Lawmakers Praise Church as Civil Voice on Poverty

May 08, 2009

By Linda Green*



National lawmakers this week encouraged United Methodist bishops to keep fighting against world hunger and disease, saying civil voices are necessary to break through partisan politics on issues such as health care and poverty.


"United Methodists have a long history of advocating for the poor and feeding the hungry, both in body and in spirit," Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., told church leaders during their May 5 visit to Capitol Hill.


Bishops navigated their way through the stinging rain to meet with legislators from their states on issues relating to the church's four areas of focus - developing principled Christian leaders, creating new churches and renewing existing ones, engaging in ministries with the poor, and stamping out killer diseases of poverty by improving global health. The bishops from the United States, Africa, Europe, and the Philippines met with lawmakers and ambassadors to their countries.


Following the meetings, the bishops attended a reception that featured comments from United Methodist lawmakers and greetings from Paul Monterio, religious liaison in President Obama's Office of Public Liaison.


"The issue of hunger and poverty holds special importance for health," said Lugar, a member of St. Luke's United Methodist Church in Indianapolis. People enduring chronic hunger are more susceptible to the effects of HIV/AIDS and malaria, and alleviating hunger and poverty means paying equal attention to fighting disease, he said.


"If hunger were considered a disease, it is clear that we have been treating symptoms rather than providing the cure," he said in encouraging the church to continue its efforts on behalf of the poor.


Greater civility needed

The Rev. Emanuel Cleaver (right), a Democratic Missouri congressman and pastor of St. James United Methodist Church in Kansas City, Missouri, said there is a powerful role for the church in addressing some of the world's challenges today, "and it makes me proud to see how active our church is on the issues of importance."


In particular, Cleaver called for fewer personal attacks and greater civility in public life. Issues such as health care cannot be properly addressed, he said, because of political polarization.


"The United Methodist Church has a powerful witness, and we have to be able to stand up and witness to the people of this denomination and of this country about the need for civility because one of these days we will not be here - but our children, and maybe their children, will suffer," he said.


Showing the way

In a related talk, Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, congratulated The United Methodist Church on the lead role it has taken on issues such as tobacco, immigration, global health, and eradicating malaria.


The United Methodist Church's Nothing But Nets campaign is an inspiration to others, he said. "You should be really proud."


He noted that last month a group from his faith tradition went to Uganda and distributed 25,000 anti-malaria bed nets.


"We did it because you were first and you showed us that it could be done," Saperstein said. "You are inspiring the rest of the community on the issue and people are alive today because you helped lead."


*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tennessee.