Let the Poverty Debates Begin!

Barack Obama
U.S. President Barack Obama takes part in the Catholic-Evangelical Leadership Summit on Overcoming Poverty at Georgetown University in Washington May 12, 2015. |

Three months ago more than a hundred Evangelical and Catholic leaders joined some of the smartest researchers and policy analysts in the country to explore how our two communities can change the national conversation about poverty in America. We were tired of the old stereotypes and partisan divisions where both sides blame the other and nothing gets done. Instead, we sought to identify common sense ideas that capture the insights and win the support of faith and community leaders and policymakers across divisions of race and religion, party and ideology.

The Catholic-Evangelical Summit on Overcoming Poverty helped to break the silence with an unprecedented panel on poverty with President Barack Obama, Robert Putnam of Harvard and Arthur Brooks of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, moderated by progressive columnist E.J. Dionne. For too long political leaders have avoided the national scandal and economic failure of 45 million Americans who are currently living below the poverty line.

The summit helped change that reality. One sign of progress is that eight presidential candidates so far have provided three-minute videos explaining their plans to provide help and opportunity for hungry and poor people at home and abroad. The Circle of Protection, a broad coalition of Christian leaders, has asked every presidential candidate for a video outlining their plan.

The Circle of Protection has promised to widely publicize the videos, without evaluation or endorsement. We leave those tasks to voters. We hope that millions of Americans will go to to watch the videos and see for themselves what the candidates have to say about poverty in America and around the world. We hope the missing candidates will offer their own plans and join this virtual debate.

We also hope we can all agree that America needs to make overcoming poverty an urgent national priority and that we need a vigorous national debate on how to overcome poverty. We urge Americans to talk about this in their churches and in their homes, neighborhoods and communities. We should ask candidates about poverty at town hall meetings, with canvassers who knock on our doors, on radio talk shows, and with anyone who will listen. We hope that candidates make poverty a priority and present their best ideas in the debates that start this month, and in their ads, speeches and literature.

Americans are compassionate people who care when others are suffering. And we are can-do people who know how to solve problems. It's time we put our minds and our hearts to work on behalf of our neighbors in need. And it's past time for our leaders to lead on the issue of poverty.

John Carr is director of the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown University. Galen Carey is vice president of government relations for the National Association of Evangelicals.

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