'Soup kitchen syndrome' may
chill hunger relief efforts
___By Kenny Byrd
___Baptist Joint Committee
___WASHINGTON (ABP)--The "soup-kitchen syndrome"--defined as "a feeling that if you're not handing soup to someone, you're not helping end hunger"--makes it harder to involve church members in legislative advocacy for anti-hunger and poverty programs.
___So said Bread for the World activist Harold Stanton at a breakout session at the organization's recent 25th anniversary celebration.
___Bread for the World recruits congregations to become "covenant churches" by agreeing to educate church members on hunger issues. Covenant churches also participate in an annual "offering of letters," written by church members to urge lawmakers to vote for specific anti-hunger legislation.
___Participation in the anti-hunger advocacy organization varies by denomination, said Tom Murphy, who works with Bread for the World's church relations. He said roughly 350 Southern Baptist individuals and 14 churches are members. Presbyterians, meanwhile, have more than 5,000 members and 226 covenant churches. Catholics have 15,000 members and 212 covenant churches. Counting all kinds of Baptists, there are 1,500 Baptist members and more than 50 churches.
___Murphy said Bread for the World has strong relationships with several Baptist groups and is working on extending those relationships.
___Steve Nelson, director of hunger concerns for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said Southern Baptists respond to hunger directly through the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund. The Southern Baptist Convention spent $10.4 million on hunger relief last year, including aid to inner cities and emergency food and development projects around the globe, he said. However the SBC does not work typically through legislative advocacy, but by raising awareness about hunger, he said.
___"We don't think our primary thrust needs to be legislative on this issue," Nelson said, adding that a "direct response" is sometimes more effective.
___Nelson, who said the welfare system over the past 50 years has largely failed, said a handout is not as effective as personal involvement. "We do the poor no favors if we share bread for the body and don't share the bread of life for hungry souls," he said.
___Becki Wilson, representing a Baptist church from Nashville, Tenn., that has become a Bread for the World covenant church, said she was excited to see others at the conference who are involved in interdenominational groups that work with civic and government leaders.
___"I don't believe that's happened much in Southern Baptist groups yet," she said. "Too often, we're so busy insisting the key issue is 'who's right' that we forget the real issue is helping people. I'd love to see us get in the lead of finding ways to work with the entire community to meet community needs," said Wilson, a member of Crievewood Baptist Church in Nashville.
___"So often we've been led to believe that Christians are supposed to be politically ignorant or inactive, and I don't feel that's true," Wilson said. "God intends stewardship, or care of all our resources, in a way that's more akin to justice than to tithing."
___Wilson said anti-hunger advocates "need to realize that they have to call upon government leaders at all levels to let them know that ... food stamps, trade and debt reduction are significant hunger and poverty issues and that we want them to effect changes in these."
___She referred to Bread for the World's 1999 legislative focus--the Jubilee 2000 movement to cancel the debts of poor countries.
___Pointing to the name's biblical roots, Wilson said the Jubilee year was supposed to be a year in which debts were forgiven, slaves were freed and land was returned to its original family owners.
___"The devastating effects of loss or catastrophe were not intended to be permanent, because jubilee justice would mandate readjustment so that families could be self-sustaining again," she said. "Working toward that kind of justice for everyone is what I believe God intends."
___President David Beckmann said advocacy carried out by Bread for the World members in Birmingham, Ala., may have precipitated the recent decision by the leading industrial countries to lower some of the debt of some poor countries.
___Bread for the World members from an independent Presbyterian church in Birmingham met with Rep. Spencer Bachus, R-Ala., who sits on the House Banking Committee, in March 1999. A Bread for the World staffer present at the meeting said Bachus told the advocates he originally had planned to tell the group he would take their concerns about the Debt Relief for Poverty Reduction Act under consideration.
___But instead, he became a sponsor of the bill and later brought on other GOP sponsors. And when the House Banking Committee met on the bill, Bachus gave a stirring speech in support of the measure.
___Bread for the World maintains hunger is a solvable problem, but contends lawmakers lack the political will to end it.
___According to Beckman, the U.S. hunger problem could be solved for roughly $50 billion a year--about the amount Americans spend on movies in a year's time.
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