"We're calling on the major presidential candidates to stop therhetoric of religiosity and speak directly to the most importantdomestic issue today, the wide and growing gap between Americanfamilies doing well and those mired in poverty," the Rev. Johnny RayYoungblood of New York, co-chair of the Industrial Area Foundation'sregional division, told a news conference here.
"We are aware of the limitations of faith-based solutions tosociety's problems. We want to start a debate about the stubborn realityof low-wage work, and scarce and unaffordable housing."
Catholic, Protestant and Jewish members of the foundation'sregional division, which represents 14 religious-based community groupsalong the East Coast, traveled to Washington for the Tuesday (Jan 11)announcement of the group's goals for the political campaign season.
During a news conference held in the shadow of the White House athistoric St. John's Episcopal Church, speakers proposed a federalrequirement that all publicly funded agencies meet a living wage standard in order to receive any federal funding.
"We want a living wage set, a minimum of $25,000 with medicalbenefits," demanded retired Bishop Harold Jansen of the EvangelicalLutheran Church in America, a Washington area resident.
Religious leaders from a variety of denominations voiced theirsupport for the living wage concept.
"The term `working poor' should be an oxymoron," May said in astatement released on his behalf at the news conference. "This is not apolitical or economic issue, but a matter of fundamental morality anddecency; to use a person's labor to make money and then not pay thatperson enough to live decently is a sin."
Bishop John Hurst Adams of Washington, senior bishop of the AfricanMethodist Episcopal Church, echoed May's sentiments.
"We cannot solve profound social problems with petty cash grants tofaith-based organizations," he said. "This nation is wealthy enough andought to be willing to create a national living standard so everybodymakes a living and has a life."
Speakers also urged candidates to address the nation's shortage ofaffordable housing by supporting an expansion of the foundation'sNehemiah program, which builds new and affordable homes for the workingpoor.
"There should not be 5,000 Nehemiah homes around the country, thereshould be 500,000," said Bishop David Benke, the New York-basedspiritual leader of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. "We needcandidates to do more than quote Scripture. We're asking them: `Don'toffer to pray if you're not prepared to walk with us.' That's emptypiety-a piety that quotes the Bible but does not produce."
The foundation's Eastern division plans to present its proposals tocandidates at presidential debates in New Hampshire later this month(January), said Arnie Graf, senior organizer and national staff memberof the Industrial Areas Foundation, a Chicago-based national communityorganizing group.
"In these debates no one is asking, `What about the growing gapbetween rich and poor?' No one is asking that question," he said. "Thequestions they're talking about now aren't relevant to the people. Weneed to ask, `What will you do about urban America, where the people whoneed a living wage live?' They won't be able to put us off anymore."