NCC has never stopped waging LBJ’s historic war on poverty

Washington, January 9, 2014 – When Lyndon Johnson declared “unconditional war on poverty in America” in January 1964, it marked an unprecedented commitment by government to claim justice for the poor.

For the member communions of the National Council of Churches, however, the struggle against poverty had already been going on for half a century.

“The leaders of the Council immediately embraced Johnson’s call,” said the Rev. A. Roy Medley, Chair of the NCC Governing Board. “They had been pushing politicians to do something about poverty since the turn of the 20th century. LBJ was the first to bring the full weight of the federal government into the effort since the Great Depression.”

Medley cited the churches’ Social Creed for the Churches, written in 1908, to urge government to address inhumane conditions in American factories and farms.

He expressed regret that recent actions in Congress have sought to dismantle or reduce government programs for persons living on and below the poverty line.

“The fiftieth anniversary of the war on poverty should be more than nostalgia for a time when government worked for the poor and not against them,” Medley said.

Jim Winkler, NCC General Secretary/President, said the National Council of Churches “will never cease to make economic and racial justice a keystone of its Christian mission.”

He pointed to the Ecumenical Poverty Initiative, formerly the NCC Poverty Initiative, which strives to educate, train, and mobilize people of faith to eradicate poverty through public witness, prayer, and direct action.

Winkler also cited the Circle of Protection and the Faithful Budget Campaign as examples of faith-based efforts to protect programs that assist those living in poverty and on the margins.

“The NCC stands with Christians with widely varied histories and backgrounds to remind government that Jesus loved the poor and called on his followers to do the same,” Winkler said.

“We are grateful to remember that Lyndon Johnson, a Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) layman who knew what it was like to grow up in poverty, took Jesus’ words seriously,” Winkler said. “We hope government officials of all faiths will examine their own scriptural precepts and resume the war on poverty in 2014.”

Winkler quoted the ambitious goals Lyndon Johnson set for the poverty program a half century ago.

“He said, ‘Our aim is not only to relieve the symptom of poverty, but to cure and, above all, to prevent it,’ Winkler said.  “Let that be our aim today.”


Since its founding in 1950, the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA has been the leading force for shared ecumenical witness among Christians in the United States. The NCC's 37 member communions -- from a wide spectrum of Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, Evangelical, historic African American and Living Peace churches -- include 45 million persons in more than 100,000 local congregations in communities across the nation.

NCC News contact:  Philip E. Jenks, 646-853-4212 (cell), [email protected]