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Wallis Joins NPU Students in Support for Poor

By Stan Friedman

CHICAGO, IL (November 16, 2011) – Jim Wallis joined more than 170 North Park University students, faculty, and others today as they formed a “Human Circle of Protection” at The Friendship Center, a local food pantry.

They called on political leaders who are trying to slash the deficit to maintain funding for programs that provide nutritious food to the poor.

“You don’t start cutting budgets with the Friendship Center,” said Wallis, the president and CEO of Sojourners. Click here to view a portion of an interview with Wallis.

The human circle references “A Circle of Protection,” a national campaign initiated this year by more than 50 U.S. religious leaders who signed a document bearing the same name. It exhorts Congress and the Obama Administration “to give moral priority to programs that protect the life and dignity of poor and vulnerable people in these difficult times.”

Evangelical Covenant Church President Gary Walter is a signatory to that document. Other signatories include Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals; Richard Stearns, president of World Vision-United States; and William A. Roberts, national commander of The Salvation Army, among many others. Thousands of religious leaders and laity have since signed the statement. Click here to read the document.

The students walked together to the food center located two blocks west of the university campus following the school’s weekly chapel service. The center maintains a food pantry that serves 450 families each month and also provides donated clothing, household good as well as other services, said director Joey Ekberg.

The center is a ministry of North Park Covenant Church. Much of the food is supplied by the Greater Chicago Food Depository, which serves the needs of more than 140,000 people in Cook County each week.

Massive budget cuts have been legislated and others proposed to reduce the nation’s deficit. A super committee of senators and representatives has been meeting to hammer out a cost-cutting agreement that would stave off automatic budget cuts if that effort fails. Advocates for the poor want to ensure that programs providing a safety net are not cut.

“Things in Washington can get complicated, and (the politicians) like it that way,” Wallis said. The lawmakers and lobbyists representing powerful interests want to obfuscate the process so people don’t know what is happening, he explained.

Wallis said the Circle of Protection and other advocates are speaking for the poor and vulnerable. “We don’t live on K Street – we live all across the country,” he stated. Many of the country’s most powerful lobby firms are located on K Street.

“We’re here to say our job is to defend poor and vulnerable people,” Wallis said. “We’re here to say we’re watching, and God is watching.”

In an interview following the event, Wallis expressed his displeasure with lawmakers. “Neither party has been a champion for poor and vulnerable people,” he said.

In July, a dozen religious leaders met with President Obama. A bishop in the group said, “Mr. President, our scriptures don’t say as you have done to the middle class, so have you done to me.”

The Circle of Protection has made progress in their work with lawmakers. Legislators said it is because of their lobbying that some major entitlement programs were exempted from any automatic budget cuts.

The gathering was one of six “flagship circles” formed around the country at noon local time in New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, Orange County in California, and Portland.

The North Park Justice League, which is comprised of mostly North Park faculty, staff, and students as well as some community members, sponsored the one here.

The group focuses on various social justice issues, but primarily those related to Albany Park. Stefan Fritz, a North Park Theological Seminary student, organized today’s event. He told the audience that his view of the poor had been transformed while an undergraduate and graduate student on campus.

“I’ve come to understand the undeniable call to act justly,” Fritz said. He added that he learned the poor are not the people far removed from him. “The people here at the Friendship Center are my neighbors.” Click here to hear portions of an interview with Fritz.

The league invited Wallis to join them after they planned the event. Sojourners was among the primary promoters of the campaign.

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