An “unprecedented” coalition of religious leaders are coming together to urge President Obama not to sacrifice the needs of the poor in negotiations to reduce the nation’s debt. Leaders from the Episcopal Church, the Salvation Army, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the National Association of Evangelicals, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the United Church of Christ all met with Obama last week to present their unified message:
The reason it’s unprecedented is because “we don’t agree on much else,” said John Carr of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.
The coalition focuses on those Jesus called “the least of these” (Matthew 25:45), which speaks to obligations to look to the less fortunate. One goal it to get lawmakers to consider, “what would Jesus cut?” (Actually, to ask the question is probably to answer it.) [...]
“Poor people don’t have an office on K Street,” said Galen Carey of the National Association of Evangelicals. “They don’t have lobbyists, so their voice is muted. That’s why it’s important for people of faith to step into the void.” The association is headed by Leith Anderson, former pastor to Tim Pawlenty, the former Minnesota governor and current Republican presidential candidate.
The coalition is called the “Circle of Protection,” and they have been working hard on the debt ceiling issue, holding prayer vigils on the Hill and fasts. When the group met with Obama, they encouraged him to protect Medicaid, food stamps, aid to poor women with infant children, international development aid, and other programs specifically targeted to the poor. Coalition officials have also met with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and top aides to House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI).
Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners, a Christian social justice group, points out, “A budget is a moral document.” His group’s website poses the question, “What would Jesus cut?” Wallis says that in debt ceiling negotiations, politicians will be faced with choices like whether to cut $8.5 billion for low-income housing or whether to save that money by ending tax deductions for mortgages on vacation homes for the wealthy.
Wallis’ group is launching an advertising campaign in the home districts of political leaders, aimed at encouraging them to shield the poor from draconian spending cuts. Another coalition member, David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, said they are reviewing the plan put forward by Speaker Boehner. “I don’t think they want to make kids hungrier,” he said. “But if you have deep, unspecified cuts in spending, they will make kids hungrier.”
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is blasting the deficit reduction plan proposed by Speaker Boehner, a fellow Catholic, the Faith in Public Life blog reports. In a highly critical statement, the group criticizes the House GOP’s moral priorities and suggests their approach relies “on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor persons.”