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Register for free online PC(USA) book study of ‘Poverty, by America’

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Matthew Desmond to make a guest appearance

by Darla Carter | Presbyterian News Service

The free online denomination-wide book study will be held every Monday in February.

LOUISVILLE — The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “Poverty, by America” will take part in the kickoff of a four-week book study being held next month by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

Registration is open now for the free online study, which will feature Matthew Desmond in the Feb. 5 session. Discussions will continue each Monday in February to help give participants a heightened understanding of the insidious nature of systemic poverty.

“It’s not about people being lazy, not all those things we have traditionally talked about regarding personal responsibility,” said the Rev. Dr. Alonzo Johnson, coordinator of the Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People (SDOP), one of several ministries involved in the book study.

In “Poverty, by America,” Desmond, a sociologist who won the Pulitzer for a previous book, “Evicted,” argues that poverty exists because many people and corporate America profit from it.

“I wrote this book because children by the millions are not getting enough to eat in the richest country on the planet,” Desmond says in a YouTube clip about the book. He also refers to poverty as a “capability destroyer” and a “dream killer” and urges people to become “poverty abolitionists.”

The Rev. Rebecca Barnes (Photo by Rich Copley)

The Rev. Rebecca Barnes, coordinator of the Presbyterian Hunger Program, said, “In this book study we hope as many Presbyterians as possible can listen, learn, and share together about the author’s premises and our own experience and knowledge of root causes of poverty.”

Johnson said the book has much to offer to help people’s understanding and to motivate them.

“This book is very detailed and thorough in laying out the intersections of systemic poverty — everything from mental health, employment, gender, and a whole plethora of issues — and it is clear about the way the systems contribute to poverty in a way that is not partisan,” Johnson said. “This book is very approachable.”

The Rev. Dr. Alonzo Johnson (Photo by Rich Copley)

A few chapters a week will be covered in the 7:30 p.m. Eastern Time book study, and breakout rooms will be available for people who want to have conversations in smaller settings about specific questions and personal connections.

The book study is being organized by a poverty consulting group of Presbyterian national staff, mid council staff and volunteers, and some Presbyterians “at large” who’ve met monthly and worked for a number of years on eradicating systemic poverty, one of the foci of the PC(USA)’s Matthew 25 invitation.

“The group read and discussed this book together last year and wanted to then be able to offer it to the wider church,” Barnes said. “We hope that after the book study, folks will take it to their own churches or book groups or presbytery spaces.”

In the YouTube clip, Desmond encourages viewers to work to fight poverty by taking steps such as examining their own consumer choices and supporting affordable housing in their communities.

The Rev. Carl Horton (Photo by Rich Copley)

“It is exciting that author Matthew Desmond will be with us for the beginning of this denominational-wide Matthew 25 book study on poverty,” said the Rev. Carl Horton, coordinator of the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program. “It is our hope that Mr. Desmond will provide helpful background to the book for our readers and that he will challenge the PC(USA) and its members, congregations and mid councils to meaningful action to alleviate poverty.”

Efforts already are underway by the denomination and its partners.

“The author talks a lot at the end of the book about fusion coalitions — building relationships and networks with people to end poverty,” Barnes said. “Presbyterians already have multiple strong relationships, organizations and outlets through which we can take action,” including Compassion, Peace and Justice ministries such as SDOP and PHP, and the action alerts of the Presbyterian Office of Public Witness.

Furthermore, “we also have ecumenical and interfaith places to join ongoing work, such as the Poor People’s Campaign and the Kairos Center, and international work to eradicate poverty through mission coworkers and global networks,” Barnes noted.

Available resources from the consulting group include a poverty resource packet and recordings of last year’s online workshop series on poverty.

To register for the book study on “Poverty, by America” go here.

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