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Religious Groups Urge Deficit Reduction and Protection of the Poor

By Michael D. Shear on February 25, 2013
© New York Times Politics

Leaders from some of the nation’s largest and most influential Christian congregations are urging President Obama and members of Congress to end their fiscal brinkmanship and find a way to agree on new revenue and spending cuts that will reduce the deficit while protecting the poorest Americans.

In a public letter, to be released on Monday just days before severe budget cuts are scheduled to go into effect, the groups urge that the fiscal debate be framed in terms of “moral choices.” The letter blames both parties for slowing the country’s economic recovery and risking the possibility that more people will slide into poverty.

“Moving from one crisis to another has slowed economic recovery and has kept Congress from finding a sound, moral path to fiscal sustainability,” the letter says. “Other important issues go unaddressed, all the while increasing cynicism about our political process.”

Almost 100 pastoral leaders signed the letter, including the president of the National Association of Evangelicals, the presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the president of the National Baptist Convention.

The group calls itself the “Circle of Protection” and has organized to weigh in on political issues. The mission statement on the group’s Web site says it is committed to resisting “budget cuts that undermine the lives, dignity and rights of poor and vulnerable people.”

In the letter, the religious leaders use similar language to that of Mr. Obama in calling for what they call a “balanced and thoughtful” approach to cutting the deficit that protects people who rely on government services.

 “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.

It adds: “Congress can and must develop a balanced and thoughtful path forward that protects the most vulnerable and preserves economic opportunity.”

Jim Wallis, the chief executive of Sojourners, a social justice organization, said the battle over the automatic cuts, called “sequestration,” is “a good but tragic example of how the idea of the common good is failing in American politics.”

Mr. Wallis, who helped to organize the letter from the religious leaders, said he hoped it would convince the president and the lawmakers to consider how to meet their fiscal obligations without hurting the people who need government the most.

“The unity of the faith community is clear here,” he said. “It is time to move responsibly toward fiscal responsibility and protect the poor at the same time. That is our commitment and our principle; and both political sides should embrace it.”

In a news release set to accompany the letter, several other religious leaders urged the political parties to pay attention.

Kathryn M. Lohre, the president of the National Council of Churches, called it a “scandalous reality” that one in five children are living in poverty in America. In a statement in the news release, Ms. Lohre said that officials should find a way to protect the poor while enhancing the nation’s economic situation.

“We urge our elected leaders to continue to seek financial health for this nation while protecting those who are living at its margins, those whom Jesus called ‘the least of these,’ ” she said. “The fiscal showdowns of recent months fail to honor the fact that 46.2 million of us are already living on the brink. This is not acceptable to us, nor is it acceptable to God.”

 

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