Column: Congress should act to feed the hungry

Russell Meyer  handout
Russell Meyer handout
Published June 5 2018
Updated June 12 2018

When Jesus fed 5,000 families in the desert, he didn’t ask first if the adults had jobs or if their households believed in him. He fed people as a matter of course to fulfill justice and bring forth compassion in the land. I hope Washington follows suit and continues to feed hungry people through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps.

We’ve seen a "food bill" fail in the U.S. House. It would have cruelly cut SNAP help to almost two million Americans by needlessly imposing unfunded regulation on states in administering the program.

By increasing red tape and creating more hoops for families to jump through, the net effect of the proposal would be to feed fewer hungry people. My church, like many others, works hard to feed the hungry in our neighborhood. Feeding the hungry is a religious value; yet we lack the resources to feed all in need. Thankfully, our country has more than enough resources to meet the needs of its people. Feeding the hungry is an American value, too.

I’m the pastor of the Lutheran Urban Parish of Tampa and the executive director of a coalition of many different Florida churches, the Florida Council of Churches. Both of these positions call me to speak up for struggling families, seniors and veterans, and give witness to what I see.

Every week, people come to us seeking food. We hear Jesus tell us as he did his disciples, "You feed them." We give what we have out of love, but we’re not a grocery store. With broken hearts, we end up sending people away hungry. People are forced to choose between the electric bill or the grocery bill, paying rent for their apartment or getting adequate, healthy food for their growing toddler. By helping people pay for food, we work to restore their dignity, but we can’t do this alone. We need Congress to fulfill its proper role in defending people from the indignity of hunger.

All of the churches I work with in the Florida Council of Churches see feeding people as core to their faith. We disagree on lots of things, but we all agree on core moral elements of our faith. Everyone is created in the image of God and has dignity. That dignity includes freedom from hunger. This basic moral inclination isn’t even particularly Christian. It is shared by my Jewish and Muslim family, people of other faiths and of no faith at all. Protecting people from hunger is a matter of universal love and justice.

Every government has a God-given responsibility to make sure that vulnerable people are protected. The richest nation on earth, we shouldn’t allow children to go hungry. We shouldn’t let our seniors’ fridges be empty. There is no excuse for tolerating hunger in our communities. SNAP is an effective, cost-efficient way to swiftly help people who need it badly.

Rev. Dr. Russell Meyer is pastor of the Lutheran Urban Parish of Tampa and the executive director of the Florida Council of Churches.