In the wane of the recent Ring of Hope event in New York or perhaps in support of, Methodist leaders are speaking out about the lack of empathy for the poor. Many Americans are living on the edge of abject poverty and do not have health insurance. Two bishops and a church agency executive are pushing for Methodists to reach out to the poor people and pressure the politicians to make changes in policy.
More than 35.9 million Americans are living in poverty. 1 million more people are living in poverty and another 1 million without health insurance in 2003 than during the previous year, the U.S. Census Bureau reported.
The leaders gear up for the semiannual conference where they will decide what program to implement to help those in need. Churches, who are often the ones who operate the soup kitchens and clothing banks, feel the impact of the increase in numbers as more and more people seek their help. The direct contact with this marginalized section of society gives the church impetus to act.
Leaders are disappointed that the congregations have not done more already. Retired Bishop Donald Ott of Pewaukee, Wis., the initiative’s coordinator said, "There seems to be, in the last four or five years, an unwillingness on the part of state and national governments to address the fundamental issues keeping people from necessities of life.” Indeed, “I am extremely disappointed in the latest data, especially for our United Methodist Church, which is a middle- to upper-class church where, for the most part, people have the means but there is often a failure to act on the behalf of others."
The bible teaches us very clearly that the impoverished will go to heaven. In the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, we are shown that Lazarus, though a beggar on earth, was with Jesus in heaven, while the rich man who lived in earthly splendor, was chained in hell after death. "We want to create a critical mass of people who say that poverty and all of these other issues are not acceptable according to our biblical vision," Ott said.
White House officials defended the census figures stating that they reflected an economy struggling through stock market drops, corporate scandals and terrorist attacks. They added that the median income is rising slowly, companies have added 1.5 million jobs in the past four years, and the Bush administration has offered several plans to deal with economic problems.
However, Senator John Kerry, the Democratic candidate for presidency stated that President Bush’s economic polices have "failed the middle class." There is an accusation that Bush’s tax cuts have not been fair, especially to the economically dispossessed.
Jim Winkler, top executive of the church and society board, has noticed that other religious organizations, such as the National Council of Churches, are also looking to push poverty into a national priority. In addition, the Board of Church and Society is looking to expand temporary aid to needy families and increasing funding for low-income federal housing.