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Religious leaders spar over debt agreement

Economic Security

August 4, 2011 | The Florida Independent

The debt ceiling agreement approved early this week by Congress, rejected by an array of U.S. religious leaders, also prompted a response from religious groups that do not support "big government."

Faith in Public Life - a center that works for "justice, compassion and the common good" - writes that preventing default was crucial, but calls the legislation deeply flawed and adds that it "asks for no shared sacrifice from the wealthiest Americans and makes steep spending cuts with potentially severe consequences for vulnerable families and the unemployed." 

The South Florida Sun Sentinel reported yesterday that the debt reduction agreement began a new phase of budget cuts likely to affect Florida programs such as road building, schools, defense contracts and environmental preservation. The article adds that Medicaid and Medicare are sheltered from a first round of cuts but "could be scaled back" in a second round of cuts.

Rev. Dr. George Cummings - the chair  of PICO National Network, a network of faith-based organizations - calls the debt ceiling legislation a "moral travesty" in a written statement. "At a moment when everyday Americans need to feel that government is standing with them, this legislation forces them to make further sacrifices while requiring nothing from large corporations and the super-wealthy," Cummings writes.

Rev. Jim Wallis - who a few weeks ago called the budget debate too narrow and focused on the 2012 elections - wrote Tuesday that "the debate we have just witnessed has shown Washington, D.C. not just to be broken, but corrupt."

Wallis, president and CEO of Sojourners, and nearly 5,000 pastors recently signed a letter to President Obama and members of Congress promoting "A Circle of Protection," a 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.

Other religious organizations disagree. The Faith Family Freedom Fund calls itself "the alternative to big government, working to elect pro-family candidates at all levels so that you have someone speaking for your values and your family." It also states it is a political action committee associated with Family Research Council Action, which supports "a renewal of ethical monotheism and traditional Judeo-Christian standards of morality."

Last week, the Faith Family Freedom Fund launched a radio ad campaign on multiple stations in the district of U.S. Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, and the state of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., countering an ad campaign by Sojourners opposing cuts to government spending.

The campaign included language that said:

There's a group of well-meaning but misguided ministers who believe that the government is responsible for meeting the needs of the poor, calling proposed budget cuts immoral. But Jesus didn't instruct the government of his day to take the rich young ruler's property and redistribute it to the poor. He asked the ruler to sell his possessions and help the poor. Charity is an individual choice, not a government mandate.

 

The Institute on Religion and Democracy wrote this week to President Obama and leaders of Congress that they distinguish between protecting federal "programs for the poor" and protecting the poor. 

The letter questions the "Circle of Protection" campaign and adds, "We believe they [the Circle of Protection] have not fully represented the large and diverse community of Christian faith."

The Institute on Religion and Democracy describes itself as "a voice for transparency, for renewal, and for Christian orthodoxy."