WASHINGTON, D.C — Religious leaders have been standing across from the U.S. Capitol this week in front of the United Methodist Building to read the more than 2,000 verses of Holy Scripture charging humanity to care for hungry and poor. This “Faithful Filibuster” began Oct. 9. Sponsors said it will continue at the beginning of each day’s session of Congress.
The “Faithful Filibuster” aims to remind congressional leaders of the biblical mandate to protect the most vulnerable people. It is organized by the Circle of Protection, a coalition of faith leaders supporting programs that meet the essential needs of hungry and poor people at home and abroad. Participants in the “Faithful Filibuster” include Jim Wallis, president, Sojourners; the Rev. David Beckmann, president, Bread for the World; Galen Carey, vice president, National Assn. of Evangelicals; and Dr. Caroll Baltimore, president, Progressive National Baptist Convention.
Among the readers during a rain-swept day was the Rev. Clayton Childers, director of Advocacy for the United Methodist Imagine No Malaria Campaign. He is also director of Conference Relations for the General Board of Church & Society, which is headquartered in the building.
Wallis pointed out that the voices often missing in Washington’s ideological battles are the ones that need national attention. “That’s why we need a faithful filibuster, a vigil for the poor,” he said. “There are more than 2,000 verses in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures about the poor — about suffering and indifference, injustice and oppression — all with God inviting compassion and calling for justice.”
What would happen if Congress were reminded of those verses each day it is in session during this latest financial debate, Wallis wondered.
Appalled by harm
Beckmann of Bread for the World said he is appalled by the harm that the government shutdown is doing to poor people. “I am terrified by the likelihood of a financial crisis,” he said. “It will hurt all of us, and it will hurt hungry and poor people most of all.”
In Beckmann’s judgment, extreme conservatives are mainly to blame for this game of political chicken. “But it is time to move from the blame game to some resolution,” he declared.
Carey emphasized that participants in the “Faithful Filibuster” gathered as a group of Christians, representing different denominations and traditions, because at a time when one in seven Americans is living in poverty, the government is at an impasse unable to reach agreement on funding and debt levels. “Many basic functions of government have ground to a halt, and people are being hurt,” he said.
There are a variety of views on the best ways to end poverty, Carey conceded, adding that surely no one right way to do it exists. “But for those who want to follow Jesus of Nazareth,” he said, “there can be no question that standing with our most vulnerable neighbors must be a high priority for us as individuals, as churches, as communities, and as a nation.”
Both are needed
Carey expressed thanks that the United States is a country that both encourages private charity and provides for a modest public safety net. “Both are needed, and both are in need of strengthening,” he stressed.
The “Faithful Filibuster” has been called, according to Carey, because
- Too many are still out of work,
- Private giving has not yet recovered to pre-recession levels,
- Even our most effective public programs have faced the indiscriminate cuts of the sequester,
- U.S. elected leaders seem at a loss for how to reach agreement on performing their basic functions, leaving government unfunded and shut down, and
- This paralysis threatens a perilous default on the U.S. national debt — “which no one wants but no one seems able to prevent.”
“We are concerned for those who are most vulnerable,” Carey said. “Those who were already struggling to survive before the current crisis that is threatening to engulf even more of our neighbors as time passes and our fragile economy is dragged down.”
Carey said the “Faithful Filibuster” is to to lift up God’s Word, and particularly its hopeful message, found in more than 2,000 verses: “God cares for poor and vulnerable people, and invites us to do the same.”