Religious Communities Celebrate Food Stamp Victory, Maintain Interfaith Voice

The interfaith commitment to fight hunger has kept heads of religious communities tightly knitted in their efforts to protect America's poor, as seen in their action against budget cuts in the Food Stamp Program.

Yesterday, the Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, and the Rev. Jim Wallis, convener of Sojourners and Call to Renewal – both of whom have been at the forefront of the hunger issue – received word that U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), head of the Senate Agriculture Committee, removed the Food Stamp Program from proposed cuts.

Beckmann praised the senator's move as a "huge victory for the religious community" and many other groups who were incensed by the potential food stamp cuts, during a telephone press conference Tuesday.

The federal food stamp program had been targeted for one-fifth of all spending cuts in the Agriculture Department that were to total $3 billion over five years. The proposal outraged religious leaders who called it "wrong" especially with increasing poverty.

"That strikes me as just wrong," said Beckmann. "There are a lot of other places better to cut from than cutting food stamps. Trying to save billions of dollars by taking away food stamps is not the way to do it."

Religious leaders of various faith communities, including Christians, Jews and Muslims, sent a letter to every member of Congress asking representatives to protect the Food Stamp Program from funding cuts.

"Care for hungry people is a mandate for every major religious tradition," stated the letter. "In a deeply religious country like the United States, it is no surprise that the majority of Americans also believe that fighting hunger is an issue of utmost importance.

Wallis amplified the voice of the people who have seen the severity of hunger through recent disasters, including Hurricane Katrina, that have shaken the nation.

"I hear a lot of people say in a time of natural disaster, war ... and rising poverty, [this] is no time to cut service from the poor," he said. "We must draw a moral line in the sand against further service cuts for poor people and tax cuts for the wealthy."

Both Beckmann and Wallis called this time a turning point on national priorities.

With the hunger issue out of the darkness and into the eyes of the world, Wallis said, "The religious community is not going to go away."

More than 40 religious leaders, representing over 100 million people of faith, took their first joint steps in fighting hunger on June 6, 2005 with the opening of the Interfaith Convocation on Hunger at the National Cathedral.

Commenting on the increasing interfaith efforts combating such issues as global poverty, Beckmann stated, "We are seeing powerful new opportunities.

"Religious leaders are newly interested in speaking up for the hungry people and engaging their followers."

Anti-hunger efforts escalated with the letter signed by the involved leaders and the victory recently gained with senators from both parties objecting the proposed budget cuts.

"The religious community is going to maintain this voice," said Wallis. "This is going to be very encouraging. This initial victory on food stamps will mobilize our community further."