- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 6, 2009

Until this week, I’d never met the Rev. Arthur Simon, the quiet Lutheran pastor who founded the Christian hunger lobbying group Bread for the World.

Back in my college days in Oregon, we were all seeking ways to integrate our faith with social action. BFW, with its tactic of supporters flooding members of Congress with an “offering” of letters for the world’s hungry, stood out. Here was a low-tech way of funneling some of America’s leftover billions toward food aid overseas.

Mr. Simon grew up in Eugene, Ore., in the 1930s. His older brother Paul entered politics and became a U.S. senator from Illinois, but Arthur Simon was ordained in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.

Now retired in a quiet Bowie neighborhood, Mr. Simon, 79, in the 1970s served as pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church on Manhattan’s lower East Side. As he counseled his parishioners, he saw hunger as the most basic of unmet needs. Meanwhile, the U.S. government had few policies for grappling with world hunger but plenty of largesse in terms of foreign aid.

What if foreign aid could be used to feed the hungry? In 1974, Mr. Simon formed BFW as a way to help Christians shape U.S. policy toward reducing hunger. One of his proudest moments came years later in 1999, when BFW started an “offering of letters” campaign to get Congress to approve debt reduction for poor countries. A Southern Baptist Republican, Rep. Spencer Bachus of Alabama, got behind the effort, involved the Clinton administration, and a debt relief bill was passed.

Eventually, 20 donor nations forgave $69 billion in debt, freeing up $4 billion for poor countries to use for other initiatives. Mr. Simon credits that one effort with allowing 20 million more African children to attend school and more money for food, housing and health care in 33 countries. All that started with a simple mail campaign.

Mr. Simon just came out with his 11th book, “The Rising of Bread for the World,” about the organization’s 35-year history and although he retired years ago, he is still on BFW’s board. I dropped by his home and, seated in his lemon-yellow dining room over bowls of peach ice cream, we talked about whether lobbying against hunger had caught on.

“I’d say no,” he said. “A few people like [Irish rock star] Bono have gotten into it, but we’re very far from hunger being a fashionable thing. People are overwhelmingly involved in direct private assistance but not in advocacy.”

We talked a bit about his life; how he and his first wife adopted two black children back in the days when white couples rarely did so; how he was part of a clergy civil rights march on Selma, Ala., in 1965 and how he’s never gotten rich off all his social action.

In early years, “my salary at Bread never reached the level earned by that of an average elementary school teacher and sometimes fell below that of our mailroom clerk,” he says in the book. I got the feeling he never was paid top dollar; before he married his current wife, Shirley, he told me he lived in an apartment in a low-rent part of Hyattsville.

The lack of worldly riches is the price one pays to stay prophetic. “Economics and politics are parts of life that should also be given to Jesus,” the pastor informed me - apt words for someone who claims to follow a Messiah who had the simplest of wardrobes and nowhere to lay his head.

Julia Duin’s Stairway to Heaven column runs Thursdays and Sundays. Contact her at jduin@washingtontimes.com.

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