Deep moral issues are at stake in the budget debate

Right now, the public doesn’t think very highly of the ethical decision-making around the budget. When it comes to the deficit, 71 percent are concerned that the Democrats’ plan “won’t go far enough to fix the problem”.  Almost two-thirds fear that the Republicans’ plan will take away needed protections for the poor and will “protect the rich at the expense of everyone else.” These are valid concerns, and if something doesn’t change in the budget debate both fears could come true. This shows that the American people are almost just as concerned about reducing the deficit as they are about reducing the deficit on the backs of the people who can least afford it.

As a local pastor in Columbus, Ohio, my congregation is committed to helping those in need. While I believe local churches should be at the forefront of helping poor and vulnerable people, and my church does so, the government still has a necessary and essential role to play. In a time when churches like mine are trying to do more with less, it concerns me that so many cuts are being proposed to programs that help low-income people meet their basic needs.

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Recently, the heads of over 50 Christian denominations and organizations released a joint statement announcing a “Circle of Protection” around programs for the poor. The breadth and diversity of signers is unprecedented. Christian denominations have split over how much water is appropriate to use for baptism and Churches have been known to split over the color of carpeting in the sanctuary. Getting all of these Christian leaders (who have other significant political and theological disagreements) to unite around the same statement was the religious equivalent of getting a supermajority in the Senate.

There are over 2,000 verses in scripture that show God’s concern for the poor and vulnerable, which makes poverty an issue that can unite diverse Christians. The statement reads:

As Christian leaders, we are committed to fiscal responsibility and shared sacrifice. We are also committed to resist budget cuts that undermine the lives, dignity, and rights of poor and vulnerable people. Therefore, we join with others to form a Circle of Protection around programs that meet the essential needs of hungry and poor people at home and abroad.

We agreed to eight principles for ethical decision-making that should guide budget discussions and be used to judge outcomes. These include protecting and improving “poverty-focused development and humanitarian assistance to promote a better, safer world” and ensuring that budget discussions “review and consider tax revenues, military spending, and entitlements in the search for ways to share sacrifice and cut deficits.” And, a fundamental focus on creating jobs since “decent jobs at decent wages are the best path out of poverty, and restoring growth is a powerful way to reduce deficits.”

None of these religious leaders are looking for a job as budget director. But it is clear that the American people see deep moral issues at stake in the budget debate. Because of the ethical nature of the decisions being made, we believe the Christian community and the values it holds are an important part of this debate. As the statement said, it is the “vocation and obligation of the church to speak and act on behalf of those Jesus called ‘the least of these.’” Politicians should know that a growing number of Christians on Capitol Hill and back home in their districts are ready to hold them accountable to these principles.

Rev. Rich Nathan is Senior Pastor of the Vineyard Church in Columbus, Ohio. He is a signatory of the Circle of Protection -- a declaration of moral budget priorities signed by many of America’s most prominent clergy -- and of an open letter to the President and Congress from over 4,000 pastors nationwide calling for a “moral budget,” which was released on July 13. 

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