While religious conservatives and Republican political leaders gathered at the Faith and Freedom Conference in Washington this weekend, another group of religious leaders held a small gathering across the street to warn against the perils of the Republican Party’s fiscal priorities.
Four members affiliated with the religious group Faith In Public Life held a brief press conference during FFC’s afternoon intermission to denounce the GOP’s adherence to the philosophies of anti-government, anti-religion author Ayn Rand. The leaders — Rev. Jennifer Butler, Jim Wallis, Rev. Derrick Harkins, and Father Clete Kiley — asserted that the GOP efforts to cut funding from many anti-poverty programs while balancing the budget on the backs of the poorest Americans were not in line with Christian values:
The sky is falling on poor people in this country. The sky is falling. This time it really is. In the past, when we’ve done deficit reduction — and we’ve done it before — we’ve done poverty reduction at the same time. You can do both together. And every previous attempt there has been a bipartisan agreement to a given, a principle, that poor and low income people are not the ones to make hurt more when you’re making tough decisions. … They don’t bear the brunt of our fiscal irresponsibility because they didn’t cause it. We did not get into fiscal trouble because of poor people. … The poor didn’t cause this. Let’s not make them pay for it.
What we’re saying in the faith community, across the spectrum, is that a nation is judged — our Bible says — by how we treat the poorest and most vulnerable. Period. That’s what God says to us. That’s God’s instruction to us. To be faithful to God, we have to protect poor people.
Wallis and Butler repeatedly asserted that political leaders could not adhere to the teachings of both Rand and the church. “This budget has more to do with the teaching of Ayn Rand than the etchings of Jesus Christ,” Butler said. “I read [Rand] in high school, and she said, ‘You have to choose me or Jesus,’” Wallis added. “And so I did. She lost.”
Religious leaders have recently spoken out to House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan (R-WI) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) — both of whom are practicing Catholics — telling them that the cuts in their budget disproportionately target poor Americans and are thus out of line with Christian and Catholic teaching. Early in May, a group of Catholic bishops sent Boehner a letter denouncing the budget cuts. Ryan, meanwhile, has attempted to persuade Catholic bishops that his budget is in line with religious teaching. Kiley was skeptical today, however, saying Ryan handpicked phrases from Catholic teaching in attempts to justify his budget cuts, largely ignoring the majority of Catholic teaching.