The Common Good

We Asked; They Answered: Obama, Romney on Poverty

Sojomail - September 13, 2012

Hearts & Minds by Jim Wallis

We Asked; They Answered: Obama, Romney on Poverty

Get a free trial issue of Sojourners Get a free issue of Sojourners
Donate to Support Sojourners
Donate to support

A new precedent was set yesterday. For years Christians have been separated by elections, but finally, we share a common-ground moral issue: poverty—what is happening to God’s most vulnerable children here in America and around the world. 

Across the political and theological spectrum, the faith community is putting aside differences and taking up the biblical vocation of protecting the poor and bringing their stories and struggles to light. It’s because of this unprecedented unity around those whom Jesus called "the least of these" that the presidential candidates felt they had to respond.

With a unified voice, a broad array of Christian leaders came together to challenge the presidential candidates to directly address the issue of poverty. That’s because, as you have heard, the poverty numbers reported yesterday by the Census Bureau are not just numbers for us—they are people we know, children that we have come to love, and families we have watched struggle so painfully. 

There is a growing consensus that poverty is Christian issue, and that it has always been—one of our most traditional values issues. There are a lot of issues Christians should care about and a lot of different thoughts on the best ways to express that, but when casting a ballot every Christian should have “the least of these” on their minds. 

That is why we stood side by side yesterday at the National Press Club — leaders from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the National Association of Evangelicals, the National Council of Churches, black and Hispanic churches, the Salvation Army, Bread for the World, and Sojourners, all asking that the presidential candidates address the economic hardships and hopelessness felt by far too many of our brothers and sisters.  

The biblical prophets clearly say that a nation’s righteousness is determined by how it treats its poor and vulnerable. And Jesus could not be more clear in Matthew 25: the ways that we treat the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the homeless, the sick, the prisoner — all those left out and left behind—is the way we treat him. How much we love him will be demonstrated in how we treat them. And, we pointed out, that Gospel text is addressed not only to individual followers of Christ, but also to the “nations," which will also be held accountable for how they treat the poor. And as we said today, the new numbers on poverty released yesterday by the Census Bureau leave us with a very poor “Matthew 25 scorecard.”

Therefore, as the faith leaders said today, we have no choice but to respond when we learn that so many of our brothers and sisters are living in poverty. It makes these presidential candidate videos ones that every Christian should watch before they vote.

We asked the candidates, what will you do to address the highest numbers of people in poverty in America in almost 50 years—numbers that we learned today are still growing? We believe these messages from the presidential candidates should lift the issues of poverty into the national debate in this election season.

We invite members of the press to watch these videos and to question these candidates even further about their visions and policy choices for overcoming poverty. The poverty numbers that came out yesterday require responsible journalists to make the question of poverty an important part of this election year discussion. 

After three consecutive years of increases, we now have 46 million people in our country, or 15 percent of the population, living in poverty. While, thankfully, there was not a significant increase this year, the data also reveal that income inequality continues to rise. 

With the highest poverty numbers in almost 50 years, we intend to hold these candidates accountable in this campaign and after the election for the commitments they both make here today.  

There is some good news; many of the social safety net programs in place are doing just what they are intended to do and helping keep families out of poverty. In 2011, Social Security kept 21.4 million people out of poverty, including 14.5 million seniors, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) kept 3.9 million people out of poverty, the Earned Income Tax Credit kept 5.7 million people out of poverty, and unemployment insurance another 2.3 million people. 

There are many things that will be necessary to reducing and overcoming poverty, as both of these videos suggest. But we need a new national commitment and a new strategy on poverty in America and around the world. We didn’t hear that kind of commitment or conversation at either convention and don’t hear poverty on the agenda for this election. That ends today, with this witness from faith leaders and these presidential videos. The faith community has asked both presidential nominees for a response and they have answered. So it’s time now to put poverty on the campaign agenda, from our local churches to our public forums to our presidential debates.

So let me introduce these two videos for you to watch and share with this important statement: 

The Christian leaders who initiated the "Circle of Protection" asked the two major nominees for president to offer a brief video about how they would seek to overcome poverty as president.  The Christian leaders express their thanks to both President Obama and Gov. Romney for their positive responses to this request. The leaders also wish to make clear that this effort in no way offers or implies an endorsement of either candidate or the proposals in their statements. Likewise, the participation of President Obama and Gov. Romney does not offer or imply an endorsement of the positions taken by the Circle of Protection or its members.

So please, go HERE to watch, share, and respond.

Jim Wallis is the author of Rediscovering Values: A Guide for Economic and Moral Recovery, and CEO of Sojourners. Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.

E-mailE-mail this article to friends
FacebookShare this article on Facebook
CommentComment on this article on the God's Politics Blog


+ See what's new on the blog of Jim Wallis and friends

Shane Claiborne: Of Slingshots, Plowshares, and Kitchen Hammers
by Shane Claiborne

In the predawn hours of July 28, three unarmed peace activists entered the Y-12 nuclear plant and, over a matter of hours, made their unprecedented way through the layers of security to the very heart of the facility, where they performed a prayerful service, hung "crime-scene" tape and poured human blood as a symbol of the violence of nuclear weapons. One of the intruders was an 82-year-old nun who is now an international celebrity. It's a contemporary story of David and Goliath, the shepherd boy who took on a giant with nothing but a slingshot.
+ Click to continue

Eleven Songs in Memory of Sept. 11, 2001
by Cathleen Falsani

Eleven songs in memory of 9/11 from Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, Suzanne Vega, Moby and Sinead O'Connor, Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris, Leonard Cohen, Tori Amos, John Hiatt, U2, and Hunter Parrish (from 2012's Broadway revival of "Godspell").
+ Click to continue

Sometimes It Hurts; A Sermon on Healing
by Nadia Bolz-Weber

This system we have where we all agree on who the real drunk is and who the real liar is and who the real emotionally needy person is and who is obviously disabled person works really well for us.  That is, until Jesus shows up and ruins it.

Because when Jesus showed up, I think it's interesting that he took that deaf man away from the THEY. He removes him from that system. He sticks his fingers in his ears and spits and touched his tongue and looks to heaven and the text says, he sighed. He looked to heaven and sighed. And the thing is, Jesus didn't then rebuke the man or his deafness. He didn't say, I cast out the demon of deafness. He just touched him, looked to heaven, sighed and said "BE OPEN."
+ Click to continue

6 Suggestions for Christians for Engaging in Politics
by Justin Fung

Every four years (or every two, if you pay attention to mid-terms; or all the time, if you're even more politically engaged), posts about politics pop up with increasing frequency on social media, eliciting often-furious back-and-forths that usually end up doing nothing more than reminding each side how right they are and how stupid the other side is.

So I figured I'd try to offer a few suggestions on how we can engage with one another on matters of politics in healthy ways.
+ Click to continue

A Season of Civility in Response to Campaign Incivility
by Brian E. Konkol

"In a democracy, the people get the government they deserve." – Alexis de Tocqueville

With the Democratic and Republican national conventions behind us, and an increase of political campaigning in front of us, we recognize the timeliness of the above quotation from Alexis de Tocquville. In a democracy the citizens choose their government, thus we indeed receive the government we deserve.
+ Click to continue


Click Here!

Click Here!

Click Here!

Click Here!

Click Here!

Click Here!

Click Here!

Click Here!

Seeking a Pastor / Head of Staff to serve the Fourth Presbyterian Church of Chicago, a 5,400-member downtown congregation, to continue its dynamic preaching tradition, nurture spiritual development, and support its mission work. Email:

The Line: Poverty in America: It’s not what you think. Watch Trailer!

God is NOT a Republican or a Democrat. During this election season arm yourself with a political statement that makes sense. Get your sticker today!

New Item from Sojourners! Send a message from Dorothy Day with your reusable, packable, durable Tote/Grocery Bag for all your stuff. Available exclusively from the SojoStore.


Click Here!

GIVE TO SOJOURNERS: Donate now to support this voice for justice and peace.

GET THE MAGAZINE: Subscribe today

CONTACT US: General inquiries: | Advertising: | About Us

PRIVACY NOTICE: Sojourners won't trade, sell, or give away your e-mail address. Read our privacy policy.