President Obama remarked that he would like faith organizations and churches to speak to poverty solutions “in a more forceful fashion” at a Georgetown University summit in mid-May. The meeting included faith leaders from Catholic and evangelical denominations, and included political thinkers Robert Putnam of Harvard, and the American Enterprise Institute’s Arthur Brooks.
Putnam said the voice of the faithful in the U.S. is critical to alleviating poverty.
Without the voice of faith, it’s going to be very hard to push this to the top of the agenda,” said Putnam, co-author of “American Grace,” and “Our Kids,” a book about the widening gap between rich and poor children in America.
If religious observance includes an obligation to the poor, the religious can be a powerful force for positive action and social justice, said Putnam.
Rev. Robert Sirico, co-founder of the Acton Institute, commented on the summit’s call for more involvement by churches in meeting the needs of the poor.
The church built the institutions to care for the poor; charities and hospitals are largely a Christian invention. It all stems from the example of Christ himself who told us to care for the poor, and the story of the Good Samaritan,” he said. “From the earliest moments of Christianity that idea was set in our DNA.”
Sirico pointed out that churches and faith organizations have information and relationships with the poor that government programs simply don’t.
When you treat poverty at the highest levels of government you can end up with cookie-cutter solutions that touch people’s lives, but not necessarily a particular life with particular problems,” he said.
He points to the bishop storehouse welfare model of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which he has visited in Salt Lake City, as an example of a successful private model tailored to suit the needs of a particular community.
“That model would be more difficult in a Catholic Church that’s not so mono-cultural, but nobody can tell me that doesn’t work, it absolutely works for that community.”