August recess of Congress provides opportunity to discuss issues at home

August 07, 2013

Poverty, maternal health, food assistance, God’s creation, health care, immigration, gun violence and criminal-justice reform timely topics of concern. 

As members of Congress begin their August recess, it is an excellent opportunity for you to put into effect the Wesleyan practice of social holiness. Most members of Congress use the August recess to come home, to reconnect with their grassroots and to hear what their constituents believe on many issues being debated in the nation’s Capitol. 

The General Board of Church & Society (GBCS) encourages you to take advantage of this opportunity to speak directly with your members of Congress, whether it be through town hall meetings they may host on a particular issue, or through visits to their local offices, or perhaps writing letters to them or your local newspaper.

Yes, this is a recess, but it is an essential working recess for members of Congress.

GBCS’s program staff has suggested issues that you may want to discuss with your Congressional representatives. The issues include global poverty, maternal health, food assistance, protecting God’s creation, health care, immigration, preventing gun violence and criminal-justice reform. The agency also has a free communications kit for local social-justice advocates to help you in preparing your contact with your member of Congress.

The 24-page “Grassroots Communications Toolkit” is free and can be downloaded from the agency’s website.

The toolkit is to support current ministries and may serve as a reminder of the many things congregations can do to proclaim the Gospel beyond the pews. The toolkit contains step-by-step instructions on how to deal with the media, how to set up local calls on elected officials, sample articles and letters to the editor for local news outlets, and a tutorial on selecting and training spokespersons.

Following are issues that GBCS’s program staff considers particularly timely during this congressional recess.

Help People Overcome Global Poverty

Urge your member of Congress to support international-aid programs that work to overcome global poverty. Worldwide, 1.5 billion people live in extreme poverty, subsisting on less than $1.25 a day; 870 million of them are chronically undernourished; and children born in sub-Saharan Africa are 17 times more likely to die before their fifth birthday than a child born in a developed country, such as the United States. 

For years, the United States has answered the call to help break cycles of poverty that deny people the opportunity for a better, freer life. Through aid programs, the U.S. government has funded work to overcome global poverty by addressing specific issues: responded to health epidemics such as HIV/AIDS and malaria; supported education of young people and adults; and found ways to ensure clean drinking water and proper sanitation. Such programs help millions break the cycles of poverty. 

These poverty-focused development and assistance programs make up a minuscule part of the federal budget, less than 1%, but they are in danger, nonetheless. Sequestration cut U.S. foreign aid by 5%. The House budget plan for 2014 proposes an additional 15% cut.

Drastic cuts to these programs not only hurt the people who might benefit directly, but also do harm to our national interest and undermine our moral leadership as a nation. As followers of Christ, we must urge our elected leaders to support our brothers and sisters’ struggle to overcome poverty.

Tell your member of Congress that global poverty concerns you, and you believe we are called as a nation to support programs that aim to break the cycle of poverty.

* Remind your member of Congress that the federal programs designed to help overcome global poverty make up a tiny sliver of our federal budget, 0.61% for Fiscal Year 2013, yet they make a measurable difference in the lives of the people they touch.

* Urge your member of Congress to work to replace the sequester cuts to poverty-reduction programs. Surely, there are ways we can address our budget deficit and help our brothers and sisters overcome poverty.

* Urge your member of Congress to support looking for new ways to combat poverty at the systemic level worldwide.

The United Methodist Church position: We urge all United Methodists and people of goodwill to offer themselves as instruments of God’s renewing Spirit in the world (The Council of Bishops 2010 Pastoral Letter “God’s Renewed Creation: A Call to Hope & Action”). We urge support for policies that will encourage equitable economic growth in the Global South and around the world, providing a just opportunity for all (2012 Book of Resolutions, ¶163 “The Economic Community”). For more information, conact Mark Harrison, director of Peace with Justice,   

Support Global Maternal Health

For millions of women in developing countries, unplanned pregnancy is often the most dangerous experience they’ll ever face. More than 287,000 women die each year from complications due to pregnancy or childbirth, and more than a third of these deaths could be prevented with access to family-planning and maternal-health services. This is a moral tragedy, and as United Methodists we are called to respond with Christ’s compassion and love.

In July, the House Appropriations Committee voted to approve a bill that cuts foreign assistance for maternal-health and family-planning programs by up to 23%! These cuts would have devastating impacts on the health of women, children and families facing the most debilitating poverty.

Contact your representative today and urge him or her to support our critical investments in family planning and maternal health.

Tell your member of Congress: 

1. Family planning saves lives. We could reduce the number of maternal deaths by one-third if we fully invested in international family-planning programs.

2. Family planning is an issue people of faith care about. The United Methodist Church has a historic, strong stance in support of women's health and family planning.

3. Family planning is cost-effective. Family-planning and maternal-health programs constitute less than 2% of our foreign assistance budget, yet they save millions of lives each year.

4. By investing in international family-planning programs we can drastically reduce the number of maternal deaths, empower women, and help create thriving communities.

To learn more about The United Methodist Church’s advocacy for global maternal health visit Healthy Families, Healthy Planet. or contact Katie Kraft, Healthy Families, Healthy Planet Legislative Advocacy & Communicaitons associate, at

Support Food Assistance

Jesus fed hungry people, befriended outcasts and called for radical sharing. Those of us who have been embraced by this “good news” are drawn to be concerned about people in need and we are compelled to work to make our society’s laws fair and helpful toward poor and hungry people (2012 United Methodist Book of Resolutions #4055).

Unfortunately, this Congress is pursuing policies that far from being helpful to our brothers and sisters in poverty, would dramatically cut back a key food-assistance program. Last month, the House passed a farm bill without a nutrition title. The bill offers subsidies for agribusiness while offering nothing for those suffering food insecurity and hunger.

Just before the August recess, House leaders indicated their intention of bringing a nutrition bill to the floor in September. This proposal would cut an estimated $40 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly referred to as food stamps. Contact your member of Congress today and remind him or her that while we as people of faith remain committed to doing our part to feed the hungry, we are equally compelled to work for a just, sustainable agricultural policy that prioritizes food security for the poor

For more information, contact John Hill, director of Economic & Enviornmental Justice,

Protect God’s Creation

In their document, “God’s Renewed Creation: A Call to Hope & Action,” the United Methodist Council of Bishops reminded us of our call to be faithful stewards of creation and committed to actions aimed at reducing our contribution to the global climate crisis.

This summer, President Obama released his own Climate Action Plan. Now it is time for Congress to join in protecting God’s good creation. Tell your member of Congress to support efforts to protect our climate including administration actions to reduce pollution from power plants and bipartisan legislation to improve energy efficiency.

For more information, contact John Hill, director of Economic & Enviornmental Justice,

Support Health Care Plan Implementation

On Oct. 1, enrollment begins for the new health-care law. For people without health care, this will be an opportunity to select an insurance plan on the new marketplace in their state. United Methodists can be involved by volunteering to be certified application counselors, navigators or by offering their churches and other facilities for enrollment and education events.

It is also important to keep the drumbeat going with governors and state legislatures who are resisting expansion of Medicaid to people and families struggling to make ends meet. The bottom line is that political grandstanding and stubbornness is a life-or-death proposition for people without health care.

The Affordable Care Act will go live Jan. 1. There is not a minute to lose in helping people without health care sign up for coverage. These actions help us to live into our Church’s commitment to health care as a basic human right. For more details, contact the Rev. Cynthia Abrams, director of Alcohol, Other Addictions & Health Care, at

Support Act to Prevent Gun Violence

There is a bipartisan bill related to gun violence in the U.S. House of Representatives (HR 1565) that has a real chance of moving. The Public Safety & Second Amendment Rights Protection Act of 2013 (HR 1565), introduced in April by Reps. Peter King, R-N.Y., and Mike Thompson, D-Calif., has 184 co-sponsors so far. We need your help to encourage your member of the House to become a co-sponsor, too.

The bill amends the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act to reauthorize for FY2014-FY2017 the grant program for improvements to the criminal-history record system.

For more information, see August Gun Violence Letter Drop to Members of Congress, or contact Bill Mefford, director of Civil & Human Rights, at

Support Just, Humane Immigration Reform

We'd like to try something a little different for August as we switch our focus to the House of Representatives and its immigration-reform efforts. A sample letter has been prepared, which can modified anyway you deem necessary, that you can use to solicit signatures supporting immigration reform to take to your member of Congress’ office while he or she is home for the August congressional recess. The letter emphasizes that United Methodists have long advocated for just, humane immigration reform. You are encouraged to use this letter with your own congregation and recruit three or four other churches —they do not have to all be United Methodist — to join you in doing this in August.

For more information, see August Immigration Reform Letter Drop to Members of Congress, or contact Bill Mefford, director of Civil & Human Rights, at

Host a screening of Redemption of the Prosecutor

An exciting new resource has been created for people of faith in collaboration with Brave New Films and Beyond Bars. “You can check out the Redemption of the Prosecutor” is the powerful story of Preston Shipp, an assistant state attorney general in Tennessee. The film focuses on how his work and faith came into direct conflict through his relationship with someone incarcerated as a youth for life.

Mass incarceration is not only debilitating to those who are locked away for years at a time, but to those who run the system as well.

This is a perfect way to educate your congregation and others in your community. Plan a screening for your church or Sunday School class, Wesley Foundation, United Methodist Women unit or whomever. Bill Mefford will send you an information packet that provides study information on issues the film covers and discussion questions. All you need to do to get the FREE DVD and information packet is: send the date you plan on showing the film, and your mailing address.

The General Board of Church & Society is one of four international general program boards of The United Methodist Church. Prime responsibility of the board is to seek implementation of the Social Principles and other policy statements on Christian social concerns of the General Conference, the denomination’s highest policy-making body. The board’s primary areas of ministry are Advocacy, Education & Leadership Formation, United Nations & International Affairs, and resourcing these areas for the denomination. It has offices on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., and at the Church Center for the United Nations in New York City.