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Faithful urged to contact Congress about debt


4:00 P.M. EDT July 29, 2011

Jim Winkler (at left) walks to the U.S. Capitol prior to his arrest for refusing to stop publicly praying in the rotunda. A web-only photo courtesy of Common Cause.
Jim Winkler (at left) walks to the U.S. Capitol prior to his arrest for refusing to stop publicly praying in the rotunda. A web-only photo courtesy of Common Cause.

Pray, then contact your member of Congress, said Jim Winkler, top executive of the United Methodist Church’s social action agency.

Those two actions are the most important things people of faith can do to get the U.S. budget crisis resolved without hurting the most vulnerable around the world, he said.

Speaking on the morning after he was arrested with 10 other faith leaders, Winkler said, “We felt that we needed to do something dramatic to illustrate that people of faith want this crisis resolved.”

Several faith leaders, including Winkler, have been in conversation for the past several months as they saw the budget crisis looming and recognized it could mean cuts to many programs that assist the poor.

The group wrote a document, Circle of Protection, outlining why there is a need to protect programs for the poor. The group's members have also written letters and met with the president and members of Congress, Winkler said, but were feeling increasingly frustrated that those needs were not being heard.

“What brought us together was a realization that this impending crisis over the debt limit was largely a manufactured crisis,” he said. Trying to make cuts to programs that assist the poor, elderly, inner-city youth and others was unacceptable to the faith leaders.

“Some people were saying everything needs to be on the table. We said ‘No, that is not the case at all.’ Tax cuts for the wealthy need to be on the table, reduction in bloated military apparatus needs to be on the table, but we don’t need to put programs that assist those in need on the table.”

Even if all the money is cut from programs that assist the poor, there still would not be enough money to resolve the crisis, Winkler said.

President Obama has said the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling must be raised by Aug. 2 for the country to pay its bills on time. The President urged Americans to call and email lawmakers to demand compromise.

Call, email, write

That is something Winkler also recommends. Members of Congress pay attention to the phone calls, email and letters they get every day, he said. “They are scared to death of running into a firestorm or an uprising from people back home. They count on people back home not particularly caring or paying attention or for feeling like they are helpless.”

Jim Winkler. A UMNS photo by Jay Mallin.
Jim Winkler. A UMNS photo by Jay Mallin. View in Photo Gallery

All religious traditions talk about the marks of good government and all religious traditions also place the needs of the poor and widows and children at the center of their concerns, he said.

“All the members of Congress are themselves part of our religious traditions. Congress is filled with Christians, Jews and Muslims, and there are times when their own faith leaders need to speak to them,” Winkler continued. “I think that is kind of a trite argument and an obsolete argument that people of faith have no place in the political arena.”

Many elected leaders also need prayers for wisdom and courage, he said. They are “trapped in party politics” trying to figure out how to score political points against the other party.

The staff of the Board of Church and Society will continue working with other faith groups as they watch what happens in the next few days. Since July 11, the front lawn of The United Methodist Building in Washington, D.C., has been the site for daily prayer vigils focused on a “faithful budget.”

Attention growing

Winkler said the vigils are gaining media attention and drawing larger crowds.

“We are really right there in the center of this as a denomination; we are extremely visible being across the street from the Capitol,” he said. “We are going to keep the pressure on, and we are going to keep the prayer vigils going, and we are going to keep calling attention to our members of Congress for the importance of dealing with this problem.”

Winkler was one of two United Methodists in the group of 11 arrested July 28 in the U.S. Capitol as they refused to stop the public prayers asking the Obama administration and Congress not to balance the budget on the backs of the poor.

The Rev. Bob Edgar, a United Methodist elder and president of Common Cause, a national advocacy group, also was arrested during the “faithful act of civil disobedience.” Edgar, who served as a Pennsylvania congressman from 1975-87, organized the protest and invited leaders in the faith and civil rights community to join him in a rally and prayers inside the rotunda. The arrests were made around 1 p.m., and the group was freed by approximately 7:30 p.m.

*Gilbert is a multimedia reporter for the young adult content team at United Methodist Communications, Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., 615-742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

Jim Winkler: “United Methodists need to contact their members of Congress”

Jim Winkler: “We are really in the center of this as a denomination”

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Showing 16 comments

  • jjking52 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    Amen to khlady. I am having the same struggle. I'm sick and tired of the UMC's political involvement. What happened to faith based initiatives to help the poor and such. Why does the Church think the government can fix what is our responsibility. The UMC thinks it's in trouble now? If the UMC doesn't get its act together somebody is going to start a break away Methodist Church movement.
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  • lt_jim 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    Are these views stated above the views of the TOTAL UMC?   I did not give my support to this liberal politcal stand!  Looks like the UMC needs to look at the adgenda of this "social action agency" and just who they speak for.
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  • Truthmeister 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    Mr. Winkler is a loose cannon.  And he simply doesn't understand economics.  His only real expertise seems to be in imagining Biblical support for his real passion:  left-wing politics.  In so doing he aligns himself with a part of the political spectrum that has the more antipathy toward traditional Christianity than any other.  Mr. Winkler is sawing off the limb he's sitting on....a genuine concern for the poor doesn't mean envy or villification of the rich.  And it certainly doesn't mean a welfare state that will collapse under the ambitions of certain politicians to acquire power.
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  • Pastorsmate 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    I read with interest Kathy Gifford’s July 29th article about faith leaders demonstrating and praying at the capitol during the Congressional meetings about the debt ceiling and the national budget.  I have one major concern.   Although I agree strongly that as Christians, we are to be deeply concerned for the poor, I am concerned that any one United Methodist assortment of people would appear to represent all United Methodists (officially or not), since although we are all concerned for the poor, we are concerned in addition for many other biblical priorities which are also budget issues – not just the poor alone.   Thus, we do not all agree on exactly what is a “faithful budget.”   This will undoubtedly become the subject of heated debate as Congress and the representative Committee begin to hammer out debt reduction actions and the choices of exactly what will be cut in order to balance the budget.

    In reality, nearly everything we have and do and enjoy will have to be cut in a major way – not because those things are no longer important or not considered “absolutely necessary”, but because as a nation, our income is finite.    We will all be shocked, no doubt, once we find out how relatively little in comparison to what we’ve been spending (for good things!) that we can actually afford to do.   We will have to cut even some things which are incredibly important – because we do not have enough money for them.   Yes, some things should clearly be cut first and most – eliminating all waste and all luxury in every part of the budget, for starters (and we’ll be amazed at how much waste we have tolerated all these years!).    But after cutting expendable things, our budget still will not balance.   Then we will have to start cutting “necessary” things, important things, even some things many of us consider crucial – as we begin learning that we simply can’t have or do them all, like we once thought we could.   And it MAY be that we could be left with the grievous realization that we simply cannot find the funds to do as much for the poor as we have done in the past.
    We did less 10 years ago for the poor than we do now.   And 10 years ago, we saw that lower amount as being all we could do, and although none of us thought it was enough, still we had to accept it.  We may have to go back to accepting what we cannot do.   And in the face of what our nation cannot do, churches may have to step up to the plate and help with the slack, by cutting out of their own budgets items that are luxuries and are not part of our core mission to make disciples… and use that money to help the poor.
    Regardless, though, I am uncomfortable with any assorted group (even the division of Church and Society) representing to the world at large in general public readership that they speak for the viewpoints of Christians in general, or United Methodists in particular.    Clearly, not all Christians, and not all United Methodists, have the same definition of a “faithful budget”.Perhaps, besides making our individual personal wishes and priorities known to our Congressional leaders (as individuals), we should then concentrate more on praying for them, that God will grant them wisdom to consider His biblical mandates and the courage to follow those… in whatever diverse ways the Word of God might lead them to apply these precepts.
    I would love to see what God would write out as a faithful budget.
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  • khlady 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    I'm outraged by UMC and their politcal stands.  I wish that UMC would start having our ministers preach from the pulpit what is on their website so members are not in the dark about their liberal beliefs.  I am a memeber of this Church and an really struggling with staying in this denomination because of their constant political stands.  I love my local church but I am starting to wonder about the big organization.
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  • NMex 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    Classy - UMC leaders being arrested - real classy.  Makes me so proud of our law breaking UMC agency execs.  For someone who makes his money off the kindness of others I would think that Mr. Winkler might show a little respect for those of us who give alot of money to the UMC and expect that our leaders don't break the law.  Why hasn't this guy been fired along time ago.
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  • lorquiltdiva 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    I know you didn't mean it-but I have to say that there are many aspects of the government budget (which we need to get passed) that are important. I have worked for 8 years to bring public transportation to our small county-successfully. We need the federal dollars to help us continue serving the people who need to get to the doctor, grocery store or whatever because they have no means of transportation. So, what do we cut. I would say cut the waste, the duplication, and the jobs that go with it. And yes, sir I contact my senators, whom I do not believe are listening to me and my congressman, who lets me know what he is doing-and yes, I tell them all, even the President, Speaker, Minority leader when I feel they have misstepped.
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  • Loring Wells-Murray 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    DEAR CONGRESS, Last year I mismanaged my funds and this year my family and I cannot decide on a budget. Until we have come to a unified decision that fits all of our needs and interests, we will have to shut down our checkbook and will no longer be able to pay our taxes. I'm sure you'll understand. Thank you very much for setting an example we can all follow.
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  • ELVW 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    My husband and I totally agree with removal of tax loopholes for the wealthiest Americans and cuts in Defense spending as  revenue sources to pursue. We and many others have paid into Social Security for 50 plus years and feel that it is unfair to put it on the table for consideration in order to fix problems that it did NOT create. Is this how God would appproach this problem?
    There are those who love humanity, but, just CAN"T stand people. Those who love our country should act out of love!
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  • umcselfhelp 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    Is it not time we stop praying to Washington for help and with the grace of God, have the Church help the poor and needy.  It is not Washington, but the God through the Church that will help those in need.
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  • xprox 2 comments collapsed Collapse Expand
    Judging by comments thus far, 'sounds like Edgar and Winkler failed to consult their Methodist constituents about THEIR feelings on taking on even more Federal debt. The suffering of the "poor"  will be small with essentila reduced spending now compared to the consequences of continued increases in Federal borrowing.
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  • truehopeandchange 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    An excellent point.  It points to the liberalization of not only the government, but the church itself.  PC Cultural Christians employing the false doctrines of Social Justice and Collective Salvation.
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  • Scamper4 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    Unfortunately, just taking care of the poor isn't enough. Without education, training and jobs, this is an endless cycle. Living in Appalachia, I have found the there are many people who don't know how to apply for a job or how to behave as a good employee if they get one. That doesn't mean being a doormat for an employer, but it does mean showing up on time and doing the assigned work. Until taking care of the least among us includes working to send them out to be productive citizens with the hope of a good paying, stable job with benefits, we continue a cycle of dependence.
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  • revkevyoung 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    Where are our bishops?
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  • revkevyoung 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    Where are our bishops?
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  • Tim 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    What are you talking about!!!!! The US will not be able to help anyone if our country continues to increase it's debt. As I am sure you know, debt paralyzed people. If the US never started borrowing money, we would not have a problem now. 

    China's economy is growing at a rate of 9%. Our economy is growing at a rate of 0.4%. If our economy does not pick up and be able to add money to the treasury thourgh taxes collect from more economic growth, China will control us since they have lent us the majority or the 14 trillion. The bank controls the debtor, and China (the bank) has the one of the worst human rights records in the world. Christians in China are persecuted in China and have to meet in secret from the Chinese government.

    Doesn't God teach people to not get in debt? Why are you supporting the US increasing it's debt?Another point is that the Christian church is responsible for taking care of the people not the government!!!!!

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