Faithful Budget Vigil

July 31, 2011

As politicians in D.C. struggle to figure out how to solve the debt ceiling problem in a mature or responsible manner, religious leaders continue to urge that cuts not be made to the programs that help the poor and hungry. Each weekday for the past three weeks, there has been a midday "faithful budget vigil" outside the United Methodist building next to the Supreme Court and the Capitol. I attended Friday's gathering, which was led by staff of Bread for the World (the photo is from the vigil). On Thursday, several leaders of this effort moved from the vigil to the rotunda of the Capitol, where they were arrested while praying. The gatherings are part of the effort to form "A Circle of Protection" around programs that help the poor and hungry (see posts here and here). On a similar note, leaders of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have urged Congress to protect programs serving the poor and hungry. They wrote:

A just framework for future budgets cannot rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor persons. It requires shared sacrifice by all, including raising adequate revenues, eliminating unnecessary military and other spending, and addressing the long-term costs of health insurance and retirement programs fairly.
The U.S. Conference of Bishops is an important religious-political player in our age of confessional politics (see post here). Several key players in the debt negotiations, including Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner and Democratic Vice President Joe Biden, are Catholic.

Sadly, some Christian groups are actually attacking the effort to protect programs that help the poor and hungry. The Family Research Council--which often acts as if it is a purely Republican organization (see post here)--is running ads attacking the idea of "A Circle of Protection." In the ads, they pick one case in the Bible to claim that governments are not supposed to help the poor. Yet, this ignores the overall clear teachings of the prophets that governments are expected to act justly. That is why, despite the FRC's efforts, Christians ranging politically from conservatives to moderates to liberals have endorsed "A Circle of Protection." The FRC is therefore aligning itself in opposition to the heads of numerous Christian denominations and the leaders of ministries such as the American Bible Society, National Association of Evangelicals, Salvation Army, and World Vision. Yet, I guess FRC's opposition should not be too surprising since Jesus condemned religious leaders in his day for condoning the exploitation of the poor (see post here).

Bread for the World and other advocates for international aid are particularly worried that international aid will be targeted even though such programs make up a tiny 0.6 percent of our national budget. With the severe famine occurring in the Horn of Africa region, such aid is needed even more now. While our nation's debt must be dealt with, it should not be done by destroying the safety net for the poor and hungry, especially since these programs are not what got us into this mess. The whole debate brings to mind the the famous challenge sung by Bob Dylan:
Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don't stand in the doorway
Don't block up the hall
It is clearly time for some changes. Below is a video of a few moments from Friday's faithful budget prayer vigil that I attended.