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Coalition of Christians pushes Congress to protect poor from forced spending cuts

By Dan Merica on February 25, 2013
© CNN Belief Blog

Washington (CNN) – A coalition of noteworthy Christian leaders and thinkers is asking President Barack Obama and congressional leaders to protect the poor from the forced spending cuts that are due to take effect this week.

The group’s open letter frames budget decisions as a moral question for lawmakers and asks them to stop the political brinksmanship.

“Important choices must be made: we must weigh the benefits of tax credits for low-income people and tax breaks for high income people; of nutrition assistance to low-income families and subsidies to agricultural businesses,” the letter says. “Congress can and must develop a balanced and thoughtful path forward that protects the most vulnerable and preserves economic opportunity.”

The group is called Circle of Protection, and it goes on to ask lawmakers to “maintain a Circle of Protection around effective programs focused on hungry and poor people in our country and around the world.”

Founded nearly two years ago, the groups boasts a politically diverse group of almost 100 Christian leaders, including Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, Bishop Stephen E. Blaire from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Jim Wallis, president of the group Sojourners.

Wallis, who for many years has helped organize Christian coalitions to lobby Congress on issues such as immigration and poverty, said he is prepared to harness the power of the Christian congregations for the issues of poverty and the budget.

“People of faith are saying that what the Bible tells us that a nation will be judged by how it treats the poorest and most vulnerable,” Wallis told CNN. “It doesn’t say it will be judged by its military, its gross domestic product or by its popular culture. That is the principle that we all have to obey.”

On top of sending this letter to the leaders in Congress and the White House, Wallis said the group will ask pastors around the country to engage their congregation on the issue.

The reasons for Wallis’ passion on the issue: his belief that a budget is a moral issue.

“These are moral choices that they are making,” Wallis said. “We are saying that you have to be self-conscience about your choices. These are choices about people, and we have said since the start that the budget is a moral document. It says, who is important and who is not, what is important and what is not.”

If Congress and the White House don’t act on forced spending cuts, known in Washington as the sequester, across-the-board budget cuts will be made to domestic and defense programs starting March 1. The triggered cuts, which originated from the White House in 2011 as Congress faced debate over raising the debt ceiling, were only supposed to be enacted if the two sides couldn’t agree on a deficit-reduction plan.

So far, no agreement has been reached.

What do the cuts mean for most people? Some 4 million home-bound and disabled seniors may have to go without supper this year because of cuts to Meals on Wheels programs, some 70,000 children from lower-income families will not be able to enroll for preschools and day care centers run by Head Start programs this fall and on average, it would mean a cut of $400 for nearly 3.8 million Americans.

For members of the Circle of Protection, these issues are personal, says Wallis.

“We are pastors and faith leaders who know the people are that are going to be hurt if you cut Head Start or food stamps,” Wallis concluded. “We know their names, the moms and kids and dads.”

– CNNMoney’s Jennifer Liberto contributed to this report.

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