One Seminary/One Book: Exodus from Hunger

David Beckmann - from www.exodusfromhunger.orgOn Tuesday, February 7, 2012, The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia (LTSP) concluded its “One Seminary/One Book” initiative on the book Exodus from Hunger (Westminster John Knox Press, 2010) with a convocation featuring the author, David Beckmann. Dr. Beckmann is both an economist and a Lutheran pastor, and both roles were in full display at the convocation. He has headed “Bread for the World” for the last 20 years, and moves easily between discussing legislative policy and a theology of grace.

Beckmann is a true believer. He discussed how extreme poverty throughout the globe had been cut in half in the last 25 years through a confluence of forces: the technology which connects the world, the democratization movements in countries formerly controlled by dictators, and the important work of NGOs (non-governmental organizations, including The Lutheran World Federation and other faith-based groups). Even the U.S., which has seen a rise in poverty in the last decade, had shown in the Johnson and Nixon administrations that good policies could make a significant dent in hunger and poverty. Beckmann argued that poverty and hunger can be effectively addressed — it doesn’t have to be this way. We just need the political will 

As poverty has decreased globally, he asked, “Do you think God hasn’t noticed?” God does not want any human being to live in poverty and we have the potential to ensure that they won’t. Citing Robert Putnam (author with David E Campbell of American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, Simon & Schuster 2010), Beckmann stressed that those who have an experience of a loving God are more likely to engage in acts of charity and advocacy. Almost all congregations participate in soup kitchens and food pantries, yet that only accounts for six percent of all charitable feeding in the U.S. The other 94 percent of the funding goes through public programs such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), school lunches, and WIC (Women, Infants, and Children). Therefore, in order to be more effective in addressing poverty and hunger, people of faith need to channel their experience of a loving God into structural change — that is, protecting the governmental programs that comprise the safety net. “We can’t food-pantry our way out of poverty,” Beckmann said. Policy change is needed.

So now what? There are next steps. LTSP is a founding partner of “City Soup Philadelphia,” a hunger awareness program developed by an interfaith grass roots collective, determined to find solutions and improvements to the issue of hunger in our region. City Soup is sponsoring a “Lenten Journey” and “Prayer Breakfast to End Hunger” (April 20, 2012) to be held at LTSP. “Bread for the World” continues to provide resources for congregations for education and advocacy. City Soup Philadelphia will have a new and updated website online before Ash Wednesday (February 22) at www.CitySoupPhilly.org. Until then, information is available at www.hungercoalition.org/citysoup

There is much to be done, but, as David Beckmann reminded us, real change is possible.