Poverty, God, and Politics

Poverty, God, Politics

Categories: Public Programs & Events

This Fall 2021 semester, Rev. Dr. David Beckmann, Visiting Professor of Religion and Society, is teaching the course Poverty, God, and Politics. Beckmann’s course includes a webcast series featuring guest presentations by national leaders at the nexus of faith, poverty, and politics. Click here to subscribe to get these videos sent directly to your inbox, and check out the trailer episode below.

In 20-minute videos, Dr. Beckmann and his guests will highlight seven ways to connect faith to the politics of poverty – legislative advocacy, electoral politics, organizations of low-income people, digital communication, faith and justice work in faith communities, religious connections and across political divides, and the gospel of God’s forgiving love.

Dr. Beckmann is a co-chair and the coordinator of the Circle of Protection, the leading religious voice on the momentous Build Back Better legislation that is moving through Congress this year. Watch the videos on this page below, on https://www.davidbeckmann.net/, or subscribe to get each video in your inbox as they are released.

Poverty, God, Politics | Ch 2, Ep 2: Rev. Eli Valentin


Rev. Eli Valentin is both a Pentecostal pastor and a political operative. He has made it clear to his congregations that he will work during election seasons to help candidates who share his Christian passion for justice. “Being partisan is not a vice,” he says. Valentin is also an academic with deep ties to Union Theological Seminary, and he talks about a book he is writing on the involvement of Reinhold Neibuhr (a historically important American theologian) in electoral politics. Finally, Valentin describes his work with Faith Forward, which works to win the support of faith-grounded voters for progressive candidates.

Poverty, God, Politics | Ch 2, Ep 3: Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis


Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis is a biblical scholar and co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign. A powerful way for faith communities to change the politics of poverty is to support organizations of low-income people, and the Poor People’s Campaign is now the strongest organization of low-income people in the country. Dr. Theoharis starts this presentation with Bible teaching. She then recounts the dramatic rise and impacts of the Poor People’s Campaign since its launch in 2018. They aim to build “a sustained moral movement led by those who are most directly impacted by injustice” that convinces the nation to address the intertwined evils of poverty, racism, ecological devastation, militarism, and religious nationalism.

Poverty, God, Politics | Ch 2, Ep 4: Ralph McCloud


Ralph McCloud is director of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, an important funder of the faith-based community organizing movement over the last 50 years. In hundreds of communities across the country, diverse faith congregations and other local organizations work together to address pressing issues such as housing, transportation, police-community relations, and voting. Faith-based community organizations provide leadership training and opportunities to many low-income people – and foster relationships across racial, economic, and religious divides. Working together with others to solve community problems is a way for churches and synagogues to live out their faith, and their faith contributes to the effectiveness of community organizing.

Poverty, God, Politics | Ch 2, Ep 5: Eric Sapp


Eric Sapp is a leader in the use of digital technology and artificial intelligence for social purposes. He is founder and president of Public Democracy. Early in his career, he helped Democratic candidates win support among faith-based voters. He later did similar work for progressive causes and, in the process, developed a valuable bank of data on what millions of Americans most value: not yet more data on what Americans will buy, but data on our aspirations for society. Much of his current work is focused on listening to people in society who aren’t usually heard, including many African Americans as well as some white people who support Donald Trump. Digital technology is changing American religion and society, and we need to do more to develop the use of digital technology for social good.

Poverty, God, Politics | Ch 2, Ep 6: Dr. Lisa Kimball


Dr. Lisa Kimball is the Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning at Virginia Theological Seminary. She provides an exceptionally clear outline of Christian formation – how people experience the love of God and how Christian communities can help them grow in faith toward sacrificial, world-changing commitment. It starts with hospitality and affirmation of everyone, no matter where they are on their spiritual journey. It continues with opportunities for people to connect with a church, get to know church members, and experience Christian community and service opportunities. At some point, people may want to come to a deeper understanding of the Christian gospel and be newly open to teaching and learning. This may lead to deeper commitment, activism, and joy.

Poverty, God, Politics | Ch 2, Ep 7: Anwar Khan & Jihad Saleh


Anwar Khan, president, and Jihad Saleh Williams, senior advisor for government affairs, explain the remarkable evolution of faith and justice work within Islamic Relief over the last 15 years. Islam provides a clear mandate for anti-poverty advocacy, including a verse from the Koran which calls on Muslims not only to feed the needy but to “urge the feeding of the needy.”

Islamic Relief International is now a major collaborator in relief and development throughout the world. Islamic Relief USA has gone through an impressive learning process, developing a program of assistance and now capacity building in communities across the United States. Their advocacy program has moved from participation to leadership in coalitions. In-district meetings have trained Muslims to meet with public officials and given members of Congress opportunities to get to know their Muslims constituents – in a time when U.S. Muslims must still expect suspicion and threats of violence. Islamic Relief is now launching an effort to engage many more of their 300,000 donors in public-policy advocacy, drawing on the experience of Bread for the World among Christians and MAZON among Jews.

Poverty, God, Politics | Ch 2, Ep 8: Rev. Walter Kim


Rev. Walter Kim is president of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE). His parents were refugees who then immigrants to the United States. His family was assisted by Christians of different denominations, and he became an Evangelical during high school so he understands from personal experience the importance of lifting up Christ in both word and deed. He explains that the NAE was founded in 1942 as a “third way” between fundamentalist and progressive Christians, firmly grounded in Scriptures, but also fully engaged in the life and problems of society.

As an illustration of pastoral work to connect Evangelicals to social issues, Rev. Kim focuses on a passage from Exodus about the sabbath law. This prominent aspect of the Hebrew covenant with God protected poor people, servants, and immigrants – also donkeys, oxen, wild animals, and the land (ecological justice). Rev. Kim notes that the study of Bible passages like this moves Evangelicals to engage in social issues. To stay engaged, people also need human connections – with people in need and people with whom they disagree politically.  Since social change is difficult, people also need ongoing encouragement. “We tend to overestimate what we can get done in a year and underestimate what we can get done in ten years.”

Poverty, God, Politics | Ch 2, Ep 9: Bishops Lawrence Reddick & Thomas Brown


Lawrence D. Reddick is the Senior Bishop and bishop of Texas in the Christian Methodist Episcopal (CME) Church. Thomas L. Brown, Sr. is the CME bishop of Georgia and a key leader of nationally pivotal voter mobilization efforts there in 2020-2021. Bishops Reddick and Brown provide a long-term perspective on the “tremendous journey” of faith and justice work in the Black Church – the impact of discrimination on them and their families, personal advancement through education and church leadership, ongoing participation in coalitional efforts for civil rights and social justice.

Bishop Reddick recounts the history of the CME. It has roots in John Wesley’s commitment to both personal holiness and social reform and in the Episcopal Methodist Church, South, which defended slavery and, at the same time, attempted to “minister to enslaved people.” After the Emancipation, the formerly enslaved people formed the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church, later renamed the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church. The CME has always supported colleges and other ministries among its people and played an active role in movements for civil rights and social justice.

Bishop Brown reports on CME work with other groups to defend and mobilize African-American voters in Georgia. He explains programs of education for pastors about justice issues and current developments in the Georgia legislature, courts, and Congress.

Poverty, God, Politics | Ch 2, Ep 10: John Carr


John Carr is the Founding Director of the Initiative on Catholic Social Teaching and Public Life at Georgetown University. He previously served for many years as director of Justice, Peace, and Human Development for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

He focuses on the 2020-2021 debate in the Catholic community on whether to deny communion to President Biden and other Catholic public officials who support legal abortion. The underlying issue is whether abortion is the “preeminent” public policy issue of the Catholic Church or one aspect of a more wide-ranging concern for human life.

Carr found the public opposition of some bishops to Pope Francis in this debate to be a “stunning” example of how “the polarization of public life has come into the Catholic community.” In the end, the U.S. bishops voted almost unanimously for a statement on communion that does not mention Biden and hardly mentions abortion.

Poverty, God, Politics | Ch 2, Ep 11: Dave Miner


Dave Miner is a full-time hunger activist from Indianapolis. He explains how he and his co-workers in Indiana’s Bread for the World network have been able to help win big changes for hungry people across the country and around the world.

From his own experience, Dave Miner offers powerful examples of why it’s important to change systems through advocacy on federal legislation. He reports on the impressive support that Bread for the World’s Indiana network has been able to secure from their almost entirely Republican congressional delegation. He then clearly outlines the organizing strategies that have contributed to these inspiring results. These include the systematic engagement of individuals as organizational leaders, the support of religious faith and faith communities, and the parallel development of an exceptionally strong network of the organizations that provide food assistance to hungry people in Indianapolis.

Dave Miner has also provided national leadership as chair of the board of Bread for the World and now the Alliance to End Hunger.

Poverty, God, Politics | Ch 2, Ep 12: Eugene Cho


Rev. Eugene Cho, president of Bread for the World, explains that sustained change on poverty issues will require support from within both parties. Bread for the World has always worked in a bipartisan way, but doing so has become increasingly difficult. To help navigate through this time of tumultuous controversy, Rev. Cho has been leading Bread’s staff in the development of a statement of Bread’s values. Bread also continues to work for U.S. leadership against malnutrition around the world, an issue on which broad, bipartisan collaboration is still possible.

Poverty, God, Politics | Ch 2, Ep 13: Paul Froese


Dr. Paul Froese at Baylor University has done a series of surveys on how Americans experience God. His book on this is called America’s Four Gods. In his remarks to David Beckmann’s class, he shared newly available data on how our images of God affect support for public policies that reduce poverty. People who believe that God is distant or non-existent tend to be less charitable but more supportive of policies to reduce poverty than religious people. Among religious people, those who believe that God is forgiving are more supportive of policies to reduce poverty than those who think God is stern.

In the discussion that followed this final presentation to Beckmann’s Union Seminary class, Beckmann noted that Jesus taught that God is forgiving and passionate about social justice. He expressed disappointment that Froese’s findings show that religious people in America tend to be less supportive of policies to reduce poverty than non-religious people. More religious teaching about the importance of public policy is clearly needed. Froese’s findings also suggest a deeper strategy: encouraging faith in the gospel of God’s forgiving love among religious people is important spiritually and would also strengthen religious support for economic justice.