As the debate about Speaker Boehner’s budget priorities and the values of his Catholic faith heats up, Rep. Paul Ryan, the chief architect of the GOP budget, is also facing pressure from Catholic and evangelical leaders to justify his proposal to end Medicare as we know it and gut Medicaid, leaving pregnant women and children, seniors and struggling families without healthcare. Father Thomas Kelly, a Catholic priest and constituent of Rep. Ryan’s, appears in a new radio ad calling out his budget for abandoning pro-life values, which will air across Ryan’s district this weekend. Fr. Kelly states, “I’m pro-life because God calls us to protect life at all stages. Congressman Paul Ryan says he’s pro-life too, but his federal budget plan abandons pro-life values.”
You can listen to the ad, which is cosponsored by NETWORK and the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, here:
In releasing the ad, Sr. Simone Campbell, executive director of NETWORK, said:
“Representative Ryan’s plan to decimate pro-life programs that help parents provide food and other necessities for their children is an outrage. He says the budget is a moral issue, but it’s immoral to make vulnerable people suffer in order to guarantee tax breaks for wealthy corporations and individuals. Representative Ryan’s budget proposal is the antithesis of the Gospel call for compassion and fairness.”
Richard Cizik, President of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, added:
“We need a responsible, fair approach to cutting the deficit that reflects consistent pro-life values. Rep. Ryan’s Republican budget, which makes devastating cuts that directly harm the most vulnerable among us, falls far short. Being consistently pro-life requires more than caring for the unborn, it requires following the Biblical call to care for the poor and the downtrodden. People of faith are embracing this full definition of what it means to be pro-life. If our leaders ignore the needs of the poor or favor the rich at their expense, they reject pro-life values. It’s that simple.”
As Father Kelly succinctly puts it, “Saying you’re pro-life isn’t enough. Congressman Ryan, actions speak louder than words.”
In a Christianity Today interview the controversial pastor tries to wiggle out of claims that he’s questioning President Obama’s faith by saying “nobody knows” another’s heart so he can only “take him at his word” that he’s a Christian:
The point is, nobody knows. I don’t know if you’re a Christian. God knows your heart. I’m not your judge.
Reasonable enough position. Except apparently Graham feels perfectly capable to judge former governor and potential Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, and he comes out a-okay:
Mike Huckabee is a great man. He is a preacher. No question this man is saved. I like Mike Huckabee a lot.
As we’vewrittenaboutrecently, the budget is a moral issue for the faith community. Today, the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) joins the growing chorus of religious leaders calling on Congress to not make budget cuts that harm poor and vulnerable people. NAE’s executive board passed the ‘Lowering the Debt, Raising the Poor‘ Resolution, which states:
We reiterate our insistence that deficit reduction not lead to an abandonment of our commitments to the poor. We embrace the Church’s call to care for the poor. The government also shares in this responsibility. Basic decency requires that we assist those who lack the bare essentials for survival. Prudence dictates that we help the poor reach their full potential as productive, tax-paying citizens. Addressing extreme poverty abroad demonstrates the nation’s values and builds a more stable, prosperous and secure world for everyone.
Specifically, the NAE highlights the widespread myth that foreign aid to the world’s poor is a cause of our budget deficit:
Contrary to popular belief, total international assistance programs represent only 1.7 percent of the federal budget; poverty-focused aid is only 0.6 percent. We have not amassed our national debt by spending too much on the world’s poor.
Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons contributed to this post.
As I’ve mentioned before, the Religious Right has worked hard in recent months to pivot from a primary focus on social issues to full-throated evangelism of the gospel of right-wing economics. On the Family Research Council’s weekly radio show, Tony Perkins and Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) demonstrated this shift while fleshing out a quasi-theological basis for Republican economic rhetoric (h/t Think Progress):
Perkins: “As people look at this issue of spending and the debt and the deficits, this really is at bottom line it’s a moral issue, and it’s something as Christians that we should be very concerned about and should be praying as well as working to resolve.”
DeMint: “There’s no question about it Tony, Some are trying to separate the social, cultural issues from fiscal issues, but you really can’t do that. America works, freedom works, when people have that internal gyroscope that comes from a belief in God and Biblical faith. Once we push that out, you no longer have the capacity to live as a free person without the external controls of an authoritarian government. I’ve said it often and I believe it – the bigger government gets, the smaller God gets. As people become more dependent on government, less dependent on God.
And you cannot have a free society that way. We’ve found we can’t set up free societies around the world because they don’t have the moral underpinnings that come from Biblical faith. I don’t think Christians should cower from this debate, should be told that their views and their values should be separate from government policies, because America doesn’t work without the faith that created it.
On the merits, DeMint’s case here is rather silly. As Scott from Think Progress points out, India, Indonesia, Turkey and Japan are all huge, non-Christian democracies. Beyond that, DeMint’s argument amounts to little more than nebulous platitudes. What interests me more so than DeMint’s answer is the very vague wording of Perkins’ question.
Perhaps he has read the most recent public opinion polling about evangelicals. A February survey from Pew revealed that when it comes to federal spending, evangelicals are much like Americans in general. They may say they want to reduce spending, but when it comes to specific programs, less than 40 percent support the GOP’s cruel, disastrous proposed cuts to priorities such as healthcare, education, and economic aid to struggling Americans.
Perkins’s and Demint’s generalities are just another example of conservative leaders using innocuous buzzwords and slogans to mask the true nature of a radical, immoral agenda that the rank and file do not support.
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.