needs to be done further in public policy.

The faith community has responded to the challenge and is doing its part. But in order truly to move people not just off welfare but out of poverty to dignity and community, government must do its part. The summit will assess and propose the new policies and programs that are necessary.

Plan now to join us in February; more details will be coming soon.

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