The National Debt As A Moral Document?

July 24, 2011 - 9:47 am 114 Comments

Matthew 25 — Why We Went to the White House

by Jim
Wallis
07-21-2011

Today is another intense day of politics at the White House. The debt default  deadline is fast approaching. The stakes for the nation are high as politicians  can’t agree on how to resolve the ideological impasse on how to reduce the  deficit before the nation defaults on its financial obligations.

Yesterday, before congressional leaders were due at the White House for  critical negotiations, I, along with 11 other national faith leaders, met with  President Obama and senior White House staff for 40 minutes. We were  representing the Circle  of Protection, which formed in a commitment to defend the poor in the budget  debates. Sitting in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, we opened in prayer,  grasping hands across the table, and read scripture together. We reminded  ourselves that people of faith must evaluate big decisions on issues like a  budget by how they impact the most vulnerable.

We urged the president to protect programs for low-income people in the  ongoing budget and deficit debate, and in any deal concerning the debt ceiling  and default crisis. In an engaging back and forth conversation, the president  and faith leaders discussed how we can get our fiscal house in order without  doing so on the backs of those who are most vulnerable. We shared the concern  that the deficit must be cut in a way that protects the safety net, and  struggling families and children, and maintains our national investments in the  future of all of us.

The meeting started with the recognition that the poor and vulnerable are at  great risk in this debate. But we told the president some good news about how a  Circle  of Protection has formed in response to this crisis. It is now the most  unified and broadest coalition of churches that any of us has ever seen — and is  endorsed by our brothers and sisters of other faiths and secular organizations  who also work for low-income people.

We made our simple principle clear: The most vulnerable should be protected  in any budget or deficit agreements — as a non-partisan commitment. The most  vulnerable need a special exemption from all spending cuts as they  usually have had in previous times of deficit reduction. We told President Obama  that this is what God requires of all of us.

We agreed that we need both fiscal responsibility and shared  sacrifice. Those already hurting should not be made to hurt more, and those  doing well should do their part in sacrificing. And whatever we decide should be  fair, balanced, and compassionate. President Obama agreed that the sacrifices  needed to reduce the deficit must not be borne by the “least of these.” It was
good to hear a reference to Matthew 25 and Jesus’ words, “As you have done to the least of  these, you have done to me,” in the White House. This verse motivated many of us  to be at the White House meeting yesterday, and it continues to serve as a
guiding principle for how we make critical decisions, including the one the  nation is about to make. (Below, watch my discussion of Matthew 25 on today’s Morning  Joe.)

The Christian leaders at yesterday’s meeting included representatives from  the National Association of Evangelicals, the National Council of Churches, the  United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Bread for the World, Sojourners,  the Alliance to End Hunger, the Salvation Army, the National African American  Clergy Network, the National Baptist Convention of America, the Evangelical  Lutheran Church in America, and the National Hispanic Christian Leadership  Conference.

The Circle  of Protection statement has been signed by more than 60 heads of Christian  denominations and religious organizations, and is endorsed by 45 heads of  development agencies as well as leaders of other faiths. The Circle of
Protection movement has worked to uphold the bipartisan consensus that has long  prevailed in deficit-reduction agreements — that programs serving poor and  hungry people should be protected and exempted from any budget cuts.

Circle of Protection leaders have met with both Democratic and Republicans in  Congress, and they have requested meetings with House Speaker John Boehner  (R-OH) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). Our goal is simply this: Whenever a new budget or deficit reduction proposal  is put forth, somebody should ask how it will impact the poorest and most
vulnerable. This is a biblical question, a fair question, and a question of  justice.

portrait-jim-wallis

Jim Wallis is the author of Rediscovering Values: A Guide for Economic and Moral
Recovery
, and CEO of Sojourners. He blogs at www.godspolitics.com. Follow Jim on
Twitter
@JimWallis.

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