Is it Time for a New Focus on Prayer, Fasting and Love?

March 28, 2017

Tony P. Hall, Executive Director Emeritus, Alliance to End Hunger

Tony Hall new

This spring more than 25 million people in the horn of Africa and Yemen are slowly and painfully starving to death.  While weather has certainly reduced what can be grown on their farms, it is not the weather that decides if these people will live or die.  In fact, it is a decision for political leaders.  You see, there are plenty of resources to meet the needs of these hungry people, scarcity is not the problem.   Simply put, millions will live only if our leaders want them to live.  It is simply an issue of political will.

Sadly, there are more than 42 million Americans right here in the United States who suffer from hunger for the same reason.  While they are not starving, they go to bed without enough food, or access to food, and without knowing if they will have enough to eat tomorrow.  Hunger is a political problem.

While hunger is a political problem, there is currently not a political solution.  We have seen that leaders—as a whole—do not have adequate will to feed the poor, mostly because the poor are powerless and there is no political payback for saving the life of someone who either does not vote, or who does not give money to the political leader’s interest.  For many of us, this a deeply spiritual problem.

It should be noted that budget discussions that neglect issues critical to the poor are not new, but have increased in frequency.  This in itself is not the root of the problem, but merely a reflection of our deeper spiritual problem: a lack of caring.  Recent budgets and budget proposals simply reflect a lack of love and understanding.  There is a lack love for the neediest – the poor, the elderly, the vulnerable—and a lack of understanding about our responsibilities to our neighbors, both near and far.  In a democratic society, this is to all of our shame.

The scriptures teach us that the ancient city of Sodom was destroyed because its leaders were arrogant, overfed, and did not care for the poor.  These are the beginning stages of destruction.  To counter this trend we in faith communities must first acknowledge that we too have been a part of the problem; instead of loving, we have been blaming.  We have become experts at labeling and dividing, judging who is good and evil and then calling them so in the media, on Facebook, and from our pulpits.  This does not mean we don’t hold our leaders accountable – we absolutely must keep writing our leaders, calling them, visiting them, and demanding justice for the poor.  However, we must pray for them, and love them.  As a former Congressman and US Ambassador, I always heard what people were saying when they said it in love, and I listened to what they had to say.

Equally important, we must pray and fast – two of the most important spiritual disciplines.  From my own experience, and from what I have read from others who pray and fast, is that when done together—especially on behalf of the poor—God seems to lean in a little closer to you.  When God is closer, we experience deeper love, greater understanding, and we show more concern for one another.  This was true for MLK, Jr., for Gandhi, and for Mother Teresa – all of whom fought injustice and used prayer and fasting as a method of discipline. And these leaders have become our modern saints.  When we pray and fast, as Isaiah tells us, when we “loose the chains of injustice, to share our bread with the hungry,” then God leans into us, and we experience deeper love, greater understanding and get to participate in some of the greatest life-saving work there is.

We find ourselves increasingly challenged morally and spiritually. How will we, as people of faith committed to the poor, respond?