Letter seeks ‘circle of protection’ for poor

With Congress planning to recess Aug. 5 before addressing budget sequestration, Christian leaders issued a reminder that lawmakers must make hungry and poor people a priority as they consider the nation’s fiscal challenges.

By Bob Allen

Christian leaders across the country released a pastoral letter July 18 urging Congress to make hungry and poor people a priority in negotiations over a new federal budget.

With Washington set to reconsider sequestration -- across-the-board spending cuts lingering from an impasse over the debt-ceiling debate between Democrats and Republicans in 2011 -- faith leaders renewed earlier appeals asking lawmakers to maintain “a circle of protection” around programs that alleviate hunger and poverty in the current stage of budget debate.

circle of protectionEighty-seven signers affirmed the government’s responsibility for the poor.

“The Bible teaches that civil authority comes from God, and God calls for protection of poor and vulnerable people,” the faith leaders 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.”

They asked Congress “to frame the budget debate in terms of moral choices that are understandable to the American people.”

“Important choices must be made,” the letter said. “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. Within the category of ‘defense,’ there is a difference between legitimate national security and unnecessary spending. Congress can and must develop a balanced and thoughtful path forward that protects the most vulnerable and preserves economic opportunity.”

Baptist signers include Suzii Paynter, executive coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship; Robert Parham of the Baptist Center for Ethics and Feed the Children President and CEO Kevin Hagan.

Others include Carroll Baltimore, president of the Progressive National Baptist Convention; Tony Campolo, founder of the Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education; Roy Medley , general secretary of American Baptist Churches USA; Otis Moss Jr., pastor emeritus Olivet Institutional Baptist Church in Cleveland, Ohio; 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.

Other names on the letter include Patrick Anderson, former interim executive coordinator of CBF; Jim Wallis of Sojourners and David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World.