We are walloping the poor" and blaming them for their problems, said U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II during a luncheon sponsored by the social action agency of The United Methodist Church.
"Poor people are being blamed for being poor people," said Cleaver, a United Methodist pastor, who was the keynote speaker at the United Methodist Board of Church and Society event. The April 28 luncheon was held at the start of the second week of the 2008 General Conference, the denomination's top lawmaking assembly.
Citing an estimated 700,000 people impacted by Hurricane Katrina, Cleaver said New Orleans's Ninth Ward is still in ruins three years later.
"If you think Beverly Hills would still be in ruins, you must be on crack," he said. Mississippi and Louisiana have the highest poverty rates in the United States, but the rich would not be treated that way, he said.
Cleaver, a Missouri Democrat elected to Congress in 2004, said soaring gasoline prices, the home mortgage debacle and the staggering cost of the Iraq war are hurting the nation's poorest the most.
"Christians can't separate themselves from their faith," he said. "When something is wrong, people of faith must set it straight."
Introducing the speaker as a "pastor in Congress," Jim Winkler, the board's top executive, said Cleaver has dedicated his public service career to economic development and social concerns.
Cleaver was born in Waxahacie, Texas, and lived in a slave shack for eight years before his family moved into public housing. His father worked three jobs to earn enough for the family to get out of the projects and buy a home.
"Having your own home used to mean you were a real citizen," he said. Today, 20,000 people are losing their homes every week in the troubled mortgage market-and are being blamed for making "stupid decisions," he said.
Meanwhile, the Iraq war is costing $341 million a day and has killed more than 4,000 U.S. soldiers and many more thousands of Iraqi people.
"Take a guess at how many of those killed have families belonging to country clubs or Congress," Cleaver said.
"The United States claims to be a Christian nation," he said. "But God is not showing through."
*Gilbert is a news writer for United Methodist News Service based in Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Phone calls can be made to the General Conference Newsroom in Fort Worth, Texas, at (817) 698-4405 until May 3. Afterward, call United Methodist News Service in Nashville, Tenn., at (615) 742-5470.