As the general election rapidly approaches, Rich Stearns, president of World Vision U.S., poses a challenge to both presidential candidates: Make the poor a priority.
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This year, amid the presidential campaigns, we've heard a lot about the middle class. We’re told that such-and-such a policy was designed to appeal to middle-class voters. Another policy will strengthen the middle class.
But there's one issue I've missed hearing from both candidates’ campaigns: I haven’t heard a word about what they propose to do for those who suffer from poverty -- here in the United States or around the world.
Unfortunately, the number who are poor and in need is growing. The U.S. Census recently found that 146 million Americans are living in poverty or are considered low-income.
That means that nearly half of Americans live on less than $46,000 per year for a family of four. Many of these people are elderly, disabled, veterans, or single moms -- people who work hard or are unable to work.
But as difficult as it is for many Americans today, their challenges cannot compare to the suffering of millions globally. Today, nearly 1 billion people are affected by hunger. Some regions in East and West Africa are on the brink of famine. Because of hunger and other preventable causes, nearly 19,000 children die every single day.
Certainly, families in the United States today are experiencing significant hardship -- yet I believe we still have the responsibility to address basic human needs that far too many people around the world don't have met.
As voters, I think we need to consider not only how a candidate’s policies would affect us personally, but also how they would help the poor. While there are a number of issues for voters to weigh in on during this election -- from foreign policy to economic recovery -- it is a shame that our national leaders have nothing to say about our responsibility to the growing number of people in poverty.
That responsibility to the most vulnerable applies to us not only as individuals, but as a society. As the prophet Ezekiel warned Israel:
Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.
Note that Ezekiel didn’t name Sodom’s sexual sins, but her lack of concern for the poor.
Whenever a family experiences this kind of hardship -- due to unemployment, drought, or any other cause -- it is our responsibility to help ease their suffering and provide a helping hand. This is simply what Jesus has called His people to do.
It is often said that politicians “buy” votes by promising policies to benefit certain groups. What would happen if American Christians “sold” their votes to the candidate who promised to work for the widows and orphans, and to aid those suffering in poverty?
In an election year when appealing to the middle class seems so essential, our politicians must be advocating policies to help poor families become economically stable and self-sustaining -- both here at home and around the world.
Read related article: Fighting poverty in a tough economy
What do you think? What involvement should we have, as Christians and as Americans, in caring for "the least of these," both here in the United States and around the world? Share your thoughts as comments below.
Send a message to President Obama and Governor Romney. Tell them that you care about fighting global poverty and disease, and ask them to affirm their commitments to this cause by supporting U.S. international assistance programs.