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June 8, 2015

Overcoming Poverty Focus Of Summit Led By Faith Groups

By Stephen Padre

Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., hosted the Catholic-Evangelical Leadership Summit on Overcoming Poverty May 11 to 13. It was yet another way that the national conversation on poverty in the U.S. is gaining momentum and involving the highest echelons of power. President Barack Obama took part in the summit as a panelist on May 12. The event also demonstrates the increasing influence of the nation’s faith community in raising the issues of poverty and hunger and pushing federal decision makers to discuss them.

Bread was one of the summit’s supporters. John Carr, a former Bread board member who is currently head of Georgetown’s Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life, organized the summit with the National Association of Evangelicals.

Harvard University professor Robert Putnam was the summit’s opening speaker.

He is the author of a new bestselling book, Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, produced from his research on the widening opportunity gap, and other books.

The event’s centerpiece panel, on which Obama appeared, was billed by organizers as a discussion among religious and national leaders on “long-neglected questions including how Catholic, evangelical, and other leaders can help make overcoming poverty a clear moral imperative and urgent national priority.”

“I think that faith-based groups across the country and around the world understand the centrality and the importance of this issue in an intimate way - in part because these faith-based organizations are interacting with folks who are struggling and know how good these people are, and know their stories, and it's not just theological, but it's very concrete,” Obama said (read his full remarks). “They’re embedded in communities and they’re making a difference in all kinds of ways.”

E.J. Dionne Jr., a Washington Post political columnist, moderated the panel. He wrote about it in his column the following day. It carried the headline “Something is stirring in the religious world.”

Dionne wrote that “the panel took place on a day when the Pew Research Center issued a report showing a remarkable decline of religious affiliation. Among the youngest millennials (those 25 and under), 36 percent are now religiously unaffiliated. A broader religious agenda might bring some of them back.”

Obama also issued an invitation to faith-based groups for more leadership on this issue. “And there’s noise out there, and there’s arguments, and there’s contention. And so people withdraw and they restrict themselves to, what can I do in my church, or what can I do in my community? And that's important. But our faith-based groups, I think, have the capacity to frame this - and nobody has shown that better than Pope Francis, who I think has been transformative just through the sincerity and insistence that he’s had that this is vital to who we are. This is vital to following what Jesus Christ, our Savior, talked about.”

Rev. David Beckmann, Bread’s president, attended the event as well as other Bread staff members from the church relations and government relations departments.

“This summit clearly demonstrated that when Christians agree to set their hearts and minds on addressing the needs of the ‘least of these’ and seek the restoration of their intrinsic dignity, our theological differences take a back seat to an issue that is very close to the heart of God,” said Bishop José García, Bread’s director of church relations.

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