Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy. Proverbs 31:8-9
“People of faith feed hungry people every day through church food pantries, programs for people experiencing homelessness and meal deliveries to the elderly. The church has a long history of caring for the needy in the local community and has begun to extend this care to poor people all across the globe. Faithful works such as these reveal values and ethics that desperately need to be articulated in the public square. In fact, this is God’s call to us – that we speak out and help shape our society around the things that God cares about.
The Bible teaches that nations and individuals have responsibilities to people in need. Jesus and the prophets insisted that kings – the government of their day – had special responsibility for assuring justice for poor and vulnerable people. In our democratic nation founded upon popular elections and freedom of speech, this responsibility for guaranteeing justice is transferred to the people. For American citizens of faith and conscience, active participation in the public square and politics is both a precious right and a moral obligation. Bread for the World founder Art Simon points out that failing to participate can actually perpetuate hunger: ‘Saying nothing to political leaders is saying something to them. We usually get the kind of leadership we ask for, and if we ask for none on hunger, that is what we can expect.’
Some may worry that expressing concern for poor and hungry people by writing letters to Congress in church violates the Constitutional provision of separation of church and state. It is precisely this document, however, which states that under the First Amendment, churches and people of faith have the right to speak out on public issues. Historically, people of faith have exercised this right in raising their voices to help secure rights for African Americans, women and Native Americans. Now, if we want to respond to God’s call to make a real difference for hungry people in the world, we must likewise participate in shaping the laws, policies and programs that can eliminate the root causes of hunger and poverty.
Called to be political but not partisan, the church has a duty to encourage people of faith to become informed, active, responsible citizens. This is not a violation of separation of church and state, but rather a call to be a faithful steward of our God-given gift of citizenship. God’s grace moves us to share his steadfast love and provision by helping other people, especially poor and vulnerable people. We must not be silent. Not when there is room at the table for all people, even the hungry and poor.”
I believe this concern over separation of church and state may keep many churches from speaking for those who do not have a voice in this nation. What do you think? Should churches seek to be a voice for justice and compassion in our society by providing opportunities for people of faith to use their gift of citizenship?
(Note: This post is a collaboration of my own thoughts combined with Bread for the World text I have come across during my internship here at Bread www.bread.org)