Faith Leaders Tell Congress:"Don't Cut Programs That Will Cost Lives, Harm America"
WASHINGTON, D.C. – While members of the Congressional Super Committee all but acknowledged their failure to reach an agreement on the federal budget, Church World Service joined with people of faith in cities across the U.S. on Sunday in sending a clear message to the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction and Congress that cuts to programs for the most at risk families and children in the United States and abroad would cost lives and harm America.
As part of a nationwide Super Vigil, people of diverse faith communities united in prayer at public rallies in cities across the country. At a rally in Washington across the street from the White House, the crowd heard national leaders representing Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths speak to the moral imperative to protect the most vulnerable among us.
CWS Advocacy Director Martin Shupack was among the Washington faith leaders calling on members of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction to not reduce the deficit by placing an undue burden on the poor while shielding the wealthiest from additional sacrifice.
Shupack, one of four faith leaders who led the rally in a Litany for a Faithful National Budget, said, “We live in a world that is intensely interconnected. Loving our neighbors requires that we promote the global common good. Yet, programs may be severely cut that respond to HIV and AIDS, extreme poverty, food insecurity, overwhelming debt, violence against women, natural disasters and other urgent needs.” The rally group responded, praying “for a just and compassionate budget” for those “who live on the margins of our world.”
“Members of Congress are listening to the top 1 percent of Americans who take home 25 percent of all household income. They're listening to Wall Street bankers and the Tea Party, bankrolled by billionaires, who want their tax cuts,” Rev. Richard Cizik, president of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, told the ralliers. “Like Old Testament prophets, we stand here today to say that any political leader or system that pursues profits and power at the expense of the common good stands under divine judgment.
“God will not be mocked. Greed will not go unpunished. Justice for the common man is our cry,” he said. Let's fund not tax cuts for the wealthy but our nation's future competitiveness. That means funding programs that build skills and productivity.”
Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, General Secretary, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA, said that its member denominations agree to one message for U.S. political leaders: “Do not try to solve America's budget problems by taking away from those who have least to give. That's why we are part of the Faithful Budget Campaign, and why we are taking part in Sunday's interfaith Super Vigil, asking God to move the hearts of policy makers in order that fairness and compassion will guide their decisions,” he said.
Rabbi Jack Moline, Director of Public Policy, The Rabbinical Assembly, told ralliers and Congress, “When the Torah tells us that the poor will never cease from the land, we are not to read those words as an excuse for neglect.”
Rev. Jennifer Butler, executive director of Faith in Public Life, told the assembly, “As a pastor I cannot stand idly by as more and more families struggle to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads. And I cannot remain silent as misguided politicians push an immoral agenda that punishes these people to pay for massive tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.”
Dr. Sayyid M. Syeed, national director for Interfaith and Community Alliances, Islamic Society of North America, said, “The federal budget reflects the moral conscience of the American people and so it must reflect our moral commitment to protect those who are poor and vulnerable here in America and around the world.”
Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson II, Director of Public Witness for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) said, "We are witnessing through the Faithful Budget Campaign growing numbers of persons of faith who declare that our Creator has something to say about political leaders using people in poverty as political pawns in their fight over the federal budget... God's truth will not be silenced in this federal budget debate."
In addition to the D.C. prayer rally, religious Americans gathered this weekend for prayer demonstrations and other acts of religious activism in Richmond, Va.; Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Harrisburg, Pa., Dallas and Midland, Texas, Phoenix, Ariz., Cincinnati, Ohio, Seattle, Wash. and Sarasota, Fla. In Los Angeles, the Sisters of Social Service are celebrating their 85th anniversary as a congregation featuring a Super Vigil as part of their basic mission to respond to the social needs of society.
Following Sunday’s Washington rally, CWS’s Shupack said, “If no acceptable agreement is reached by the Super Committee in the short time before the deadline, Congress will now have an immediate need to vote to continue payroll tax relief and unemployment insurance for the sake of working Americans and the unemployed, and for the sake of an economy that needs this money circulating.
“During the months ahead, Congress will have to make decisions that are going to be fair and just before January 2013 when automatic deep cuts come in,” he said. “Congress will have to find a way to fiscal health by putting people back to work, increasing revenues and instituting only cuts that don’t harm the poor here and abroad.”
Shupack and the Interfaith leaders presenting at the Washington vigil are among those spearheading a Faithful Budget Campaign in recent months.
In July, the campaign organized high-level meetings with policymakers, a Washington fly-in of top religious leaders, daily prayer vigils near the U.S. Capitol Building and a peaceful demonstration in the Capitol Rotunda just days before Congress passed the debt ceiling compromise that culminated with the arrest of CWS’s Shupack and 10 other faith leaders for refusing to stop praying for the nation’s most vulnerable.
Over the past six weeks, the Faithful Budget Campaign and its network of religious worshipers have flooded congressional offices with telephone calls and letters encouraging them to preserve vital funding for the most vulnerable at home and worldwide.
This article originally appeared on the Church World Service webpage on Nov. 21, 2011 at http://www.churchworldservice.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=13463&news_iv_ctrl=1361. It is reposted here with permission.
A New York Times article on the budget talks, published Nov. 20, includes a photo of Rev. Cynthia Abrams of the United Methodist Church participating in Sunday's rally for a faithful budget in Washington, D.C.: