Faith, Poverty, and Action

Wednesday, May 9, 2018
Don Pollard
David Beckmann

President, Bread for the World

Simone Campbell

Executive Director, NETWORK

Ruth W. Messinger

Global Ambassador, American Jewish World Service

Lisa Sharon Harper

Founder and President, Freedom Road

David Beckmann, Simone Campbell, and Ruth W. Messinger, with Lisa Sharon Harper moderating, discuss faith, poverty, and action, as part of the 2018 CFR Religion and Foreign Policy Workshop.

Learn more about CFR’s Religion and Foreign Policy Program. 

HARPER: Thank you so much, Irina. It’s been really wonderful to work with you and all of the CFR staff on this final panel. The final panel today is on faith, poverty, and action. It’s going to be a broad discussion, and my name is Lisa Sharon Harper, again, founder and president of We are a consulting group dedicated to helping people do justice justly in just ways and we’re based in Washington, DC. I’m also an Auburn Fellow—so shout out to Auburn, who I know is in the house somewhere—as well as Simone.

So in this 50th year since the assassination of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the mounting of the Poor People’s Campaign, I want to commend to you the Souls of Poor Folk, which is an audit that was done in preparation for the Poor People’s Campaign, which will be launching in less than a week, this coming Monday—next Monday. The Souls of Poor Folk was co-edited by the Institute for Policy Studies and Cairo Center for Religions, Rights, and Social Justice and was released on April 10 of this year.

So here are some facts that I found that I just want to, like, kind of spread out for us to begin to deal with—to jump into. Some of the basic facts about poverty that we know is that 12.7 percent of people in the United States in 2016 were living below the poverty line. But according to that report, we actually know that when you consider the alternative supplemental poverty measure, which goes beyond income and addresses issues like the daily cost of living and housing and food and things like that, then we have actually 140 million people and also low-income people—43.5 percent are either poor or low income, and low income means that they are living less than 50 percent, or two times the poverty rate.

Tough on crime politics has increased the annual federal discretionary spending on prisons since 1976 by tenfold. By the Department of Justice’s own admission, 95 percent of the growth in the incarcerated population since 2000 is the result of an increase in the number of defendants unable to make bail. Check that out. 95 percent of the increase is because of bail.

There was a 52 percent increase of civilian deaths from U.S. military air strikes in 2017. Family rupture increases poverty. Fossil fuel, chemical, and other industries have been allowed to poison our air, water, and land, contributing to an estimated 9 million premature deaths—16 percent of all deaths worldwide in 2015, three times more deaths than from AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria combined, and 15 times more than from all wars and other forms of violence.

Bread for the World’s own website actually says that 795 million people right now on the planet are living in—with hunger and in poverty. That’s nearly a billion people. And yet, a global consensus has now formed that by 2030 we actually can address and end the issue of extreme poverty in the world—extreme hunger.

So with that, we all know that our religious communities, we share a shared value for our governments governing with truth and justice in ways that give people the ability to flourish in every corner of our societies. But what we may need a little help with is understanding the particularities of poverty in our present world and the difference that faith-fueled action can make right now.

So I want to introduce to you our esteemed panel. We have David Beckmann to my left, the president of Bread for the World. We have Simone Campbell—Sister Simone Campbell—the executive director of NETWORK, and we have Ruth Messinger, global ambassador for American Jewish World Service, and I want to commend to you their full bios in your program, and for the interest of time we’ll just do these simple introductions.

I’ve asked everyone to offer about two minutes, you know, by way of introduction to answer the first question, and the first question is this. At a time when the world seems more unstable than we have seen in our lifetimes, when the institutions that bring stability are being tested and environmental instability is compounded by the return of governance that explicitly abides by hierarchies of human being and belonging, at such a time as this where is your attention focused in the fight against poverty?

BECKMANN: Thank you, and it’s good to be here. As far as I can tell, everybody here is involved in faith action on some aspect of poverty. So we should have a good discussion.

Bread for the World is—we’re a Christian advocacy movement to end hunger. Our network includes now two and a half million people who take action with us but, importantly, also about 5,000 people who are really committed active grassroots activists and about 5,000 churches of all stripes, and then an affiliate that includes American Jewish World Service and Islamic Relief and a lot of secular institutions.

We decided, shortly after the inaugural address of President Trump when it was just clear that he wasn’t going to move at all toward the middle and it was pretty clear what Congress was thinking about doing—that they were together pushing for absolutely huge financial cuts in all the programs that provide help and opportunity to hungry and poor people in this country and also those U.S. programs that help around the world, and so we decided to focus on defense.

And, specifically, Bread for the World has—in all kinds of political situations, our people across the country have been able to influence Congress. So we decided to pretty much ignore the administration for the first year especially and focus on Congress, especially moderate Republican senators, and both the president and Congress put out budgets that proposed cuts of more than $2 trillion over ten years in programs that are important to people in need.

If you divide that by the number of religious congregations in the U.S., to make up—you know, if churches, mosques, and synagogues were going to try to make up for that $2 trillion it comes out to about $700,000 per religious congregation every year for ten years. So we organized on that—the first year really worked on Medicaid. Then we worked on this big appropriations package—the fiscal ’18 appropriations package that passed in February and March—now working on the farm bill and other things.

But what—the really good—and, of course, Bread for the World didn’t do this by ourselves. (Laughter.) We did it with—we did it with NETWORK and Islamic Relief and a lot of folks. But the faith community, generally, I think we had an outsized role in that fight of the outside groups and the good news is that there have been virtually no cuts to programs that are focused on poor people and on—


HARPER: Wow. That’s amazing. Yeah. (Applause.)

BECKMANN: Yeah, so far. But let’s—yeah, exactly. We should thank—(laughter)—we should thank God, actually. And then also in last year we were able to rally around and got an additional $1 billion in foreign assistance for the famine countries.


BECKMANN: Now, just—if I just may, then, you know, going—there’s sort of a pause here. There’s no trillion-dollar threat right now, between now and the elections, at least. So, going forward, we’re trying to do more on racial—structural racism, and maybe this sounds contradictory but we hope not—we also want to be really diligent about maintaining our relationships with conservative people and conservative politicians and see if we can get some good things done on a bipartisan basis.

HARPER: Thank you. Thank you.

CAMPBELL: OK. Well, picking up on that score—(laughter)—OK, I’m Sister Simone Campbell. Just a teeny bit about me. I’m a Sister of Social Service. That’s a religious Catholic society of sisters. We’re based in California, and I’m a native Californian so that makes me think sometimes outside the box and is probably part of the explanation for having Nuns on the Bus ever is just thinking outside the box.

And I’m a lawyer. I’m the executive director of NETWORK, lobby for Catholic social justice, and the way we describe ourselves is rooted in Catholic social teaching—think Pope Francis—open to all who share our passion. And so we are a broad based welcoming organization that works on the broad issues of our time that deal with income and wealth disparity and I think the key here is that as people of faith we know there’s enough to go around if we share.


CAMPBELL: This is not a scarcity model. The fact is our faith—all of our faiths teach us that we are community—that we’re in it together—that we share responsibility. And so I’ve come to think that one of the biggest challenges with poverty is that we have a tendency to think it’s about them, when I believe strongly it’s about us. We are poorer for not being in relationship with all of those who struggle.

I met a young woman, Ann—or, I guess, a mom of four teenage boys, so she wasn’t that young, and she was getting older by the day, the way she talked about her boys. (Laughter.)

But she—in upstate New York and what—she had lost her job and her husband lost his job in the recession and they had not been able to find similar jobs that paid well. And she said, you have no idea how much work it is to be poor. We have to decide if we have enough money to drive to the grocery story or do we all walk the two and a half or three miles to the grocery store and haul our groceries home because we have to save our money for something else, like electricity or rent.

That story, for me, says we’re in this together and we need eyes to see and connect, and it’s in that connection then that we get the will to engage in making change. So that’s what we do at NETWORK. We work on income and wealth disparity but we do it with the folks who are struggling and they teach us how it’s we, the people, that need to change.

HARPER: Amen. Thank you so much, Simone.

MESSINGER: Amen to all of that. In terms of my focus, I get to be somewhat schizophrenic because I have more than one job. But American Jewish World Service, which I was privileged to run for eighteen years, is now run by the inestimable Robert Bank. I’m the global ambassador, which means in that role I get to focus on some of our interfaith work that we’ve been doing together for years—gives me a little more time for that—and on the education of rabbis of all denominations and all ages all around the United States on the issue of global poverty.

So, globally, we are very focused on the dimensions of poverty in the nineteen countries in which we work specifically and on how much this is an issue not only of money and aid but of fundamental human rights and the ways in which those are denied and stolen, very often by Western powers, governments, private sector that are taking, literally and figuratively, the land and the resources away from some of the poorest people in the world.

And, since I now have two other positions at least, one with the Jewish Theological Seminary—thank you, Rabbi Visotzky—as a social justice fellow there, I’m now more broadly engaged in doing social justice work in and with the Jewish community but at precisely the time when I’ve been allowed to focus back on the domestic issues, local political issues, which is where I got my start in New York, and to look at the unbelievable dimensions that my colleagues have talked about of poverty in this country influenced fiercely by race, by gender, and by the involvement of very, very large sums of money interfering with the way in which our democracy is supposed to work.

The point I’d like to make—last point—for all of the panel is we love the—we love the Council on Foreign Relations in general, but we love the fact that they called this panel Faith, Poverty, and Action.


MESSINGER: Rabbis teach that in answering the question which is more important, study or action, the answer is study because it leads to action and that’s really what we hope will happen at the end of this panel.


HARPER: Excellent. Thank you so much.

So I’m going to pitch several questions to our panel and then in a while we’ll be able to open it up for Q&A. So my first question goes to Simone Campbell. Your work right now is focused on tax policy and housing and also nutrition, and I wondered, why has NETWORK chosen to focus there?

CAMPBELL: Well, our specific work—the reason why we’re focused there right now—


CAMPBELL: —is because it’s hot on Capitol Hill and we’re a lobby.


CAMPBELL: But the deeper work—I mean, that’s the pragmatic answer.

HARPER: Well, there you go.

CAMPBELL: The deeper work is really about mending the income and wealth disparity in our nation. And we read this amazing book. If you haven’t read it, I recommend it to you. It’s called Spirit Level, and what it does is it’s British researchers—Wilkinson and Pickett—and they studied all of the developed nations and they wondered if there was a correlation between quality of life and income and wealth disparity, and we read it as a staff at NETWORK and what the correlation is is that the greater the income and wealth disparity, the worse the quality of life for everyone, not just those at the bottom.


CAMPBELL: And so what we said—we called our project—our campaign was Mind the Gap. We thought it was kind of funny to have a joke for a title there. You had to have been to—rich enough to get to England to know that it was what was being said in the Tube—mind the gap. Well, then we realized after a year of studying this that we couldn’t just mind it. We have to mend it. So our campaign for the last three years has been mending the gap, and we have seven policies that we work on. But the biggest driver of income and wealth disparity in our nation is tax policy—


CAMPBELL: —and what the Congress did in December was to exacerbate it, to make it dramatically worst in the next coming five years. But here’s the thing—this is where action becomes so important—is what I learned from the Republicans with the Affordable Care Act is I always thought that if a bill passed it was over. But what I learned from them was you don’t stop pushing for justice, even if they’ve passed an awful bill.

So the good news is we’re continuing to push on tax justice because this is wrong for our nation and it’s the wrong way forward. And so since we, the people, are all suffering because of the income and wealth disparity, we, the people, have to work to change it. That’s our major focus. SNAP is, as David said, is up right now and what they’re—the proposal that came out of Congressman Conaway’s Ag Committee is horrifying. We can—you probably have way more detail about that. All is I know is it set my hair on fire. So we’re fighting that one. (Laughter.)

And then in terms of housing, housing—you probably know, those of you that are here in New York or any urban area, housing is the least renewed program that we have in the United States. This free market approach is just creating huge income and wealth disparity.

A couple of months ago, I was over in the South Bronx at Mercy Center and I was meeting with a bunch of moms there learning English and their kids were in an English study class and they all have employment—their husbands have two jobs. And then I said to them, well, how are you able to live in this area—it’s so expensive.

They said, oh, what we do is we look for two-bedroom apartments and we get three families. One—each—one family gets a bedroom, the other family gets a bedroom, and one family gets the living room, and we take turns in the kitchen, because we—


CAMPBELL: —couldn’t afford anything around here. So housing—we have—we need creative innovative investment and change to really address that huge issue. So that’s what we’re working on right now.

HARPER: Simone, thank you so much.

Ruth, your mother, in 1965, marched with Abraham Heschel—with Rabbi Abraham Heschel—and Dr. King in Selma—from Selma to Montgomery—and then in 1968 you took your three children and actually were a part of the Poor People’s Campaign there. You had them camped out on the National Mall for several days.

MESSINGER: We won’t talk about how young they were because there’s probably child abuse people in the room. (Laughter.)

HARPER: Anyway, that’s so true, right? So but I wondered how did those early experiences actually influence how you engaged in your global—anti-global poverty work now.

MESSINGER: So I mentioned—as I told you beforehand, I’m not sure that the connections are that direct. The connection to my mother is certainly direct. My mother worked at the Jewish Theological Seminary for fifty-five years and her job there—she was director of public relations—was to essentially express the values and precepts of Judaism—of conservative Judaism, in this case—to a broad public—to the conservative Jewish community, to the broader Jewish community, and to the American community. So I was raised on that.

I do think that her participation in Selma when I was living—don’t ask—in rural western Oklahoma—but her participation with Dr. King and Rabbi Heschel was really, for me, the most dramatic example that I’ve had from my family of putting values into action. So from that point of view, it’s what I was raised with my whole life. I was already a 1960s activist. My granddaughter, two years ago, called and said, we’re taking—I’m taking a course on the ’60s—can I interview you. (Laughter.) Anyway—

CAMPBELL: Don’t you love being history? Oh, dear.

MESSINGER: But so I think the values were there. They were there from my family and I’ve been proud to share them with my children. But, for me, the issue is the ongoing if you believe in justice then you can’t rest until it comes, and that’s Ella Baker, not me.

So I wanted just to add to some of what people have said. I want to particularly pick up on what Sister Simone said, because we are all players in this inequity in this country—



MESSINGER: —and she mentioned housing. So I don't want to recommend too many books because we want you out there doing activism. But if you haven’t read the book Evicted


MESSINGER: —by Matthew Desmond you should because it makes it so clear that in most evictions, first of all, the problems exist as painfully for the landlords and the owners of housing for poor people as they do for poor people, and second of all, that this is an issue which we could dramatically address in every city where all of us live by requiring under city law the provision of a legal aid attorney for any family threatened with eviction.

So some of these things, of course, require the billions that the tax bill is taking away that we’re trying to fight to get back. Some of them require massive structural changes to address the degree of racism in this country, to address the gender inequities.

But some of them have a very, very simple next step or next three steps that we could all together be taking and that will only move—I’m going to say this fairly dramatically—if a network of grassroots groups, many of which need to be faith-based, take these on as issues and stick with them for the longest haul because as dramatic has been the increased interest in going to the streets since the Women’s March after the inauguration, we all need to be sure that the people who get angry at something and go out to protest understand just how hard it is to make social change, just how much we’ve not yet accomplished, and the kind of commitment that comes with people’s faith background and faith values is what’s needed to keep on the case to reverse the bad bills, to keep making slow progressive change, and that’s really what’s needed.

I want to make one other point, and that is for 18 years I was privileged to get my teachings from people, mostly women—not surprising—who are leading grassroots efforts to fight for their communities in situations in which, frankly, most of us could not imagine living and very often at risk of their lives.

In our work with LGBT groups globally and in our work for land rights globally, we have had leaders of our faith-based—I mean, I’m sorry, leaders of our grassroots organizations lose their lives because they were fighting for the basic human rights of themselves and their families, and these people knew exactly what risks they were taking. They know what risks they’re taking today, and they are focused and determinate and they keep fighting, and that has been, basically, my strongest teaching since my mother.

HARPER: Thank you so much.

David, you said in our pre-call—our conversation—that you were most shocked or haunted by the slippage that we’ve had in our domestic policy while at the same time really encouraged by what—by the growth in fighting poverty globally. So can you just—what does that look like? What does the slippage in the growth look like?

BECKMANN: Well, I mean, I think it’s important that we all just acknowledge that there has been unprecedented progress against hunger, poverty, and disease in the world, all over the world, and the number that’s the—sort of the easiest to think about is the World Bank’s estimate that in 1990 there were two billion people in extreme poverty and that now it’s less than half of that. We’re down to 750 million people.


BECKMANN: So it has—you know, a lot of bad things are happening but, you know, from a faith perspective, God’s done something really good here, in our time.

HARPER: That’s real. Mm hmm.

BECKMANN: And it’s also true in our own country. We shouldn’t be too glum because people on the other side can say, oh, you know, you’ve spent trillions of dollars and you haven’t made any progress. In fact, in our country we have made substantial progress over a 50-year period. But most of that progress was made in the ’60s and the early ’70s as the Great Society programs were being set up actually on a bipartisan basis. It was Nixon who set up the SNAP program.

So something—and then, really, since then we haven’t made very much progress at all in our country and the income growth—there had—we’ve had a growing economy but it’s almost all been concentrated in the top 1 percent. It’s just absolutely a scandal, which NETWORK is really focusing on, and the low-income people have not had income growth for 35 years—even people in the middle-income distribution, you know, maybe 1 percent a year.

So, and I think—I think, since we’re at the Council on Foreign Relations, a lot of those people—a lot of people—working people, low income, and also middle-income people—are disappointed because their mom and dad did better, and they’re resentful. And so some of that is coming out as resentment of other people who are getting welfare—“welfare”—and some of it is also resentment against the Chinese and the Mexicans because somebody else is getting ahead or they’re coming here and I am not getting ahead.

So I think, and people who work in this place probably think, that U.S. well-being will be well served if the world is getting better off. But there are a lot of people in our country who do not believe that. And so if we want internationalist—U.S. internationalist policies like international aid or trade or climate change—part of the—you can’t get those anymore. Unless we also have domestic policies that will deal with mass incarceration, that will deal with the earned income of low and middle-income people or housing or the other issues that we’ve been talking about, you can’t have progressive international policy.

I think we’re seeing it, that there are a lot of people who do want America first because they don't feel—so we’ve got to have a more just distribution of economic growth in this country if we’re going to have U.S. voter support for policies that’ll contribute to growth in the world.

HARPER: So I’m actually going to skip order a little bit. I’m just going to—I want to pitch my next question to you back again because you brought it up and I don't want to lose this. What do you—what do you think is the impact of race with regard to poverty? What’s the—what’s the intersection there?

Maybe another way to put that is what part do you think that the political construct of race in particular plays in the human hierarchy with regard to global and domestic policy with regard to poverty?

BECKMANN: So global—I mean, any country I can think of—I haven’t sort have done a(n) inventory of all the countries in the world, but almost any country there are groups of people who are on the outs—ethnically, they’re on the outs—and it’s often darker-skinned people but not everyplace. So it can be lower caste people or in Ghana it’s the people in the north part of Ghana, and these groups of people are—they tend to be poor and exploited. They go together.

And then it’s also true in our own country, of course, that people of color in our country are twice as likely to be poor—twice as likely, and a lot of that—certainly for Native Americans and African-Americans, a lot of that has to do with historic violence against those people, but then ongoing policies that discriminate against them economically and politically and in every other way.

So, Lisa, you raised the mass incarceration and the racial injustice in our criminal justice system. That’s a clear current example where a lot of folks—you know, we know that every time somebody goes to prison the kids are poorer, and when mom or dad comes out of prison they’re going to stay poor—

CAMPBELL: They’re even worse.

BECKMANN: —because you can’t get a job for five, ten years.

HARPER: Or ever, really. Yeah.

BECKMANN: Or ever. Yeah. So it’s—racism and poverty are twin evils. They’re interconnected and especially in our time, when there’s been a resurgence of white supremacy in our country, we’ve got to work on them together. The good thing is I see that in the faith communities—in fact, from a lot of places—people are responding and religious leaders are figuring out ways to do racial education in their communities. We got to do that.

HARPER: Great. Thank you so much.

Simone, Nuns on the Bus—you did this national tour several times. I had the pleasure of being on the last one right around the Republican Convention, doing lemonade on the corner. It was awesome. But you did this so much and I wonder what are the lessons that you learned about 21st century poverty by going out and talking to the people and seeing what you saw?

CAMPBELL: Well, it is a tremendous privilege to do the bus, but what I’ve learned is most important is that we on the bus don’t come with answers. We come with questions, and we come and learn from communities the answers that they have, that they’ve discovered, and the ways they’re moving forward.

I remember being in Fort Wayne and just after the—just before the Republican Convention and we were at Vincent Village and we were with four moms who had just the week before gotten permanent housing after being long-term homeless with their kids, having lived in their cars. And these women were amazing in their—one, in their excitement. I could totally get it.

But then they got talking about how—what they had done in their cars to keep things neat, to make sure their kids could get a shower, to be in a safe—park overnight in a safe place—all of the learning about the—to reduce the trauma for their kids about being homeless—


CAMPBELL: —and then talking—on the racial piece, talking with these moms. This one mom said to me that she had been at the fabric store earlier that week to get some material for curtains to hang on the window and she was so excited about it, and she’s African-American and this other woman comes in—a white woman comes in and says to the clerk, oh, here, you need to cut my fabric, or something like that, and she said, I’m with a client—I’ll be with you just a moment. This white woman goes to the manager and says, she needs to deal with me first.

And then the manager goes to the clerk and says, take care of her first, and this African-American mom, so proud of buying fabric for her windows for her new home where her kids were going to be safe and she didn’t have to worry about where they were going to park and be safe at night, she’s totally dismissed and discriminated against. This brings tears to my eyes, and one of the things about the bus is the bus takes us to places where we want to weep.


CAMPBELL: And then it fuels—fuels our passion for dealing with the reality of our time. We have got to change this. Let us weep first and then engage, because it’s from that broken-hearted place where joy emerges.

HARPER: Mm hmm.

Ruth, in our earlier conversation—again, on that prep call—you raised a really profound point that I want to—I want to flesh out a little bit. You said the nature—the gap between the rich and the poor in the U.S. is now being replicated in the Global South. Can you dig a little bit more into that and share your thoughts on that, on the global implications of this reality?

MESSINGER: Well, I mean, that’s what I was talking about about the influence of money—influence of money in politics, influence of money in who owns the land, influence of money and who establishes—who gets elected to office and, you know, the United States—probably not today for anyone in this room—but has some legitimate reason to have been proud of some of the models over the last 250 years that we’ve established—

BECKMANN: Not anymore.

MESSINGER: —that may let us survive the next few years but that—you know, have been a beacon for many countries around the world. But very often, first of all, in our own minds we’re a much bigger beacon than we deserve to be. In many of the countries that we’ve encouraged to move toward democracy, for example, voter turnout is infinitely higher than it is in the United States.

But, meanwhile, this business of the income gap is spreading and it’s spreading because, basically, of Western wealth, acquiring things, and continuing to build power after they ran out of quick and easy deals, which they haven’t quite run out of, but in this country finding other ways to do it.

So the life of small holder indigenous farmers, the vast majority of whom are women, literally to have a farm and feed their families is being undermined in the most literal way every day in various countries by people pulling the land out from under them. I mean, it’s the one thing that the academic community has right. The universities call this land grabbing and that’s exactly what it is in these communities.

The exciting thing is that they fight back and that they organize and that they use exactly what we’re trying to talk about here, nonviolent—commitments to nonviolence, commitments to organizing—and they win some battles and they’re winning some court cases.


MESSINGER: But, meanwhile, the powers that be and which I just have to add—all of you know this—but many of which—just want to get my prepositions right—we and some of our congregants and some of our institutions are invested in. That is, we own stock in companies that are perpetrating some of these evils around the world, and it’s very hard to figure out that—the route of that money.

But I promise you, in country after country it’s going to further oppress poor people. I would totally agree with David, not that I’ve checked it country by country any more than he has. But constantly people are inclined—and we have a leader in this country right now who encourages this and has encouraged this every minute that he’s had his mouth open for the last two years—if you don’t like something, not organize, not take action—if you don’t like something, blame somebody who is of a different faith and color and nationality.

So all of that effort—much of that effort to build across those lines in this country and elsewhere, and if it happens in this country, if we continue to do tax cuts that make the wealthy wealthier and hurt everybody, as Sister Simone said, that then becomes—that’s the American model and it becomes acceptable to copy it and there’s no—we offer them no check and balance on how other countries in the world conduct their business because we’re a model for out of control capitalism that further threatens and oppresses poor people and makes it virtually impossible for the people that I know to make social change, which is not to say that they never do.

So let’s be clear that just as the numbers—the amount of global poverty has been cut, just as we’ve made some progress in this country around the world in places you wouldn’t have heard of even before this president became a perpetual distraction on the news but you certainly aren’t going to hear about now. People like Leymah Gbowee are stopping a civil war in Liberia. People like Berta Caceres, who lost her life defending land for Honduran farmers, are successful.

The peasants in El Salvador—and I want to do a shout out—faith-based shout out here—the peasants in El Salvador organized in just the way I’m talking about against mineral mining—tiny grassroots groups. We are proud to have supported some of them. They organized. In community after community they took this issue to their priests.

The priests organized—thank you—and took the issue on behalf of the Catholic Church of El Salvador to the government. Only if that interim step had happened by the church the government of El Salvador has now been the first—the first country in the world to ban mineral mining on behalf of its poor people, and that’s the kind of change that we can make if we keep working.


HARPER: Thank you.

I want to just pitch one more question to the whole group and then we’re going to open it up, and this is the question of action. Can you share with us one strategic action that faith communities can take in order to fight poverty—21st century poverty—today? David, and—


HARPER: —very, very—like two minutes each.

BECKMANN: Oh, fast. So I—to me, we’ve got to change the priorities of the U.S. government. That’s not the only thing, but that moves a lot, and I think God’s given—God’s given us an opportunity in our generation we really could virtually end material misery, and it could be done, like, in 15 years.

But you need leadership from the U.S. government for what has to happen at the state and community level and then also globally. And you don’t—I mean—I mean, favor more radical change but, really, if, you know, you just get a tilt of the U.S. government from going this way to going this way, it’s a feasible tilt in our government’s direction and if you could stay—sustain that over 15 years, the world will have dramatically, dramatically less poverty.

So that’s why got to work in the elections to change who’s in the Congress this year. All of us should be giving money and time and votes to good candidates and we’ve got to do, you know, just old-fashioned advocacy with our members of Congress.

HARPER: That’s really great. Thank you.


CAMPBELL: I have to say, David, the image that I had was changing the tilt, that we could all be beavers under the legs of the table on one side and—(laughter)—gnaw away at it and it’ll get it.

MESSINGER: Tilt the table, yeah.

CAMPBELL: We’ll surprise them. We’ll surprise them. (Laughter.)

I might, oh, fellow people of faith, Pope Francis a couple weeks ago issued this exhortation and I think it’s the heart of what we’re called to. We’re called to be—and I never think of this—we’re called to be holy, and he says holiness is exemplified by perseverance. We can’t stop. It’s exemplified by joy and a sense of humor.

We’re a very bad advertisement for this work—(laughter)—if all we are is miserable and then say, come join us. You know, join in a sense of humor. Boldness and passion—this is not a time for timidity. Trust the spirit among us, within us, to act boldly. Be in community because no one of us holds this alone. It’s only in community that we can make it happen.

And the fifth thing he says is be in constant prayer. Constantly know the connection with the Divine that fuels our passion and listen for that wee small voice within that will tell us each what our part is and then the whole community can make the real change that we’re talking about.


HARPER: Thank you.


MESSINGER: OK. I gave you one example before in terms of joy. It’s Emma Goldman, right, who said, I want to dance at your revolution.


MESSINGER: So joy, happiness on all occasions. Otherwise, we’re going to all run out of steam and energy. When you’re talking about international investments, which is still where a piece of my energy is, but that can be addressed through changing policy in this country, it is demonstrably true—statistically true—invest in women and invest in the education of women and girls would make the single most dramatic change all over the world but particularly in the Global South.

All of us, as faith people, need to be doing more, and I’m going to say that regardless of what you’re doing. There is—depending on whether I’m going to be true to my institution or stick my neck out—I’ll stick my neck out—there is a genocide of the Rohingya population in western Myanmar, and we will wonder again why we didn’t do more to stop it when it finally gets defined as a genocide. It’s now—the academics are now calling it a genocide. The government and the United Nations are calling it a looming genocide. I don’t know what a looming genocide means.

It’s a genocide of a population. Six hundred and fifty thousand people in the last three months have been forced out of Burma—out of Myanmar into Bangladesh where they will without any question destabilize the faith—destabilize the government of Bangladesh because of introducing a new level of faith conflict and where, when the rains come, they will die of cholera.

So act there, and if you can summon up some dancing energy and joy beyond that in this country, I want to say two things. One, which I know everyone in this room has worked on, but let’s not stop working on, first, the plight of the Dreamers, and, second of all, the unbelievable immigration policies of this country.

This is—right now, this is another area of demonstrated statistical change. It is the immigration policies of this country over much—not all, because there were some terrible moments—but much of the last century that account for who is running our organizations, who is getting the valedictory appointments at the New York City high schools. When the Times lists that every year, you just read the countries these young people came from. We have now closed that door and we will all be the losers.

And then, finally, since David mentioned it first so I don’t have to feel like I’m the only person mentioning it, write down—not really—voter registration is not a partisan activity. Voter registration is a nonpartisan activity. Anybody questions you, the website is the great organization called the Alliance for Justice. They will tell you what is not allowed, and there’s almost nothing that’s not allowed other than standing up for a candidate.

So do voter registration. Do get out the vote. Just do it within the guidelines, which are hugely broad, and we will, it looks like, have a significant impact in November, and then two years from now.


HARPER: Amen. So yeah, you can—(laughter). (Applause.)

So now to you. What are the questions that you have? We have about twenty-five minutes to engage in this conversation. First, here. Thank you.

MUKENDI-MUSUNGAYI: Yeah. I am John-Peter Mukendi-Musungayi from Congo.

HARPER: Oh, here.

MUKENDI-MUSUNGAYI: I am from Congo, but I have been in the United States for 17 years now.

And I have—I’m a—I’m a founder of a school. We are based—the school started in North Carolina and its name is the International Theological College of Human Rights and Development, and now we are working in Dallas, Texas, with the school.

We bring people from Africa most of the time—pastors, politicians. They come. They attend our seminars on how they can work to develop their communities, and my impression here with our panelist—I’m a bit afraid because you don’t tell us how the faith communities can help to eradicate poverty.

We are not in—this is not a communist country. This is a capitalist country, and what do you do to help your members, your faith believers? What do you do to help them develop themselves instead—

HARPER: OK. That’s good.

MUKENDI-MUSUNGAYI: Yeah, that’s my question. Yes.

HARPER: So, very practically, what do you do in order to develop the capacity of your congregations to engage? I could also answer that, too, but go for it. Yeah.

CAMPBELL: I just would like to share a little bit about my religious community, the Sisters of Social Service. And our foundress, Margit Slachta, in Hungary in 1923 had this idea, and this is how we work as a religious community. She said, there’s a pyramid. The base is direct service where we work one on one. We work helping people find jobs, engage, get job training, do all of that work.

The second is group work where you work together. You get groups engaged in that—you know, making a difference in their neighborhoods and this kind of thing. The third level is movement work where you aggregate, where you pull together the groups and you get movements going. We saw that with gun violence issue. We see that with the women’s movement. We see that with the anti-nuclear movement. So that's movement work.

And then she says the top is—because she was in the Parliament—she said the top was Parliament or the Congress where you do legislation. But the important piece was legislation only made sense if it was connected to all the other three. And so I work at policy but my Sisters and other organizations work at these different levels, and the way I work at policy is to support those who are making the on-the-ground difference for individuals, for groups, for movements. But you just happened to get the policy people on this panel so that’s what we talked about.

HARPER: Yeah. That’s really great.

Anybody else? Right here.

BECKMANN: Yes. What Bread for the World does is helps people of faith and mainly, churches, equip their people to be active citizens. Most people—so we—I agree with Sister Simone that the empowerment of people, service to people who are in need, all that, what you’re doing, is great. But we have a specialized ministry of helping churches teach their people that citizenship is part of faith, part of discipleship.

And so just in my own church we just did—we encourage churches all over the country to do offerings of letters to Congress and my own church just did it, and so we had 200 letters to Congress. A tenth of them were from people who come to a Thursday morning breakfast—the free breakfast at our church.

So we—a tenth of those letters came from those folks where they talked frankly to our members of Congress about the experience of how important SNAP is in their life and don’t take my food assistance away, please. But then also the youth group did so—and then a delegation—a big delegation of church people went down and met with our members of Congress.

Especially for the high school and middle school kids who did that, I am sure that those middle school and high school kids will be more active citizens the rest of their life because they saw that they were able to talk to their member of Congress, and I’m also pretty sure that most of them are more likely to be part of a religious community in 15 years because they saw this is real. This is—this is godly.


HARPER: That’s really great and, I mean, I will just add that, we actually do faith-rooted organizing training for communities. We’re working in Richmond right now in order to move their faith community throughout Richmond over the period of the next year to three years over the Kellogg Foundation grant given to Initiatives of Change, USA, towards becoming a racially just city and that involves addressing the systems of injustice that work towards poverty—that actually cause poverty.

So there are lots of ways to engage. I think we’ve seen that. Hope we answered your question or at least addressed it.


MESSINGER: I’ll just say one thing. I mean, I think we talked about the steps. I want to make—I want to emphasize Sister Simone’s pyramid. Lots of people—lots of us and, certainly, lots of our congregants—are engaged in service. The question is what’s the connection between that service work and the advocacy action that needs to happen in Congress.

We are always at risk, and sometimes particularly faith communities are at risk, that when we’re doing service it’s like—it’s, like, what we were told to do. So we’re doing the Lord’s work. Oh, yeah, but how many people can you feed on a Sunday—how many people can your massive network feed on a Sunday as opposed to changing the SNAP legislation or stopping the cuts?

So that has to be done as well, and I would urge you in all of the things you do in your congregations to keep making this connection between service and advocacy and I would urge all of you who engage in massive days of service on Dr. King’s birthday. Before next January, get ready to figure out how to talk to your volunteers who are coming out for a day of service—how to teach them what Dr. King said about addressing the structural inequities of materialism, militarism, and racism in this country.

We didn’t do it fifty years ago. We have, in some ways, slipped back since then and that needs to be a piece of their learning or, in fact, to be really blunt, they are dishonoring the memory of one of the great leaders of the American—of the American country.

HARPER: Thank you. And join the Poor People’s Campaign. Hello, somebody. It’s actually starting next Monday. Did you want to add something?

CAMPBELL: Well, I was just thinking, we got a lot—

HARPER: So, yeah, there’s a lot of—thank you.

OK. So let’s go to the back and then towards the front. So in the back, a couple.

CAMPBELL: We’ll be disciplined.

HARPER: Yeah, we’ll be disciplined.

BECKMANN: Yeah, we go to be quiet.

AHMAD: Hi, folks. I’m Tahera Ahmad, director of interfaith engagement and an associate chaplain at Northwestern University, so I’m also a Chicagoan. Shout out to the Chicagoans in here.

So my question is really for the panel but maybe, Ruth, you know, I really kind of, you know, was really relating to a lot of what you said. Yesterday, last night, we talked a little bit about terrorism and it seemed to me—and, you know, folks can chime in if they felt the same way but I did talk to a few people afterwards—and seems like, you know, what—some of what was shared seemed to link terrorism to this idea of theology.

I’m wondering if you folks could maybe shed some of your thoughts around the link between poverty and terrorism. And I’m sure you know Robert—you’ve heard of Robert Pape. He’s been doing a lot of research around this. I’m just wondering what your thoughts are around this systemic injustice that you talked about and, you know, while we can look at theological frameworks and as people of faith and leaders of faith communities really talk about what our faith isn’t versus what it is.

But, really, maybe if you could shed some light around what does global geopolitics and this—the idea of systemic injustice and not having bread and butter to feed your family or the land that you owned once—the land grabbing—what does that have to do with what we see around the world today?

HARPER: Thank you.

Ruth, why don’t you take that one?

MESSINGER: Well, I don’t consider myself an expert in the academic research, but it seems pretty clear to me that the extent to which globally and locally people are, by various parts of the system, deprived of an opportunity to get ahead—deprived of an opportunity hang on to what they have and what they’re using—deprived of their own—those people will—that’s the good news—in many cases, organize and fight back.

But the discipline required to keep people who are that angry and that hungry—and you heard some great examples of that—to do it in an organized advocacy-oriented nonviolent way, it’s pretty easy to understand how hard that is. People are in a state of rage. They’re trying—the mothers that I work with, that Sister Simone talked about in this country as well, trying to plan and feed for their families against fierce odds.

The fact that they’re, with all due respect, buying curtains for the car window as opposed to—and I don't mean this quite graphically—but driving the car into somebody because of their anger, I mean, this is—you know, being without—being deprived is always terrible and is likely to make you some versions of angry and depressed as well as smartly organized for social change.

Being deprived in countries in which it is absolutely clear that what you’ve been trying to build is being taken away from you and that other people are enjoying immense levels of income and wealth growth is sure to breed this kind of difference even without leaders, which, unfortunately we have too many of in the world right now who are saying it’s actually those people’s fault—you know, if those people weren’t here—if we could shut them out then all of a sudden there would be—coal would come back.

I mean, the statements are ridiculous. But if you’re that hungry or that angry or that much without, you’re going to take somebody’s answer and if somebody’s answer is some other group of people is causing you to do this, it’s not surprising that that grows anger and leads to at least violence and, in some cases, to what might be described as domestic terrorism.

HARPER: Great.

CAMPBELL: Can I just add one quick thing? The thing we have not accounted for in any of our policy is the impact of global television. Global television promotes a vision of wealth in the U.S. and in some European countries. But having been in many Third World settings watching television and you see the palatial houses and, you know, streets paved with gold, essentially, that fuels the anger. And also, for hungry people, it raises hope and nothing to lose.

HARPER: And there was a question here and then here. So, I’m sorry—yes, you. That’s right.

GREENHAW: I’ve David Greenhaw. I’m the president of Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis.

And several years ago, I read a book by Jeffrey Stout called Blessed Are The Organized, and he asks a question in it that has haunted me and I want to just read the question very quickly and see if you can help me with it.

He says, it remains unclear whether grassroots democracy can be scaled up to address the realities of power in the age of global capitalism. I raise that because it seems to me that the panel is a great panel of grassroots democracy organizing and work at a scale that has incredible capacity. But is it enough? Is it—it’s not unimportant but is it transformative enough? Can it make the kind of difference that we want to make or are there alternatives we ought to be imagining as well?

HARPER: Interesting. Anybody want to take that? OK.

BECKMANN: Yeah. I’d argue—I mean, what’s clear is that this kind of organizing—through this kind of organizing the faith community has had very substantial impact on the shape of the world. Roughly, half of Africa is doing OK, sort of, and that was not the case in the ’90s, and partly the Jubilee Debt relief Campaign, that was a turning point and then all the stuff we did with Bono and all that. We got more money for African countries that were doing fairly well and that’s made a difference.

So a lot of—a lot of those—there are a lot of places in Africa where there’s economic growth and progress against poverty and some democracy. So that’s an example of really important change that people like us doing grassroots democracy did. I mean, we’ve got a new challenge in that that huge surge in wealth concentration has also screwed up our politics because so much—there’s too damn much money in politics.

Money has always been important but now it’s too damn much—too much money and it’s harder to fight. The tax—the tax cut was a clear example, where Capitol Hill was crawling with corporate lobbyists—lobbyists for the interests of the top 1 percent, top 3 percent.

CAMPBELL: .1 percent.

BECKMANN: Yeah. And so—and they won. They whooped us. So you may be right that—you may be right that we—but I—what’s clear is that we can make—maybe we don’t make enough change but we can make enough change, I think, to put the—our nation and the world on track again toward the end of material misery in our time. I think that, at least, is something God requires.

HARPER: Simone.

CAMPBELL: I would say the question—as a person of faith the question isn’t, is this enough. The question is, am I faithful, and that being faithful to the nudges of this—what I call the spirit of the divine in us, if we respond in fidelity, how can a loving God not use that? And so if there’s something else to be done, fabulous.

I mean, the Nuns on the Bus—who would ever think of it? That was lightning. For me, it was the Holy Spirit. It was the spirit alive and well, and surprised us all. Fabulous. So maybe there are more surprises out there if we’re just open.

MESSINGER: And the only thing I would add to that, because I think we’ve said (as much ?), but many of the decision-makers—not all of them, but many of the people in Parliament, in Congress, in the White House at various times are themselves people of faith, and they’ve chosen, which it’s their choice—but I think it’s also maybe the limits of their faith communities or the permissiveness of their faith communities, certainly mine—to sort of say, OK, you can be a member of Congress here and you could be a mildly observant Jew here and if you need to connect them a little bit, OK, but, of course, politics—you know, you have to do what you have to do.

The more faith communities and faith representatives that are doing dramatic things—and David didn’t talk about this but David has led me into endless fasts at various times, walking through Congress and I haven’t had anything to eat in five days. (Laughter.) But you know what? It makes an impact. It makes an impact and it reminds that member of Congress, regardless of her or his faith, oh, look, these people are really serious, and they’re talking about Islam or Judaism or Christianity as if it meant something, and one of those is my religion and maybe I should be doing something more.

HARPER: That’s awesome.

OK. Two questions here. One here, and then in the back. OK.

BECKMANN: Did we get all three?

HARPER: Where’s the other—where’s the third one?

BECKMANN: Why don’t you ask several questions? Gives more people a chance to—

HARPER: I’m sorry. Where’s the third one? One, two, and then three. OK. Great.

GUTOW: So just because I was—

HARPER: Yeah, it’s fine.

GUTOW: The thing that’s astonished me the most about this particular panel is the very idea that they haven’t been very good at cutting the money for poverty programs this year and I think there’s a lesson there for a lot of us that go back home and do this in cities, do this in states. What happened? Because you wouldn’t have gotten me to think that there was any chance in heck that we would not be seeing a disaster and you’re telling—you all are telling us there’s no disaster in Washington about that.


CAMPBELL: Oh, there’s a disaster.

GUTOW: No, there’s some—I wasn’t—(laughter)—I wasn’t saying there’s no. But, I mean, as far as the poverty programs, they’re basically intact.

BECKMANN: But I want—it does even further. Since the Tea Party came to Washington in early 2011, at that time the faith community organized—the groups that are represented in Washington organized but then—in a couple different ways—so, you know, an interfaith coalition, a Christian coalition to push back against and we—it came to be that virtually all the—all the people who are leaders of large communions of worshipping people agree that the government should not cut programs that help poor people.

We can make them better. We can move money—but you should not take that much money—take money away, and that was—has been a near consensus among established religious leaders since 2011. And despite seven years of budget—you know, of budget conflicts and budget brinkmanship and shutting down the government and then fifteen months of Trumpism, there have been virtually no cuts yet from Congress.

Now, this president is able to do a lot of damage on his own. That’s happening. But Congress, when they came up to—over and over again, and it’s really—you got to give credit to a relatively small group of relatively moderate Republicans who, when it comes up to making the actual decision to cut SNAP, to cut Medicaid, have said, can’t do it.

HARPER: There you go. I’m going to go to the back here and then to the—to the left. There you go.

LESLIE: You know, we talked a lot about money in politics, and as somebody who’s spent a life in the nonprofit world, I’m really curious about money in the church and money in the nonprofit world. You know, we sit at this juncture right now of trying to, at least I do, reconcile these values where we have multinationals that care about hunger and yet they promote sterile seeds, right, so people can’t grow their own food.

We have multinationals—Berta Caceres was murdered because of her fight against a hydroelectric dam by a multinational that could be on our board of directors and sitting in our pews on Sunday, and it just—I just—this sort of them, them, them, and yet what about us, us, us, and how do you all, that work with diverse constituencies and have to live in this sort of vector of the moral, the immoral, and the way we do our own business? How do we—how are we both problem solvers but how are we also problem perpetuators, particularly as people of faith?

HARPER: That’s great. Anybody want to take that?

BECKMANN: Maybe we’ll get another question. Or we get another question.

HARPER: Let’s take one more question and then we’ll do those last two. We actually have a little—

CAMPBELL: I want to respond to that one.

MESSINGER: Yeah, I do, too.

CAMPBELL: I’ve got—

HARPER: All right. Here.

BECKMANN: I chose not to respond to it. (Laughs.)

HARPER: There you go, and then in the back, and that’ll be it.

DHAOUDI: Mongi Dhaoudi with the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy in DC.

I do a lot of work with Tunisia, and Tunisia is, hopefully, a success story in the Middle East, especially after the Arab Spring. We receive a lot of parliamentarians, a lot of NGO leaders, from Tunisia that come to the U.S. You know, most of them are asking for support and help from the U.S. government. They go on the Hill and they—you know, they advocate for that and we try to help them as much as we can.

The response usually from lawmakers in DC. is that, well, the IMF and the World Bank, they have these recommendation for reforms, that you have to stick to them—therefore, you need to do that.

So is there any advice that you can maybe give us that we can pass to them how to navigate this? Because we know what the recommendations from the IMF are. Some of them are legitimate but others are going to even exacerbate some of the problems that we see, especially in the marginalized regions in the country where the Arab Spring started in the first place.

HARPER: Mm hmm. Thank you so much. And then in the back. Thank you. And this will be our last question.

ANDRUS: Thank you. I wanted to go all the way back to Sister Simone’s original opening remarks, but I think it applies to the work all four of you do, and that is I hear in your comments, Sister Simone, the—when you talk about poverty being we and us rather than someone else, what I would call the power of a nondual view, and I wanted to just lift that up and ask each of you to perhaps comment on the power of taking a nondual view.

HARPER: So we won’t be able to have each person, but I want to ask if one of you would like to take that question. I also want to ask if one of—one person wants to take the question of the problem. I think, Sister Simone, you wanted to. But you’ve had two questions pitched to you, so, oh. And then—

CAMPBELL: They’re the same answer.

MESSINGER: Why don’t you just let us each respond?

CAMPBELL: They’re the same answer. Just—

HARPER: OK. OK. Great. And then there’s also the question about how to navigate the problem that—and did anybody catch that, one that wants to, because I actually—

BECKMANN: The nondual view.

HARPER: No, that’s the—yeah.

CAMPBELL: Navigate the IMF.

HARPER: That’s it. The IMF. Thank you. So—

BECKMANN: I don’t know now.

HARPER: —jump in.

MESSINGER: Let’s just do it all and—

BECKMANN: Can I—I want to quote a Bible passage before we quit.


MESSINGER: So we’ll go this way and then he gets to remind us of the text.

So on a couple of these things—first of all, IMF and the World Bank are subject to pressure and, in fact, the Interfaith Task Force of the World Bank to end extreme poverty was created by Jim Kim and, basically, said, OK, I agree with your goals, but I’m going to need the faith community to help, so go out there.

So one of the things I’ve been doing and my colleagues on this task force will tell you they’re really tired of my doing this—their focus is on, as, of course, it should be, the poverty of and the violence against children, which is very important—my focus is on land rights, land rights, land rights, because the World Bank and the IMF could take much more stringent positions on when and where they invested economic development projects lest those projects steal land from people who are currently using them. We’ve made some progress. The World Bank has refused to fund a couple of projects. I think the same thing is true for the IMF.

On the question someplace about aren’t we also the investors in all of this, I think the answer is yes and I think that’s a question of examining carefully, trying to figure out where do you want to draw a line—is there something you want to actually, you know, at least urge in your community not to imbibe, not to invest in—some way you want to look for more careful investments.

I think people need—people are removed from the notion that they are causing any of these problems. That’s the genius and the—of large—of large companies and of investment funds, and it takes a lot of work and planning and thinking to see, like, how much of this can I steer clear of. But, certainly, for our larger denominations and some of our bigger congregations of all faiths that’s another enterprise to undertake and to—and people will be surprised to be educated.

And by the way, this works—last point—on a very local level as well. You know, you’re in New York City—you’re supporting this or that, and fights come up about race and about poverty and people say, like, I’m not doing anything except promoting what I need for my children. Yeah, but you’re making other children suffer additionally and unnecessarily by not thinking the thing through. You know, I don't know how many of you are residents of New York City, but without trying to really depress you, you live in, depending on whose statistics you use, the first or second most segregated school system in the country. That is not the way people think about New York City.

So there are—we’re all partners and participants in all of that all the time, and for sure, folks, you can’t do all of this. Then you get overwhelmed and you're not allowed to be overwhelmed. So pick your issues. (Laughter.) Just remember that despair is not a strategy. So it’s OK to feel some despair but it’s not the strategy that will get us moving. So that’s the next step.

HARPER: So Ruth has actually pitched—taken us into the last piece of our time, which I’m going to actually ask our panelists just to offer thirty seconds of that’s—you used yours. (Laughter.) I’m only kidding. So thirty seconds of one last thought—that if you have one last thought that you want to leave people with, what would that be.

BECKMANN: So I just want to—do you want go first?

MESSINGER: Yes, go for it.

HARPER: Go for it. Go for it. Simone.

CAMPBELL: I’ll go last. I’ll go last.

HARPER: OK. She’s going to go last.

BECKMANN: Oh, I want to go last. OK.

HARPER: She wants to take it home. She wants to take it home.

BECKMANN: OK. Well, I want to—I have been—

MESSINGER: We’re a shy bunch.


BECKMANN: The last two or three weeks I’ve been really struck by the last verse of Psalm 31 from the Hebrew Scriptures, and the psalm is about poor people in a time of abandonment and arrogant people getting away from—with it and the psalmist feeling desperate, and—but the last verse has three exhortations, which I really was struck by.

One is, let your hearts take courage. Let your hearts take courage. Wait for the Lord and be strong. I love it. (Laughter.) So I just wanted to share that.



CAMPBELL: All right. Taking my courage and being strong, I will say in response to the question about what do you do when we’re also the problem, which really goes to the nondual approach, is if we care about poverty or any of these issues, we need to hunger and thirst for justice and in that hungering and thirsting that we come to see what resources do we have in our midst. If we’re part of the problem, then we’re also part of the solution. That’s the good news.

So who do I have around me that I can touch, that I can tap, that I can brainstorm with, and the latest example for me of this is discovering, in a conversation with a foundation program officer, that the foundation world only requires the distribution of funds for good. They don’t require the investment of the funds be for good. And so they are investing in a whole huge corpuses into huge companies that don’t pay living wage, are exploiting internationally, are doing bad stuff. So now here’s my new campaign.

MESSINGER: Or allowing gender assaults.


MESSINGER: Practicing racism in hiring.

CAMPBELL: So my new campaign is to say, hey, when I’m in conversation with funders, let me have a conversation about how the whole foundation might be able to work for justice, and I have a hunch there’s a whole bunch of people in this room that could pick up that campaign. But it’s the being—having eyes to see the resources that are all around.

And just, last, if I could just say that, you know, in our Christian tradition there’s this story of loaves and fish where Jesus blessed this bread and fed everybody. But the thing that I think is so important for us now is a quick poem that—it’s my poem, but I want to share it with you because it’s my prayer for all of us, and it goes like this.

I always joked that the miracle of loaves and fish was sharing. The women always knew this. But in this moment of need and notoriety, I ache, tremble, almost weep at folks so hungry, malnourished, faced with spiritual famine of epic proportion. My heart aches for their need. Apostle like, I whine, what are we among so many. The consistent 2,000-year-old ever new response is this. Blessed and broken, you are enough. I savor the blessed, cower at the broken, and pray to be enough.

Thank you.

BECKMANN: I’m in. (Applause.)

HARPER: Join me in thanking the panel and thank you so much for coming and for—

MESSINGER: And thank you to Lisa, who has managed to rein us in. (Laughter.)


HARPER: Thank you. Thank you, guys.


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