Fast, Pray and Protect Hungry People

My friend Tony Hall told me several weeks ago that he felt called to a period of fasting in response to the budget debate that now dominates Congress. I have decided to join Tony (a former member of Congress who now heads the Alliance to End Hunger) in a one-week, water-only fast beginning March 28. Along with Sojourners and other coalition partners, we plan to form a circle of protection around programs that benefit hungry and poor people in the United States and abroad -- programs that new budget proposals threaten to cut in the name of reducing the deficit.

Right now, just 14 cents for every dollar in the federal budget is spent on domestic social safety-net programs, not including health insurance and Social Security. Beyond that, less than 1 cent for every dollar is spent on foreign assistance that helps hungry and poor people. Ironically, these programs are on the chopping block as Congress attempts to balance the budget. Cutting them would do far more damage than good.

I believe strongly in the need to balance the budget, but there has to be a better way. If Congress makes these cuts, people at risk of hunger in the United States will feel the impact immediately -- in their supermarket carts. Hungry parents in developing countries will feel the impact when their children ask for rice they can't afford. Does it bother us that millions of people across the globe stand to be impacted by these cuts? It should. The debate about the federal deficit is really a debate about our national priorities. It's time we reshape those priorities, and my colleagues and I are inviting God to help us do it.

Our plan next week is to focus attention on how people in need will be affected by these proposed cuts. We're going to communicate with members of Congress, urging them to make effective programs for hungry and poor people a priority instead of slashing the current systems that support them.

Back in 1993, Tony, then a member of Congress, conducted a 22-day fast when looming budget cuts also threatened progress against hunger. He made a strong impact then, and we believe we can have an even greater impact now. But we're not alone. In addition to Bread for the World, Sojourners and the Alliance to End Hunger, our growing list of partners includes American Jewish World Service, Congressional Hunger Center, Feeding America, Food for the Hungry, Islamic Relief USA, Meals on Wheels Association of America, New Manna Inc., ONE, Society of Saint Andrew and World Food Program USA.

I invite you to join us in this fast -- but do it in a way that's right for you. We have developed a guide that describes the spiritual basis of fasting and various ways you can participate: by skipping a meal, praying for hungry and poor people, taking only water and/or speaking to your members of Congress.

We must not abolish the support systems in place for vulnerable people without a plan to replace them. This is a moral imperative, but also a practical one. It is bad economics to do away with support systems for millions of people who can't afford to provide for themselves and their families.

Ending hunger sounds ambitious, but it is possible if we first change the politics of hunger. I invite you to join us in this great effort and make a difference for people in need.

World Food Prize laureate Rev. David Beckmann is the president of Bread for the World, a collective Christian voice urging our nation's decision makers to end hunger at home and abroad. He is also president of Bread for the World Institute, which provides policy analysis on hunger and strategies to end it, and serves as president of the Alliance to End Hunger, which works with diverse U.S. institutions in building the political will to end hunger.