"We're calling on the major presidential candidates to stop the rhetoric of religiosity and speak directly to the most important domestic issue today, the wide and growing gap between American families doing well and those mired in poverty," the Rev. Johnny Ray Youngblood of New York, co-chair of the Industrial Area Foundation's regional division, told a news conference here.
"We are aware of the limitations of faith-based solutions to society's problems. We want to start a debate about the stubborn reality of low-wage work, and scarce and unaffordable housing."
Catholic, Protestant and Jewish members of the foundation's regional division, which represents 14 religious-based community groups along 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 at historic St. John's Episcopal Church, speakers proposed a federal requirement 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 medical benefits," demanded retired Bishop Harold Jansen of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, a Washington area resident.
Religious leaders from a variety of denominations voiced their support for the living wage concept.
"The term `working poor' should be an oxymoron," May said in a statement released on his behalf at the news conference. "This is not a political or economic issue, but a matter of fundamental morality and decency; to use a person's labor to make money and then not pay that person enough to live decently is a sin."
Bishop John Hurst Adams of Washington, senior bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, echoed May's sentiments.
"We cannot solve profound social problems with petty cash grants to faith-based organizations," he said. "This nation is wealthy enough and ought to be willing to create a national living standard so everybody makes a living and has a life."
Speakers also urged candidates to address the nation's shortage of affordable housing by supporting an expansion of the foundation's Nehemiah program, which builds new and affordable homes for the working poor.
"There should not be 5,000 Nehemiah homes around the country, there should be 500,000," said Bishop David Benke, the New York-basedspiritual leader of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. "We need candidates to do more than quote Scripture. We're asking them: `Don't offer to pray if you're not prepared to walk with us.' That's empty piety-a piety that quotes the Bible but does not produce."
The foundation's Eastern division plans to present its proposals to candidates at presidential debates in New Hampshire later this month (January), said Arnie Graf, senior organizer and national staff member of the Industrial Areas Foundation, a Chicago-based national community organizing group.
"In these debates no one is asking, `What about the growing gap between rich and poor?' No one is asking that question," he said. "The questions they're talking about now aren't relevant to the people. We need to ask, `What will you do about urban America, where the people who need a living wage live?' They won't be able to put us off anymore."