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Asking the Clergy: Why (or how) are the faithful called to help the poor?

The Rev. Dr. Henrietta Scott Fullard, presiding elder,

The Rev. Dr. Henrietta Scott Fullard, presiding elder, Long Island District, African Methodist Episcopal Churches Credit: African Methodist Episcopal Church

Half a century after The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Poor People’s Campaign, a coalition of faith and justice organizations is seeking to revive King’s anti-poverty efforts as a national “moral agenda.” This week’s clergy discuss why, and how, their faiths consider it a religious obligation to address economic injustice.

The Rev. Henrietta Scott FullardPresiding elder, Long Island District, African Methodist Episcopal Churches

Jesus indicated that the poor will be among us always (Matthew 26:11). That’s a clear direction to his disciples and to us that perhaps even our friends and family, people we know, will require our ministries to show love for Jesus Christ through our care of the poor.

The poor are those who suffer from injustice, inequality, lack of food, clothing and housing, and needless incarceration. They may be unable to finance their own support and may need government assistance. We must, as part of our ministry, have in place opportunities for our congregation and its members to support the poor in different places — not just in our homes and in our communities, but around the globe.

The poor are essential to the operation of ministry and to the keeping of faith in our religion and faith in our church. If we are to work, move and walk in the likeness of Jesus, we must be out among the poor. Jesus went out to the seashores of Galilee, and he fed the multitude of 5,000 people who were hungry with two fish and five loaves of bread. On one occasion, Jesus told a man to go and sell all of his possessions and give the money to the poor, and come and follow him.

Jesus loves the family, children, the homeless, the poor, the needy and the least of these, our brothers and sisters. Jesus has given us a mandate for that to also be our calling. Our calling is to go and feed the hungry and to be there when people are in need and take care of them.

The Very Rev. Christopher D. Hofer

Rector, Church of St. Jude (Episcopal), Wantagh

As a child, I knew what it meant to be poor. My parents never had money and struggled to make ends meet. Yet, in the midst of our scarcity, they helped others by housing and feeding those with less than us, sometimes months at a time. They taught me that no matter how little we had, there was always someone with less and that God calls us to always help the poor.

In the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, God calls followers to provide for the needs of the poor. Jesus models this by feeding the hungry, healing the sick and reaching out to widows, women and children. Likewise, he mandates his followers to care for strangers, prisoners, the naked and thirsty (Matthew 25:31-40).

A couple of years ago, after much prayer and discernment, with the assistance of the Diocese and Episcopal Ministries of Long Island, our parish opened The St. Jude Mission Center at St. Michael and All Angels in Seaford to provide assistance to society’s most vulnerable. Through The Mother and Child Ministry, we provide food, diapers, clothing and much more to single, working mothers, babies and toddlers who otherwise couldn’t make ends meet. With the assistance of community partners (including both religious and secular), we are able to supplement the lives of hundreds of Long Islanders who would go without. We do this not just because Jesus mandates it, but because we feel compelled to do so.

Rabbi Ben HermanJericho Jewish Center

The Torah contains numerous verses on our duties toward the poor. As the Torah teaches, “If there is among you a needy person, one of your brethren, within your gates, you shall not harden your heart nor shut your hand from your needy brother.” (Deuteronomy 15:7) How is this done? Through working at soup kitchens to ensure that people have food, through working at homeless shelters to ensure they have a place to sleep and (most importantly) working to eradicate poverty.

The ideal state is a few verses before this one: “There shall be no needy among you.” (Deuteronomy 15:4) The reason given for this can be problematic: “For God will surely bless you in the land which God gives to you as an inheritance as long as you observe and do all the commandments that I command you this day.” (Deuteronomy 15:5) As there is no shortage of poor people in our midst, does that mean they (or we) are being punished for forsaking the commandments? Rather than examine from that perspective, I prefer the approach of what we can do, moment by moment and day by day, to create a world in which there will be no poor people. One must also note the myriad times in which the Torah asks us to help “the stranger, the orphan and the widow,” imploring us to protect the most vulnerable members of our society. We are implored to remember when we ourselves were vulnerable and exploited, most notably as slaves in Egypt (mentioned 36 times in the Torah) and thus must ensure that we protect those who are vulnerable and in need today.

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