Decades after former Lutheran pastor Art Simon founded the Christian advocacy group Bread for the World, he refuses to give up on the goal of ending hunger in the U.S. and across the globe.
At 89, he has written a new book, “Silence Can Kill: Speaking Up to End Hunger and Make Our Economy Work for Everyone.” In it, he encourages readers — religious and nonreligious — to see the value in moving from solely charitable efforts to address hunger to also advocating for legislative action on the issue. He ends his book with practical steps for believers to take, from visiting poor neighborhoods and countries to get to know about the struggles of the people there to writing to members of Congress.
Simon, an ecumenical minister who is affiliated with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, spoke to Religion News Service about the reluctance of some religious people to address hunger and why he thinks food banks are not sufficient to solve the hunger crisis.
The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
As founder of Bread for the World, you have long been concerned about hunger in this country and in the world. Is it any more likely that hunger can be ended in the near future than when you started your organization 45 years ago?
It’s much more likely. We’ve made tremendous progress in recent decades. But the last few years have actually set us back a little bit. So the goal of the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals, getting us to the end by 2030 — possible but a very steep hill. It will take some extraordinary efforts to make that happen by 2030.
What is it about your role as a faith leader that has led you to continue championing this cause?
It was my pastorate in New York City, in quite an economically poor neighborhood, that got me involved very directly in hunger and poverty issues. Before long I was involved in helping to put Bread for the World together as an idea and then, became the first president. I saw that as an extension of my pastoral ministry, actually, rather than a departure from it.
What was it about that congregation where this became an issue for the people in the pews?
There were quite a number of people in the congregation who were economically poor. And the whole neighborhood context of the congregation — constantly dealing with people who were struggling to make a go of it and finding themselves running short on food, on money. And all sorts of complications that come along with hunger and poverty.
You note that religious people are often charitable, often running food banks or contributing to them, but that, that’s not enough. Why is that not enough?
Charity is a wonderful thing. Charity is essential and I’m still actively part of charitable efforts in hunger. But charity can only do so much. It’s quite limited in what it can do in the long run. It doesn’t have a sufficient spread to reach people who need the help and it doesn’t have the authority to make decisions for the nation as a whole. To end hunger — even to reduce hunger — we’ve got to get the whole nation behind it.
Only the government can speak for the nation as a whole. Second Harvest can do a lot, but it can’t do that.
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Source: Religion News Service