Christian Churches Together in the USA (CCT) is the newest and largest federation of Christian Churches, Associations of Churches and Non-profit Organizations which has focused on moral and social issues in the United States. It was established in 2001 and began to recruit members after its organizational meeting in Chicago in 2002. It meets annually and publishes statements of concern affecting millions of people in the United States and beyond.
The topic of poverty was early seen as one that should concern CCT, especially given the importance placed on the subject by evangelical churches and many other Christians because of the central place that it has in the gospel message (Mt 25: 31-46). In 2007 CCT began a series of conversations about the problem of poverty in the United States and more broadly in the world. The central statement issued in 2007 pointed to the fact that poverty had been cut in half in the United States by 1990 thanks to the efforts of government’s “war on poverty” and the ministry of churches and not for profit organizations. It was one of the first topics on which CCT issued statements based on gospel principles and suggested practical means for implementing a strategy.
Principles and Concrete Ideas
The CCT document begins with a listing of principles which seem clear and simple on the subject of poverty. They flow from the scriptural teachings about God’s concern for the poor. “To reduce poverty, we call on churches, government, businesses, communities and families to: strengthen families, strengthen communities, make work work, and improve education. These principles and their connection to the elimination of poverty and hunger are elaborated.
The document then enumerates a number of concrete proposals that will assure that these principles are given concrete realization through strategies. CCT prefaces these strategies by saying: “while CCT does not endorse or promote specific ides to reduce poverty, we encourage church and societal leaders to consider these specific ideas to reduce poverty:”
To strengthen families: ensure national child-nutrition programs and funding and
universal access to health care, especially for children, and assistance to families at risk to losing housing due to the mortgage crisis (including tenants); ensure comprehensive immigration reform that protects the dignity and unity of immigrant families, access to resources such as premarital and marital counseling, parenting skills, mental health care, conflict resolution, financial management skills, and other services to prevent family crises and restore healthy family relations.
To strengthen communities: promote investment in low-income communities, and families should be a part of the economic recovery package (more resources for job creation, food stamps, a fully refundable child tax credit, and education for everyone from pre-kindergarten to adults). People who are poor should be a part of the decision-making process of the recovery proposals.
To make work work: protect and uplift vulnerable families must be the right mix of the following: an increase in the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit, a just minimum wage, expanded coverage of food stamps, increased unemployment insurance, and other proven investments that reward work.
To improve education: mentoring programs to students in pre-school through grade 12 should be provided using the trained voluntary efforts of college students, church members and others. Research should be undertaken to identify safe school models that can be observed as part of a comprehensive program to assure safety for students and staff in all publicly funded schools. Present state and local formulas that depend too much on local property taxes for school funding must be corrected. Funding and/or provision for Early Childhood Education should be a joint effort among government agencies, religious organizations, community groups and private contributors.
The Gospel and Poverty: Next Steps (2009)
At the end of two years, CCT affirmed the gospel base for its principles and concrete ideas to implement its goal of cutting poverty in half in the United States. It also set a goal for ending extreme poverty by 2030. It urged the candidates for the 2016 national election to endorse these goals and objectives during the election campaign, and use the year 2017 with a new president and a new congress, as a new opportunity to strive to cut poverty and hunger by half and eventually to overcome them as problems for millions in the United States.
While everyone may not agree with the specific recommendations or strategies of the CCT Statement, the wide consensus of Christian churches represented by the organization and the millions of Christians who agree with the churches, the need for a concerted effort to cut poverty and hunger in America does require us to heed the gospel’s call to feed the hungry and assist the poor.