As the shutdown entered its third week and we approached the brink of economic catastrophe, I couldn’t sit and watch families, seniors, veterans and our economy suffer. Yesterday morning I joined more than 70 faith leaders, as well as dozens of families harmed by the shutdown, to march and pray at Congressional offices on Capitol Hill. We visited the offices of 13 GOP Representatives – including the Leadership — and called on them to have the courage and wisdom to end the shutdown and the threat of a debt default. At the same time, Faithful America members delivered 32,000 petitions to Congressional offices in five states calling on Congress to end the shutdown.
As we sang Amazing Grace while marching through the halls of the Cannon House Office Building, I was overcome with the realization of just how much guidance and grace Congress needs right now. Reckless Tea Party Representatives aren’t playing political hardball, they’re rejecting their basic governing responsibilities and making innocent people suffer for no good reason. Even though it appears that we’ve avoided a catastrophic default on our nation’s debt, this reckless episode of political hostage-taking diminishes our nation’s moral credibility and global leadership.
In response, Faith in Public Life released a hard-hitting statement from faith leaders calling for an end to the shutdown and rebuking Members of Congress who claim to be pro-life but have no compunction about taking food away from pregnant women and young children. One hundred Catholic, evangelical and Mainline Protestant leaders — ranging from nationally prominent voices to local clergy from coast to coast — have signed on, and more are doing so every day.
Almost 30,000 Faithful America members have also added their names, and next week they’ll deliver the statement as a petition to the offices of Members of Congress who support the shutdown.
If you’re a faith leader and would like to add your name, you can do so here. If you’re a lay person, you can sign the statement here. The handful of reckless legislators who are behind the current crisis need to hear from all of us.
The March for Citizenship forges on
In a stirring display of commitment and courage yesterday, more than 200 people — including faith leaders and eight Members of Congress — mounted a civil disobedience action on Capitol Hill to call attention to the moral urgency of reforming our unjust immigration system. With civil rights movement leader Rep. John Lewis among those arrested, the echoes of historic struggles for equality were clear.
Earlier in the day, influential clergy leaders held a press at the Capitol directly challenging House leadership on this issue, and in the afternoon tens of thousands of people gathered on the National Mall to tell Congress to get back to work on reform that protects families and builds a path to citizenship. This came on the heels of a National Day of Immigrant Dignity and Respect last Saturday that featured 180 events in 40 states, many of which had religious leaders playing key roles.
In a promising sign that our community’s hard work is paying off, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) – the 4th ranking House Republican – told Univision this weekend that the House will pass immigration reform this year.
Ending the government shutdown, averting the economic catastrophe that will occur if Congress defaults on our nation’s bills, and reforming our immigration system are grave political challenges that share a common solution. House Speaker John Boehner must defy the radicals in his caucus who have forgotten their responsibility to serve the common good and protect American families.
In Springfield, Ohio, prominent clergy, labor leaders, immigrant families and hundreds of people braved the rain and marched to Speaker John Boehner’s office and told him to get back to work and pass reform that includes a path to citizenship for people who are trapped in the shadows.
“The time for political games and delays is over,” said Rev. Troy Jackson, Director of Ohio Prophetic Voices and one of the organizers of the event. “Immigrant families are torn apart every day while Congress sits on the sidelines. We’re not backing down until Speaker Boehner and Members of Congress heed the faith community’s demand for commonsense immigration reform.”
Rev. Mother Paula Jackson of the Church of Our Savior in Cincinnati said “The Torah, the prophets, and the Gospel all require us to welcome the immigrants who live among us. We are calling on Speaker Boehner to give comprehensive immigration reform a vote: to bring hardworking people out of the shadows, to stop destroying the families of citizen children, and to provide a path to citizenship for people who are contributing to our society.”
Saturday’s national day of action was only the beginning. Today, faith leaders and tens of thousands of people are gathering on Capitol Hill to demand that Congress get back to work on passing immigration reform. Students at Catholic colleges are mobilizing for the cause. Later this month, congregations will drives thousands of phone calls to Congressional offices to make the moral case that the Republican-led House of Representatives must pass reform that protects families and workers and builds a pathway to citizenship for 11 million aspiring Americans.
Last week I marched in front of the White House with faith leaders and federal contract workers demanding a living wage. Today those same workers are locked out of their jobs – without pay — along with 800,000 other federal workers. This futile, foolish government shutdown is making low-income and middle class families pay the price, and it’s just getting started.
The consequences of this political charade – forced upon all of us by “one faction of one party” – go beyond lost pay and economic disruption. Funding of critical nutrition supports for pregnant women, new mothers and infants is about to lapse. Children are already being turned away from Head Start even though it provides crucial educational and health benefits for low-income preschoolers. Seniors who struggle to put food on the table will see Meals on Wheels cut back. Even unemployed and disabled veterans will suffer.
House Republicans who trumpet themselves as pro-life and pro-family need to answer for both their hypocrisy and recklessness.
Yesterday, millions of uninsured Americans finally had the chance to get affordable coverage through Obamacare’s new health insurance exchanges. This is clearly something to celebrate. Republicans in Congress who object to Obamacare should be working to fix and improve it, not holding the government hostage in a desperate attempt to sabotage it. It’s time for them to set aside this childish scheme.
There’s no way this shutdown ends well for House Speaker John Boehner and his caucus. The government will resume functioning. Obamacare will continue to be implemented. The only question is how long American families will continue to feel the sting before their elected officials grow up and start doing their jobs again.
Congressman Kevin Cramer (R-ND) recently cited Bible verses to justify cutting $40 billion from the Supplemental Food Assistance Program (SNAP) – also known as food stamps – taking critical food assistance from seniors, children, veterans and Americans with disabilities. Given the Bible’s overwhelming mandate to care for the poor, this didn’t sit well with us. Together with James Salt from Catholics United, we caught up with Rep. Cramer to ask him if he stands by his words.
Rep. Cramer told us “if you’re going to throw Bible verses around, you should understand the context.” Of course, the very verse cited by the Congressman was taken out of context. Thessalonians 2:3-10 says “He who does not work shall not eat,” but Paul wasn’t trying to force the poor to go hungry, he was telling the Thessalonians to not be idle while waiting for the second coming of Christ.
Here’s the context that actually matters in this debate: SNAP benefits amount to a meager $1.50 per meal, and most people who count on this support are children or the elderly.
Rep. Cramer claimed that this legislation wouldn’t be “taking food from people who suffer,” but in reality 1.7 million Americans who can’t find work in this difficult economy – and up to 170,000 veterans – will lose critical supports that put food on the table. Contrary to GOP talking points, it won’t just be able-bodied adults going hungry – children, struggling families and low-income seniors who count on SNAP will be left to fend for themselves in a weak economy.
While we certainly thank Rep. Cramer for taking the time to talk with us, he needs to brush up on what the Bible actually says about hunger and poverty: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:35-40)