WASHINGTON, D.C. – A new alliance, "Let Justice Roll: Faith and Community Voices Against Poverty," was launched Tuesday (June 16) with a national audio news conference, and its first initiative was announced - events in 15 cities to challenge voters, public officials, delegates to the Party Conventions and this year's candidates for public office, especially the presidential candidates, to make ending poverty a top priority.
"We’ll ask them 'What will you do to end poverty?' and we'll expect an answer," said the Rev. Dr. Paul Sherry, Poverty Mobilization Coordinator for the National Council of Churches USA, and former President of the United Church of Christ, who noted that "Let Justice Roll" events will be held in Boston and New York City concurrent with the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, respectively.
The Council and the Center for Community Change are co-sponsoring "Let Justice Roll" with other national, state and local partner organizations. This new non-partisan alliance also will work to educate, register, mobilize protect voters, especially low-income voters.
"Let Justice Roll" takes its name from the Bible book of Amos, "Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream …" (Amos 5:24 NRSV).
"Historically, our country has made progress against poverty only when low-income people have articulated what must be done, and only when people of faith have lifted their voices in solidarity with the poor to demand justice," said Deepak Bhargava, Executive Director of the Center for Community Change, Washington, D.C.
The Rev. Dr. Robert W. Edgar, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches, New York City, a United Methodist, noted that nearly 35 million Americans, including more than 12 million children, live below the official poverty thresholds. One out of five children under age six live in poverty.
"With the large tax cuts and the massive increases in defense expenditures, few resources are left to address these important needs," he said. "We as a nation pride ourselves on our values and our moral commitment, and we as people of faith believe we ought to care for the poor."
Local "Let Justice Roll" events will be one or two days in length and typically will include meetings of religious and community leaders with elected officials and Party Convention delegates, a news conference on local and national issues; voter education, registration, mobilization and protection, and a worship service or rally that roots the work to overcome poverty in religious convictions.
These events will address both national and local realities. The Rev. Dr. Jack Sullivan, Jr., Regional Minister for the Northwest Region of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and Co-Chair of the Governing Board for the Washington Association of Churches, among sponsors of the first "Let Justice Roll" event in Seattle June 25-26, described Washington as a state in "a lot of economic distress."
"We have the greatest disparity between rich and poor of any of the states," he said, "and consistently rank among the top five states in terms of hunger. 700,000 people in our state don't have health insurance, and half of those have full-time jobs. The federal government is planning further reductions in programs that meet the needs of the poor, is giving huge tax cuts for the wealthy and is increasing the deficit our children and grandchildren will have to pay. Churches see this as a clear and present danger to human wholeness and potential."
During today's audio news conference, "Let Justice Roll" partners in Seattle, Wash., and Minneapolis, Minn., described their goal of registering 100 percent of eligible voters in participating congregations.
The Rev. Tom Quigley, Acting Executive Director of the Washington Association of Churches, a minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), said 25 African American congregations in Seattle - part of the A. Philip Randolph Institute, a "Let Justice Roll" partner, "already have begun an extensive voter education, mobilization and registration effort. They've set the goal of registering 100 percent of their members, then 100 percent of their members' families, and finally going into their neighborhoods to register their neighbors."
The Rev. Peg Chemberlin, Executive Director of the Minnesota Council of Churches, a Moravian, said that Council is partnering with the Minnesota Baptist Convention (NBCUSA, Inc.), the oldest and largest historic Black denominational body in Minnesota, to address issues of voter disparity. "The historic Black church has always carried forward the biblical imperative for economic justice, and has held a high value that people of faith would enter into the public square," she said.
The July 23 "Let Justice Roll" worship and praise event called "Revive the Vote" will focus on communities reclaiming their right and responsibility to vote and will culminate with canvassing and voter registration, she said.
The Rev. Ian D. Bethel, Sr., President of the Minnesota State Baptist Convention, said, "In order to get change, we must begin by having members of our congregations voting. We must have individuals at the polls and bring our numbers to the table so we can leverage with those who make the laws.
"God ordained government to take care of 'the least of these,'" the most vulnerable members of society, he said. "We must remind government of that God-given responsibility so that men and women, boys and girls have access to the vital necessities for their lives."
David Leslie, Executive Director of Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon, a member of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), said voter registration also will be an essential element of "Let Justice Roll" in Oregon, where "more than 30 percent of eligible voters aren't registered, and the vast majority of those live on the margins of society." Voting is especially important in a state like Oregon, where citizens can put issues that impact the common good on the ballot.
"In a state with one of the highest rates of unemployment, hunger and rich-poor disparity, experiencing a meltdown of the public education system as weeks are cut off the end of the school year to balance the budget, it is important that people register and participate more actively," he said, adding that "Let Justice Roll" will especially seek to register Oregonians 18 to 25 years old.
The Rev. Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr., Senior Minister of The Riverside Church in New York City who was featured recently on PBS-TV's "NOW with Bill Moyers," has been confirmed to speak at eight "Let Justice Roll" events - Seattle, Wash. (June 25-26); Portland, Ore. (June 26-27); Eugene, Ore. (June 28); Rochester, N.Y. (July 11-12); Minneapolis, Minn. (July 23); Boston, Mass. (July 28); New York, N.Y. (Aug. 31) and Chicago, Ill. (Oct. 9-10).