Letter: Shield poor from sequestration

Leaders of dozens of faith-based organizations warn that looming government budget cuts could have dire consequences for the poor.

By Bob Allen

Eighty-eight faith leaders wrote President Obama and congressional leaders Feb. 25 urging them to protect hunger and poverty programs as they seek to avert government spending cuts due to take effect March 1.

The letter is from The Circle of Protection, a coalition of Catholic, evangelical, mainline Protestant, black and Latino Christian leaders formed two years ago to resist attempts to balance the federal budget on the backs of the poor. Monday’s missive is a reminder of that message as Washington braces for a political battle over “sequestration,” automatic across-the-board spending cuts postponed as part of a “fiscal cliff” deal at the end of last year.

“Leaders in Washington face serious moral choices on sequester and the budget that will have significant consequences for millions of people across the country,” said Jim Wallis, president and CEO of Sojourners and one of the faith leaders who signed the letter.

“The faith community is urging them to offer moral leadership by protecting vulnerable people living in poverty from further harm and ending the brinksmanship that has slowed our economic recovery,” said Wallis, who attends First Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. “It’s time to move away from ideological politics to save our nation’s fiscal and moral soul. Now is the time for Washington to create an opportunity agenda that ensures everyone is included in the recovery of our economy.”

pat andersonOther Baptist signers included Patrick Anderson, interim executive coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, and Suzii Paynter, director of the Baptist General Convention of Texas Christian Life Commission who was elected last week as the permanent CBF executive coordinator, effective March 1.

The Pastoral Letter about Faith, Finances and the Federal Budget begins with gratitude that an estimated $2 trillion in reduced deficits achieved so far have not included large cuts to programs that focus on hungry and poor people.

“More critical decisions must be made as we consider specific program cuts to reach previously agreed upon funding levels, look for additional ways to reduce the deficit, and avert the looming sequestration; but the moral calculus has not changed,” the faith leaders said. “Our long-term fiscal challenges will not be solved by increasing the burden on those who Jesus called the ‘least of these’” in the 25th chapter of Matthew.

The religious leaders affirmed the government’s responsibility to the poor.

suzii paynter mug“The Bible teaches that civil authority comes from God, and God calls for protection of poor and vulnerable people,” they said. “Government is imperfect, and there are legitimate differences over how the government should carry out its responsibilities. These should be debated. Assuring government’s obligation to advance the common good, ensure fairness, and defend the most vulnerable is good religion and good politics.”

The letter asked political leaders to “frame the budget debate in terms of moral choices that are understandable to the American people” and for “both parties to work together toward ending hunger and poverty.”

“The Circle of Protection continues to be committed to protecting vital programs for people in or near poverty in our country and around the world, but that is not enough,” it said. “Help us reduce hunger and poverty by expanding opportunity and justice, promoting economic growth and good paying jobs, stabilizing family life, and protecting the well-being of children.”

Other Baptist signatories include Carroll Baltimore, president of the Progressive National Baptist Church; Tony Campolo, founder and president of the Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education; Kevin Hagan, president and CEO of Feed the Children; Roy Medley, general secretary of American Baptist Churches USA; Otis Moss Jr., pastor emeritus of Olivet Institutional Baptist Church in Cleveland; Robert Parham, executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics; Julius Scruggs, president of the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc.; Stephen Thurston, president of the National Baptist Convention of America; and Aidsand Wright-Riggins, executive director of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.