There is a narrow and limited budget debate in Washington, D.C., focused on the 2012 elections, Rev. Jim Wallis said during a phone conference today, adding that nothing is said about the people who suffer the consequences of budget cuts to social service programs.
Wallis, president and CEO of Sojourners, which hosted the phone conference, added that a group of religious leaders set out to reach 1,000 pastors, and now nearly 5,000 pastors have signed a letter to President Obama and members of Congress. At least seven Florida pastors have signed onto the campaign.
Sojourners’ mission “is to articulate the biblical call to social justice, inspiring hope and building a movement to transform individuals, communities, the church, and the world.”
The letter was sent in the context of “Circle of Protection,” a broader campaign of more than 50 of America’s most prominent Christian leaders who laid out the principles and values of what they call a moral budget.
The letter, featured as an ad today at politico.com (.pdf) states: “We gladly take up the challenge of encouraging our congregation members to give more, but in these past few years, it has been difficult for us to watch the need around us rise while the resources we have diminish. … We do our best to feed the hungry, but charitable nutrition programs only make up 6% of total feeding programs in the country while the government makes up 94%.”
The letter highlights the importance of federally funded programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP); Women, Infants and Children (WIC); Medicare; Medicaid; Social Security; Head Start; Pell Grants and Community Development Block Grants that serve the same people the churches serve.
Rev. Rich Nathan — senior pastor at Vineyard Church of Columbus, Ohio, the second largest church in the state — said during the call that his church runs two medical clinics, two food pantries, a free legal clinic, an after-school program and services for immigrants and refuggees. Nathan said demand for the social service programs the church runs is increasing.
Nathan said his church members are concerned about budget cuts and what they see as radically individualistic attitudes.
Rev. Derrick Harkins, senior pastor of Nineteenth Street Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., attended by President Obama, said the budget is a moral document that shows whether we truly care about the poor. Harkins added that Congress and the president have a historical opportunity to understand the budget as a reflection of our priorities, saving those things that stabilize us as a society.
Nathan said he has not heard a single pastor say he or she supports budget cuts due to the Christian faith. Rather, Nathan said that he has heard pastors say that due to their faith in Jesus they oppose cuts to the poor.
Wallis said religious leaders will continue to reach out to Congress and the administration to ask them to protect the poorest and most vulnerable.
This week, Obama is pushing for a $4 trillion cut package consisting of spending cuts and tax increases for Americans earning more than $250,000 annually.