At the height of the longest economic boom in the nation'shistory, there are 34.5 million people living below the official povertyline--$16,660 for a family of four.

The seeming contradiction of poverty amid prosperity has propelledthe Call to Renewal, a 5-year-old alliance including liberalProtestants, conservative evangelicals, Roman Catholics andAfrican-American church leaders.

Convened by the Rev. Jim Wallis, an evangelical minister inWashington, the coalition is staging a two-month series of "townmeetings" in 20 cities around the country, running through May. It isalso forming local "roundtables" that aim to bring candidates for publicoffice before church audiences to explain their positions on poverty andthe poor.

On Feb. 16, more than 50 leaders of the Call to Renewal gathered onthe steps of the U.S. Capitol to sign a "Covenant to Overcome Poverty."They pledged to make poverty a "Sunday morning issue."

The first goal of the 10-year campaign is a "poverty tithe," acommitment by congregations to spend at least 10 percent of theirbudgets on anti-poverty programs and to increase that percentage overtime. Also stressed are mentoring and after-school programs in the innercities and other faith-based efforts centered on young people includinggang members.

In addition, the covenant sets out broad public goals such as a"living family income for all who responsibly work."

While saying they have "no detailed blueprint" for overcomingpoverty, the church leaders highlight a mix of possible solutionsincluding a raise in the minimum wage and an expansion of the EarnedIncome Tax Credit, which supplements poverty-level wages through thefederal tax system.

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