Christian Right, Left Find Common Ground in Poverty Reduction

WASHINGTON – It's not often that Christians on the right and left find common ground on public policies, but that was exactly the case Tuesday when politically diverse Christian leaders joined forces to offer solutions to reduce poverty in America.

The Poverty Forum, a group of 18 diverse Christian leaders with expertise in poverty initiatives and policy reform, brought together a diverse group including the senior advisor to former President George W. Bush, anti-poverty activists generally associated with the Democratic Party, and a leader of a conservative public policy group that is closely linked to the Republican Party, to name a few.

At the launching of The Poverty Forum on Tuesday, the co-chair of the initiative emphasized that when it comes to reducing poverty there is no division among the Christian leaders.

"The moral test, the religious test, and the biblical test of any society is how we treat the poorest and most vulnerable," said the Rev. Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners and co-chair of The Poverty Forum. "That's a reversal of the logic of this town (Washington, D.C.), but that is the condition that brings us here together across political boundaries."

The Poverty Forum's other co-chair, Mike Gerson, senior fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations and former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, echoed Wallis' praise of the group's bipartisan nature.

He also praised the group's policy recommendations as a "serious, substantial, innovative" list that he expects will be taken seriously by the Obama administration. The leaders of the initiative will meet with the Obama administration later this week to discuss the suggested policies.

The proposed policies tackle a wide range of problems that keep or throw people into poverty. The policy suggestions include asset building, reducing recidivism, promoting education, strengthening the family, and adjusting tax credits and the minimum wage to help keep families out of poverty.

"Solidly middle class families and individuals are experiencing a kind of economic insecurity that they have never known before," said Brent Orrell, deputy assistant secretary of Labor, The Employment and Training Administration.

He noted that those living on the margins of society are now more than ever in danger of being completely forgotten.

"This package is not an effort to pit the needs of the poor against those of the middle class," Orrell said. "Rather it is an effort to express a solidarity of interest among all Americans."

For each policy category, two policy experts from different political perspectives were assigned to develop practical policy recommendations. The policies were then discussed and vetted by the broader group.

"They (the policy recommendations) have been produced through painstaking effort of what I have called incarnational bipartisanship," Orrell explained. "Our shared religious beliefs point us to the value and dignity of every person has helped us overcome the deeply held political and policy differences to reach a common agenda."

"This makes The Poverty Forum important both for the substances and the policy standpoint and in terms of the model of cooperation and reconciliation it presents to Washington and the world," he added.

The initiative comes at a time when experts predict that an additional nine million Americans will fall into poverty because of the economic recession.

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