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Monday, March 29, 2021

Always With Us | Monday of Holy Week 2021


"You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me."John 12:8

Among certain types of U.S. Christians, when faced with the extreme poverty present in the world, and called upon to help, it's common to hear in response, "We'll always have the poor with us." As if that were meant to be a fatalistic prophecy or endorsement of the status quo. As if words attributed to a man who lived two millennia ago should relieve their consciences of any sense of empathy and responsibility towards their fellow humans. In fact, the implication of this text and the rest of Jesus' teaching is that in the absence of Jesus present, the poor should get all that attention as though they were him. Hopefully as Christian churches decline in the West the negative attitude will begin to shift, but the impoverished in our world right now don't have the time to spare. 

Here are some stats to consider courtesy the World Bank:

The global extreme poverty rate fell to 9.2 percent in 2017, from 10.1 percent in 2015. That is equivalent to 689 million people living on less than $1.90 a day. At higher poverty lines, 24.1 percent of the world lived on less than $3.20 a day and 43.6 percent on less than $5.50 a day in 2017.
    • In 2018, four out of five people below the international poverty line lived in rural areas.
    • Half of the poor are children. Women represent a majority of the poor in most regions and among some age groups. About 70 percent of the global poor aged 15 and over have no schooling or only some basic education.
    • Almost half of poor people in Sub-Saharan Africa live in just five countries: Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Ethiopia, and Madagascar.
    • More than 40 percent of the global poor live in economies affected by fragility, conflict and violence, and that number is expected to rise to 67 percent in the next decade. Those economies have just 10 percent of the world’s population.
    • About 132 million of the global poor live in areas with high flood risk.
But many people who had barely escaped extreme poverty could be forced back into it by the convergence of COVID-19, conflict, and climate change. A “nowcast” (preliminary estimate) for 2020, incorporating the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, projects that an additional 88 million to 115 million people will be pushed into extreme poverty, bringing the total to between 703 and 729 million. 
Infographic via the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs
In 2017 the Unitarian Universalist Association's General Assembly voted to approve a 'Statement of Conscience: Escalating Economic Inequity,' in which steps that can be taken by individuals and congregations were listed. 

As Individuals we can:
    • Review our personal history and our national history with money, our class backgrounds, and how that shapes our relationships with financial matters.
    • Examine our role in the financial system and what we are willing to change.
    • Assess how we personally spend money and use our money in support of our values.
    • Invest in social impact hubs that fund entrepreneurs representing those parts of society that are economically oppressed or marginalized.
    • Seek out and support black-owned and indigenous-owned businesses, as well as businesses owned by other racialized and marginalized groups.
    • Recognize and support other enterprises directly benefiting those who are marginalized or oppressed.
    • Consider the ecological consequences of every economic decision and whenever possible, buy local and participate in Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs), farmers’ markets, and locally owned businesses.
    • Spend money compassionately, considering whether items are ethically sourced and employers have ethical labor practices.
    • Track, promote, and abide by boycotts and support firms that treat workers, suppliers, and the environment fairly.
    • Actively support or participate in unions, union retiree groups, worker centers, and organizing drives.
    • Mobilize ourselves and others to use the ballot box, campaign donations, and letters to the editor, social media, and calls/emails/visits with elected officials to work for a moral economic system.
    • Invest in micro-loan projects, crowd-source funding, time banks, and other finance options outside the corporate banking and investment system.
    • Engage in ecologically and socially responsible investing and use our power as stockholders to influence company policies.
    • Divest from racist systems; invest in communities of color.
    • Move accounts from corporate banks to local banks or credit unions.
    • Report and avoid businesses that use enslaved labor.

As Congregations we can:

    • Engage in continuing study on inequity using materials such as the Commission on Appraisal’s 2017 book on Classism.
    • Assess the congregation’s biases and attitudes toward those from various class and economic backgrounds and then make adjustments as needed to be more welcoming and inclusive.
    • Examine the congregation’s relationship with money, including how finances drive operations and programs and how money is discussed, disbursed, and secured.
    • Create an equitable salary scale and benefit package for the congregation’s staff including the minister(s) using the UUA guidelines.
    • Determine how transparent the congregation is about money matters.
    • Organize advocacy initiatives such as postcards, Twitter storm, flash mobs, petition drives, or other large volume campaigns in support of a moral economic system.
    • Keep the congregation’s money in socially responsible investment vehicles.
    • Divest from racist systems; invest in communities of color.
    • Advocate for affordable housing and other community efforts that assist those who are oppressed, marginalized, or disadvantaged.
    • Partner with other local faith communities and social justice groups on joint actions for livable wages, affordable housing, disruptions of intact low-income neighborhoods, gentrification projects, etc.
    • Actively participate in interfaith and other community organizing efforts for local policy and systemic changes that affect economic inequity.
    • Organize or participate in local alternative financial opportunities such as time banks and co-ops.
    • Sponsor educational opportunities within the congregation and the community that reveal factors contributing to increased economic inequity as well as potential solutions.
    • Advocate for getting money out of politics, ending corporate welfare, reforming corporate governance, changing tax laws to be more equitable, revising bankruptcy laws, and increasing support for public education.
State Legislative Ministries can:
    • Include economic inequity as a factor in determining legislative advocacy priorities.
    • Create and publish report cards on state legislators’ records on issues impacting the financial well-being of marginalized groups.
    • Host bi-partisan forums that bring attention to issues identified as part of a moral economic system.
    • Engage in advocacy consistent with a moral economic system: getting money out of politics; ending corporate welfare; reforming corporate governance; reforming bankruptcy laws; reforming the tax code; reforming work place protection to include the LGBTQA+; reforming laws pertaining to bail, sentencing, incarceration, and civil forfeiture; enacting state level universal health care, universal parental leave, and fair wage legislation; and increasing support for public education and job retraining.
As a Denomination we can:
    • Offer to all interested Unitarian Universalists an affordable group health insurance plan and advocate for universal health care coverage for all.
    • Continue socially responsible investment practices.
    • Invest in state legislative ministries and in advocacy at the national level.
    • Participate in interfaith coalitions and other social justice groups that work toward achieving a moral economic system.
    • Continue to work cooperatively with the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) on projects such as “Behind the Kitchen Door.”
    • Invest in low income communities.
    • Invest in communities and leaders of color, and support reparations.
    • Advocate for the various elements of a moral economic system.

As Unitarian Universalists our faith calls us to counter fear with courage and manifest a collective vision of a more just, equitable, and compassionate society.

That's an enormous list, and no one can be on top of everything, as I see it. We can pick at least a few items to act on more immediately, and proceed from there. Also, we would do well to support movements for change, like the Poor People's Campaign

Poverty doesn't have to be a generation's-long condemnation of families and entire populations. We have the means to overcome it, and we should.