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Two UM church leaders arrested in protest


5:00 P.M. EDT July 28, 2011

Eleven faith leaders were arrested after they refused to stop public prayers in the U.S. Capitol. A web-only photo courtesy of Common Cause.
Eleven faith leaders were arrested after they refused to stop public prayers
in the U.S. Capitol. A web-only photo courtesy of Common Cause.

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Two United Methodist faith leaders were among a group of 11 arrested July 28 in the U.S. Capitol as they refused to stop public prayers asking the Obama administration and Congress not to balance the budget on the backs of the poor.

Jim Winkler, top executive for the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, the denomination’s social action agency, and the Rev. Bob Edgar, a United Methodist elder and president of Common Cause, a national advocacy group, were arrested in the Capitol rotunda during a “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.

“Following a rally on Capitol Hill, we will enter the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol and kneel to pray for Congress to do the right thing: fulfill America’s promise to care for those who cannot care for themselves, to offer a hand up and a fair shake to those willing to work to improve themselves and their communities,” Edgar wrote in a blog.

Jim Winkler, top executive of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, was among the 11 arrested. A UMNS photo by Jewel DeGuzman.
Jim Winkler, top executive of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, was among the 11 arrested. A UMNS photo by Jewel DeGuzman.
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The religious leaders were arrested about 1 p.m. and charged with demonstrating within a U.S. Capitol building.

“Congress is paralyzed by toxic partisan politics while people suffer,” said the Rev. Michael Livingston, director of the National Council of Churches' poverty initiative. “Our elected officials are protecting corporations and wealthy individuals while shredding the safety net for millions of the most vulnerable people in our nation and abroad. Our faith won't allow us to passively watch this travesty unfold. We’ve written letters, talked with and prayed for our elected officials, and prayed together daily in interreligious community. Today, we ‘offer our bodies as a living sacrifice’ to say to Congress ‘Raise revenue, protect the vulnerable and those living in poverty.’”

Jordan Blevins, director of peace witness for the Church of the Brethren and the NCC, added that the protesters consider themselves “citizens first and foremost of the realm of God.”

“Sometimes living into that reality puts us at odds with what is happening in our country. This is one of those times — when steps Congress is taking contradicts our call as followers of Jesus Christ, we must take action.”

Winkler, who works inside the United Methodist Building on Capitol Hill, and other members of the Washington Interreligious Staff Community have been holding daily prayer vigils on the lawn of the building since July 11 to pray for a “faithful budget.”

The Rev. Bob Edgar (center) walks to the U.S. Capitol for the protest. A web-only photo courtesy of Common Cause.
The Rev. Bob Edgar (center) walks to the U.S. Capitol for the protest. A web-only photo courtesy of Common Cause.

Winkler said the vigils were an interreligious effort to raise the voice of people of faith on behalf of the poorest and most vulnerable among us. “We are sending a visible signal to those in power that we do not believe the negotiations over the debt ceiling and budget can be resolved on the backs of poor people.”

Others arrested include Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Shalom Center in Philadelphia; the Rev. Jennifer Butler, executive director, Faith in Public Life; the Rev. Paul Sherry, director of the Washington office, Interfaith Worker Justice; the Rev. J. Herbert Nelson, director of public witness, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.); the Rev. Sandy Sorenson, director of Washington office, United Church of Christ, and Martin Shupack, director of advocacy, Church World Service.

*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.

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Showing 41 comments

  • Ross Barrett 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    I am an orthodox Christian, believing in the Apostles Creed and following the words and actions of Jesus Christ.  I'd prefer the church follow the Book of James and, "Be a Doer of the Word"  versus chiming in on if "raising revenue" is a more important than "cutting spending".
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  • JanNSalem 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    Thank God for this faithful witness. The presence of Jim Winkler and Bob Edgar in this public act is part of the reason I remain a United Methodist.
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  • John Donaldson 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    The national debt per taxpayer now calculates to $128,000.   Is this love for our children?   Responsible government lives within its means.
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  • Craig Midgett 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    Bravo! These engaged faith community leaders should be an example to all. They practiced peaceful civil disobedience and made a very important point clear; lawmakers need to take into account the members of society that rarely have a champion. This act was one of compassion and hopefully will remind political leaders that their legislation should benefit ALL members of society.
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  • LWat02 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    Misguided people?  The misguided people are those who do not seem to understand that within 10 years, we will no longer be able to pay the interest on our debt because of our borrowing.  It will be too late to talk about options.  That is when a true default crisis will take place and there will be nothing that can be done to help the poor or anyone else.  Only when we are strong financially are we able to provide a safety net for those in need.  We have been fiscally irresponsible and the poor will suffer more than anyone.  Perhaps the Chinese will treat us kindly, as they now own us.
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  • GiftofGod 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.  Matthew 6:5
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  • feslop 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    Jim Winkler can be a true prisoner of conscience if he remains imprisoned more than a week...end.  Until authentic suffering is part of the menu, the martyrs of cuffdom on Capitol Hill simply fulfill Shaw's observation that martyrdom is a way to achieve fame without ability.
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  • GregW2U 5 comments collapsed Collapse Expand
    Churches do not belong in politics and vice versa. I am extremely disappointed that any part of UMC would be associated with this. I hope this does not become more widespread within the church.
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  • Tom 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    The Church should be a instrument for social equity. High fuel and food prices disproportionately burden the poor and economically disadvantaged. If the wealthiest of Americans were taxed on all income including inheritances, the US government would have the funds necessary to continue to provide assistance to the poor, ill and elderly. It is unconscionable to support tax cuts for the wealthiest among us while the least powerful among us suffer from unemplyment caused by outsourcing.

    The issue the clergy are protesting is not about redistribution of wealth. It is about those who have gained the most, paying their fair share. The wealthy in this country have benefitted from the "Socialist" systems already in place in this country like law enforcement, public education systems, highway systems,the Food and Drug Administration, the Federal Aviation Admionistration and the Department of Defense.

    As a blue collar worker, every dime I earn is taxed. Since I own no yachts, airplane or resort homes, and make less than $200,000 a year, I have seen no benefits from the tax cuts provided by "conservative" politicians.

    The culture of greed proffered by the so-called gospels of prosperity go against Christ's admonition that we discard the material trappings of this world, take up the cross and follow him.

    It amazes me that the people of God can favor sheltering the rich from their responsibilities, while implicitly blaming the poor for their misfortune.
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  • WillieFong 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    DUH...go read the Declaration of Independence.  Four references to "God".   The majority of the founding fathers and some of the most respected "patriots" of this country reference the Bible and stipulate that is a country founded on Christianity, that government has no place in the church, but the "laws" of the Christian church should abide over the "laws" of this country.
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  • Greg Nelson 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    If Christians and other religious leaders aren't in politics, only the lobbyists will be left to influence our leaders.
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  • Norman Prather 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    If our faith does not inform our politics (or economics or ethics or relationships) then we have no faith. Entire congregations should have been there not merely leadership.
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  • Eric 5 comments collapsed Collapse Expand
    In which book of the Bible exactly are we commanded as Christians to use the  rule of law and threat of force to seize the hard earned income of some and give it to those that some one else feels is more worthy of it.  It think perhaps some of dear leaders have confused Mark with Marx.
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  • Dale Bailey 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    Mark's Gospel has been discarded in favor of Marx' Gospel.  The Cross has been thrown down and the Hammer and Sickle taken up in its place.  These are in the best interest of social engineering and wealth redistribution.
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  • lewarch 2 comments collapsed Collapse Expand
    I think that you might turn to the Old Testament book of Leviticus and look at the laws concerning the year of Jubilee.  These laws governed land redistribution, manumission of slaves, forgiveness of debts, and "resting the land".  You will also find legal requirements concerning harvesting one's crops in a way that allowed the poor to glean after you.  I presume that the tribal governmental structure during judges and the more centralized one during kings was supposed to implement these laws. 
    I indeed get nervous though when our leaders identify the will of God will a particular political stance.  What would Keynes do?  What would Marx do?  What would Freidman do?  Did Jesus tell us which economic model would most effectively lift up the poor?  I don't think so and so I don't think we should endorse a particular political strategy as the will of God.  It too often just makes us baptize our own personal views....
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  • Eric 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    No sweat so every 49 or 50 years we have to return all leased land and set our slaves and indentured servants free.  What in the name of God does this have to do with our current Government driving us into the poor house with reckless spending and borrowing?
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  • lewarch 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    Well, let's consider the year of Jubilee in the Old Testament.  In those passages land was to be redistributed, slaves set free, debts forgiven and the land given a sabbath rest.  I assume that some sort of governmental role was involved (whether at a tribal level as under the judges or something more centralized under the kings).  However, I become very nervous when one party's agenda is "baptized" by anyone and sometimes the Board of Church and Society seems to have heard so specifically from God on  Hr bill something or another that they overshoot their mark on a regular basis.  I wish they would talk to us instead of trying to speak for us!  Then we'd talk back and have a conversation!
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  • Michael 2 comments collapsed Collapse Expand
    How long can they keep them in jail?!  :)   I am embarrassed every time a church leader causes a public spectacle over a controversial political issue.
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  • Doug Mackey 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    so how would you have reacted to Jesus overturning the tables at the Temple- which was the heart not of of religious, but also political Judaism of its time?   Embarrassment?  I am sure that many of his time saw that actions as something horrible to do, heretical for its time, etc.  But it was our Lord that did it, he set the example we should be following of being very visible about our concerns.
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  • irene demaris 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    Fun fact... Jordan Blevins was the PNW Conference's Keynote Speaker for the Young Adult Retreat last April!
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  • thood 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    This is a clear witness to those of us who are Christian and concerned about the poor that our government is head in the direction of protecting the wealthy.  Often this protection is offered in return for campaign support.  Money appears to buy votes.  If this is what has become of American democracy, all of us should be concerned.
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  • aliceinwonder 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    We will be praying for them.............and our enemies in Washington.
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  • James Buckner 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    This is ridiculous.  "Balance the budget on the backs of the poor" is an outrageous lie and one unfitting of a church.  Winkler didn't seem to mind when the yoke of Obamacare was laid on the backs of the American people.
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  • James Buckner 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    14 Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?2 Corinthians 6:14
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  • GeofffromGA 2 comments collapsed Collapse Expand
    I simply do not understand why a group of faith leaders would resort to "civil disobedience" over an issue such as this. Contact your congressman and work through the system, not as though you are above it. This group should recognize the need for this to be an example of allowing the system to work and if it doesn't then the electoral system should be used to make changes to our government. This action simply raises controversy for controversy sake.
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  • Doug Mackey 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand

    They were simply utilizing the constitutional right to protest against something they believe is wrong - and should be applauded for taking such strong action - an accepting the consequences as our Lord did for exactly the same type of action - making noise about a system that thought more about those with money than those most in need.:   "Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. He said to them, "It is written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer'; but you are making it a den of robbers." (Mat 21:12-13 NRS)
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  • Lee 5 comments collapsed Collapse Expand
    Hope they are not being paid for this. Maybe they do not have enough real work to do.
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  • Doug Mackey 4 comments collapsed Collapse Expand
    So you don't think raising consciousness about the needs of "the least of these" is the work of the church? Seems to me that are doing just what Jesus asked us all to do - help those most in need:
    Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?' And the king will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.' (Mat 25:37-40 NRS)
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  • James Buckner 3 comments collapsed Collapse Expand
    Jesus said that his followers should voluntary feed the poor and take care of the sick.  He did not say, Go tell Caesar he should steal from certain people and give it to other people.
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  • Doug Mackey 2 comments collapsed Collapse Expand
    But he did tell his follower (today that would be Christians - where ever they may find themselves) to help those in need, to give to the poor...without question.  If so, many in congress who consider themselves Christians should have that same mindset and -if they are so adamant about bringing their scriptural beliefs to bear on some topics (abortion, homosexuals, etc.) then they must be consistent and follow those scriptures that are clearly Jesus very words.
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  • James Buckner 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    You are not comprehending that it is not the duty of Christians, in this case representatives to force the citizenry of the United States to feed the poor.  It is a personal responsibility.  If you approve of representatives following the direction of Jesus in doing their jobs, then, Sweet, I can't wait until they start preaching the gospel on the house floor(in line with the Great Commision).
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  • BITucker 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    God bless them all for their faithfulness.

      Bruce Tucker
      Lay Leader
      Hope UMC, Ephrata, Pa.
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  • John Donaldson 5 comments collapsed Collapse Expand
    Does Winkler think that the country going further into debt and inflation eating up the value of our currency helps the poor?
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  • Doug Mackey 4 comments collapsed Collapse Expand
    The point is not going deeper into debt, but looking at how the proposals are structured -allowing those who have plenty to keep even more - while telling those who have the least they must suffer more.  If we are truly a Christian nation shouldn't we be following the Lord's guidance on such subjects:

     "Now a certain ruler asked Him, saying, "Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" So Jesus said to him, "Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. "You know the commandments:`Do not commit adultery,'`Do not murder,'`Do not steal,'`Do not bear false witness,'`Honor your father and your mother.'" And he said, "All these things I have kept from my youth."So when Jesus heard these things, He said to him, "You still lack one thing. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me."But when he heard this, he became very sorrowful, for he was very rich.And when Jesus saw that he became very sorrowful, He said, "How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!  "For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."  " (Luk 18:18-25 NKJ)
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  • James Buckner 3 comments collapsed Collapse Expand
    Wow! Please do not twist scripture to suit your needs.  This scripture is not about being rich or poor.  It's about having something between you and God.  You need to give up everything to become a slave to Christ.  Love and worship Jesus, not money in this person's specific case.  Jesus knew this young man was lying, because no one can keep the law.  So Jesus said the one thing that would rock him to his core.  Also, Jesus said that the man should voluntarily give his stuff away.  He did not say, hey Matthew(the tax collector) come over here and take all this guy's stuff.
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  • Doug Mackey 2 comments collapsed Collapse Expand
    Wow - you seem to be interpreting an awful lot into some pretty clear language.  Tells me something about the context you approach scripture from.  I am not saying that your interpretation does not have validity, but as with many scriptures there are multiple meanings to be seen.  I do not think that Jesus would have been crucified by the authorities, if he had not challenged them on these very same types of issues  - making some very strong political statements.  By the way - take a look at Leviticus and Deuteronomy and many other places where there is "LAW" about helping the needy, Giving your tithe every third year to feed the local widows, orphans and resident aliens, etc.  There is not doubt that caring for those in need was a systematic and lawfully mandated aspect of scripture.
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  • James Buckner 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    Jesus would have been crucified, no matter what.  It was God's plan.
    Are you keeping the law?
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  • David Roberts 3 comments collapsed Collapse Expand
    It is far beyond time to give up partisan politics and pass the debt ceiling bill, raising it as much as necessary to avoid this kind of stalemate for the next several years.  Those people who think the poor should shoulder more of this country's financial woes are, simply, wrong.  Their thinking is antithetical to *every* religious tenant I know of, regardless of faith.

    Their god seems to be the exercise of their opinion over goodness, charity, love, and rational thinking.  My goodness!  What is wrong with those misguided people? 

    Dave Roberts
    Athens, GA
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  • Eric 2 comments collapsed Collapse Expand
    The "poor" in this country along with another 51% of the population shoulder none of this country's financial burden.  They are net consumers of tax money not contributors.
    As for “rational thinking” try this on for size.  When you liberals started your vaunted “war on poverty” the population in the U.S. living below the poverty line was 14% now after 40 years and trillions of dollars the rate is 14.3%.  Last time I checked doing the same thing the same way and expecting a different result was the very definition of irrational.
    As for charity, it is given by a willing person trying to help a fellow child of God.  The government taking my money by rule of law under threat of imprisonment or violence if I refuse is not charity it’s coercion and caries no grace what so ever.
    I am not misguide or irrational, I am a deeply thoughtful, compassionate, God fearing, Christian with a different opinion then you.  Calling names and accusing people of evil and sin is no way to carry on an argument.  It is deeply insulting and childish and it is the very reason that the Church should not be involved in purely political issues.
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  • Michele Baumgartner-Bonanno 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    Try this on for size... old folks went to poor houses when they were too infirm to work before there was social security and medicare, which was started by the likes of "the you liberals-type" FDR. If the endgame is to pull the safety net out from under the old, poor and weak, then don't call that tact christian or charitable, for true religion is "taking care of widows and orphans."  Recall also that Isaiah dreamed of the Kings using resources to put DOWN their swords and pick UP their plowshares (reference... end hegemonic wars/ MIC and feed the people), so petitioning the keepers of the purse to feed the people instead of the war machine is certainly a christian ethic, if not a UMC policy.  Finally, -- the tax scheme protects the status quo and the status quo protects the very wealthy property class... the police, the military, the roads, all serve to maintain and benefit the parties who own most of the assets and the people who pay most of the taxes. While the very rich don't represent the most headcount, do own the most assets, so bandying about percentages in the air is not meaningful... how about ... who does most of the real work in the... builds things... the employee class or the CEOs. Just because the CEO gets the most money does not mean he does all the work. I really don't like mixing church and politics, but with technology and social media, the secular world keeps infringing on the church space. As well, pastors and soldiers do not forfeit their rights as citizens to speak out in the public square if it is in their heart, even though they are required to abide the rules of their group when they are acting in a professional capacity.  So long as they spoke on their own behalf and not as envoys of the UMC, and they were not personally breaking any rules in the book of discipline, then I think they were just exercising their first amendment rights.
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  • Jeffrey Muehl 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    I am afraid at times that what seems to be the right thing to do right now may have long-term effects that we have not anticipated.  For example, continuing to borrow money to help those in need, whether it be those without sufficient health insurance, persons who are under/unemployed, or even other nations receiving financial aid, might lead us to a place where there are even more persons who need help; not less.  In summary, I do not know the right thing to do.  But I do know that God answers prayer and that God will honor all the prayers we offer for our leaders at this time. I suggest we not pray asking God to move certain persons in certain directions we deem best; but that we pray God will grant the wisdom and courage to those in power to do what is right and what is best in the long-term interests of our nation and His people.

    Grace and peace,
    Jeff Muehl,
    Pastor, FUMC Dilley, Texas
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