This week as Congress debates deficits and spending, faith leaders are speaking up to make sure our elected leaders remember that budgets are moral documents.
Today, a group of prominent evangelicals held a teleconference announcing their statement outlining principles for moral budget decisions. The statement, “A Call for Intergenerational Justice: A Christian Proposal on the American Debt Crisis,” calls for “fiscal frugality and compassionate action” and proposes concrete ways of cutting the debt while protecting the poor and making moral investments for the future of our nation and world.
Speakers on the call included Shane Claiborne, Michael Gerson and Jonathan Merritt, as well as Dr. Gideon Strauss and Stephanie Summers of the Center for Public Justice and Dr. Ron Sider of Evangelicals for Social Action.
Today’s call comes in the wake of larger religious mobilization around the budget debates. On Monday, a group of Christian leaders led by Sojourners took out a full-page ad in Politico imploring legislators to ask themselves “What Would Jesus Cut?” and saying:
The deficit is indeed a moral issue, and we must not bankrupt our nation, nor leave a world of debt for our children. But how we reduce the deficit is also a moral issue. Our budget should not be balanced on the backs of poor and vulnerable people.
And Wednesday, Sr. Simone Campbell, executive director of NETWORK, published an opinion piece in The Hill scolding representatives who identify as pro-life but support budget cuts that would harm women and children:
As a Catholic sister committed to defending the sanctity of human life, I support common ground efforts to protect life by helping pregnant women and preventing abortion. But it’s hypocritical and just plain wrong for lawmakers who tout their pro-life bona fides to then blatantly undermine life with budget proposals that will hurt pregnant women, mothers and children and likely lead more poor women to end their pregnancies.
As Congress moves forward in this debate, hopefully they will heed the advice of these faith leaders and keep the poor and vulnerable in the forefronts of their minds as they make tough decisions.
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Gerald Beyer, a professor of Christian social ethics at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, gets my award for the most clever framing on the Wisconsin showdown. His comparison of Gov. Scott Walker’s tactics to those used by Polish communist bosses who fought the Solidarity movement in the 1980s is sure to irk conservatives. Here’s Beyer stirring the pot over at Politics Daily:
Mentioning the campaign against unions by a Republican governor in 2011 in the same breath as the anti-labor repression by Communist authorities in Poland in 1980 is sure to raise eyebrows. Yet as Mark Twain supposedly said, if history doesn’t repeat itself, it sometimes rhymes. And there are some striking similarities between that Communist-era episode and the ongoing standoff between Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and the state’s public employees. For one thing, both Walker and the Communist leaders targeted unions. And in both cases, we see the Roman Catholic Church supporting organized labor. Led by the gutsy electrician Lech Walesa, workers of the Solidarity trade union movement went on strike in August 1980 to regain their freedom and their rights. Over 18 days, they negotiated with Communist party officials, who were actually more willing to make concessions than Walker has been to this point.
Prominent Catholic politicos like Newt Gingrich (who has made a documentary about Pope John Paul II’s role in sweeping the Soviet Union into the dustbin of history) should keep this legacy in mind as they cheerlead for Governor Walker’s assault on workers’ rights.
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Last Friday, in response to his state’s budget deficit, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker proposed to raid the pension funds of public employees and strip them of their collective bargaining rights. These extremist proposals have been met by massive protests, with over 30,000 workers and allies rallying at the state capitol.
This week, local faith leaders joined the efforts. Inspired by the moral clarity of their faith traditions on the rights of workers, Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki and Bishop Linda Lee of the Wisconsin Conference of the United Methodist Church stood for unions and collective bargaining, and over 50 faith leaders sent a letter to Governor Walker yesterday opposing his proposal.
Now, religious leaders from the surrounding area are joining in. In response to the news that 14 State Senators have fled to Illinois to prevent a vote, area clergy are offering them sanctuary–inviting them to places of worship for hospitality and support until the state can find a fairer solution to their budgetary woes.
Listen to the faith leaders on a press teleconference call talk about their offer here:
Participants on the call:
- Rabbi Renee Bauer, Interfaith Coalition for Worker Justice of South Central Wisconsin
- Reverend Kurt Anderson, Pastor, First Congregational Church, Madison, WI
- Father G. Simon Harak, S.J., Director, Center for Peacemaking, Marquette University, Milwaukee, WI
- Reverend Amanda Stein, Pastor, Trinity United Methodist Church, Madison, WI
- Rabbi Bruce Elder, Congregation Hafaka, Glencoe, IL
- Reverend Jason Coulter, Pastor, Ravenswood United Church of Christ, Chicago, IL
State workers across the country engage in work serving humanity, teaching children, guarding prisons, caring for the mentally ill, and other essential services. A moral budget must not be balanced at their expense, and deficits should not be used as a pretext to take away workers’ rights to negotiate for fair wages and working conditions.
Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons contributed to this post.
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Last week we blogged about the House GOP’s proposed budget cuts, which would cause great hardship for millions of Americans struggling to make ends meet in our weak economic climate. The White House released its official budget proposal today, and while it protects many of the needed programs the GOP wants to destroy, it still includes painful reductions in programs essential to American families.
As a budget showdown looms and crucial protections for families are threatened, prominent faith leaders are sending a special message to elected officials today reminding them that “a budget that leaves out families is like a valentine that leaves out love.”
Behind the effort:
- Rabbi Steve Gutow, President and CEO of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs
- Sr. Simone Campbell, Executive Director of NETWORK, a National Catholic Social Justice Lobby
- Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches
Read the full press release here.
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Newt Gingrich, a proud and very public convert to Catholicism, yesterday called for the Environmental Protection Agency to be abolished at the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) meeting in Washington. This is a curious position for a Catholic politico to take given the clarity of Catholic social teaching on the environment and Pope Benedict XVI’s frequent statements about global climate change.
Nicknamed the “Green Pope” by some for his vocal concern about environmental justice issues, Pope Benedict has urged governments to do more in addressing climate change. The Vatican several years ago announced its plans to become the first carbon-neutral state in the world. And the pope blasted world leaders for failing to reach a climate change treaty in Copenhagen.
Gingrich, who is weighing a 2012 presidential run, frames his position against the EPA as a common-sense effort to rid us of big-government bureaucracy and nettlesome regulations. But in doing so he, along with many other influential Catholic political leaders like John Boehner, paints a caricature of government that is anathema to Catholic teaching. The Catholic social tradition recognizes the vital role government has in promoting the common good, which includes protecting the environment. Mr. Gingrich and fellow conservative Catholic politicians should remember that the next time they put essential government agencies on the chopping block.
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