End brinksmanship

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Nearly 100 national Christian leaders released a pastoral letter to President Obama and the leaders of Congress calling for an end to the political brinksmanship slowing recovery of the nation’s economy. The letter asks both the Democrats and Republicans to replace poverty with opportunity.

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Among endorsers of the letter are United Methodist bishops Robert Hoshibata (Desert Southwest Conference) and Mary Ann Swenson, ecumenical officer of the Council of Bishops. Hoshibata also serves as president of the Board of Directors of the General Board of Church & Society.

The letter represents the latest effort by the Circle of Protection, an initiative involving more than 65 heads of denominations, relief and development agencies, and other Christian organizations to protect programs that serve the poor and vulnerable from devastating budget cuts.

Long-term strategy

The letter is also a call for elected officials to create a long-term strategy for addressing poverty and hunger that reduces the deficit, grows the economy, and expands economic opportunity for all God’s children.

The letter sets forth seven points for President Obama and leaders of both chambers of Congress to consider.

The letter sets forth seven points for President Obama and leaders of both chambers of Congress to consider:

  1. Thank you for reducing the deficit while limiting cuts to programs serving poor people.
  2. We are praying for you.
  3. We plead for a renewed commitment to respectful bipartisan dialogue and an end to brinksmanship.
  4. We understand that the country's fiscal health will require further cost savings and additional revenue.
  5. We strongly affirm the government's responsibility concerning poor people.
  6. It is time to frame the budget debate in terms of moral choices that are understandable to the American people.
  7. We ask both parties to work together toward ending hunger and poverty.

A scandalous reality

"It is a scandalous reality that today more than one in seven Americans — 46.2 million people — and one in five children are living in poverty,” said Kathryn Lohre, president of the National Council of Churches. “Budgets are moral documents, reflecting our core values and commitments. For this reason, we urge our elected leaders to continue to seek financial health for this nation while protecting those who are living at its margins, those whom Jesus called "the least of these" (Matthew 25).

This is not only a good thing to do, it is the right thing to do, according to Lohre. “The fiscal showdowns of recent months fail to honor the fact that 46.2 million of us are already living on the brink,” she said. “This is not acceptable to us, nor is it acceptable to God. We must find another way forward, one that honors the dignity and worth of all of God’s children.”

The Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, said he is excited that the president and several key Republicans have recently made proposals that would open opportunity to hungry and poor people. “Congress should quickly agree on ways to further reduce the national deficit that won’t make life tougher for people who struggle to feed their children,” he said. “It’s time for our nation to turn our attention to making a place at the table for everybody."

The only way forward

Sr. Simone Campbell, executive director, Network, a national Catholic Social Justice Lobby, pointed out that some in Congress think that if we make sequester “flexible,” the United States can avert disaster for its people and the economy. “They are wrong,” she declared. “The only way forward is to acknowledge the more than $2 trillion in cuts that have already taken place and to enact policies that grow the economy and protect the most vulnerable people in our society. Our faiths and our Constitution challenge us to act for the ‘general welfare’ of all.”

Other signers of the letter include Stephan Bauman, president and CEO of World Relief; Geoffrey Black, general minister and president, United Church of Christ; Bishop Stephen Blaire, Bishop of Stockton and chair, Committee on Domestic Justice & Human Development, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; Bishop John Bryant, senior bishop, African Methodist Episcopal Church; Tony Campolo, EAPE founder and president, Eastern University and the Evangelical Assn. for the Promotion of Education; and Shane Claiborne, founder, The Simple Way.

Also signing are Bishop Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop, Episcopal Church; Eric LeCompte, executive director, Jubilee U.S.A. Network; A. Roy Medley, general secretary, American Baptist Churches USA; Gradye Parsons, stated clerk of the General Assembly, Presbyterian Church (USA); Commissioner William Roberts, national commander, The Salvation Army; the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president, NHCLC Hispanic Evangelical Assn.; Richard Stearns, president, World Vision United States; and Jim Wallis, president and CEO, Sojourners.

The pastoral letter and its full list of signatories is available at Circle of Protection.

Letter to the Editor