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Ecumenical leaders call for more action on racism and poverty

PC(USA) advocacy offices among those urging White House, Congress and churches to act with urgency

by Darla Carter | Presbyterian News Service

Churches and public officials are being urged to mobilize against racism and poverty. (Photo by Levi Meir Clancy via Unsplash)

LOUISVILLE — Advocacy offices of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) have signed onto an ecumenical statement calling for President Biden, members of Congress, and churches to step up efforts to fight racism and poverty.

The Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, advocacy director of the Washington-based Office of Public Witness and the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations, has signed “God’s Call to Action Against Racism and Poverty in 2024.”

The statement is signed by nearly 75 leaders from various denominations, churches and institutions, including the National Council of Churches, the National Association of Evangelicals, and The Episcopal Church, as well as the National African American Clergy Network, Friends Committee on National Legislation, NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice and the Asian American Christian Collaborative. It was initiated by the Circle of Protection, a coalition of church bodies and related ministries.

“As leaders from diverse segments of U.S. Christianity, we are called by the Spirit to work together with new urgency against racism and poverty in America,” the leaders state. “Racism and poverty have increased over the last couple of years, and God is calling us to respond. These are matters of simple morality, important to people of all faiths and no faith. They are also grounded in our Scriptures and our experience of the grace of God in Jesus Christ.”

The “God’s Call” statement notes that the nation has a history and legacy of racism and mistreatment of minorities, including African Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans and Latinos, and that people of color continue to suffer with high rates of death during childbirth as well as fear of gun violence and hate crimes. It also mentions reduction of efforts to promote racial equity in the workplace, dismantling of affirmative action, merely modest police reforms, and election concerns.

It notes that “14 states passed legislation to restrict voting in 2023, and another six states passed legislation that will facilitate partisan interference in elections.”

On the subject of poverty, the ecumenical statement contends that “racial and ethnic minorities suffer a disproportionate share of the nation’s poverty because of past and present discrimination.”

The “God’s Call” statement notes that some programs that provided relief to people during the pandemic are no longer in effect and that “many members of Congress continue pushing for deep cuts in poverty-important programs.”

Hawkins said it was important to sign the statement because poverty has reached unacceptable levels, and the country can do better to provide a home and hope to the unhoused.

“Much of the response from local governments has been to criminalize being impoverished,” he said. “Cities have implemented prohibitions that prevent those living on the streets from even taking up any type of residence in city parks and public places.”

He went on to say that at Union Station in Washington, D.C., “houseless men and women, most of them African American, populate both the terminal and sit on the bench at the Christopher Columbus monument. They are hungry with no place to offer them welcome. Solutions include the construction of affordable and subsidized affordable housing units and greater resources towards homeless shelters.”

The “God’s Call” statement calls on churches to mobilize, noting that “racism is in conflict with the biblical teaching that we are all made in the image of God (Genesis 1)” and that churches and Christians “need to do more to influence public policy,” adding, “We are called to be active in this year’s elections with racism and poverty in mind.”

The U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. (Photo courtesy of Office of Public Witness)

In a section directed at President Joe Biden and Congress, the leaders call for expansion of a child tax credit for low-income families. It goes on to say, “We look forward to a time when Congress can take bipartisan action on voting rights, gun violence, and discrimination against racial, ethnic, and religious minorities. Even now, we look to political leaders from both parties to speak out on these issues.”

Read the full statement here. A companion resource, “Anti-Racism Educational Resources for Local Churches,” and can be found here.

The Office of Public Witness and the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations are part of the Compassion, Peace and Justice ministries of the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

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