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Budget battle: Don’t forget the poor


6:30 P.M. EDT July 14, 2011

Alfred Hardnett (right) helps Candice K. Mink with her groceries in the food pantry at The Community Enabler Developer ministry in Anniston, Ala.. A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose.
Alfred Hardnett (right) helps Candice K. Mink with her groceries in the food pantry at The Community Enabler Developer ministry in Anniston, Ala.. A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose. View in Photo Gallery

As the U.S. Congress and President Obama wrangle over the federal budget and debt ceiling, religious leaders are worrying about the individuals and communities on the losing end of the battle.

It’s impossible for churches and other religious institutions to compensate for the depth of budget cuts being proposed, said the Rev. Gradye Parsons, stated clerk, or chief administrator, of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

“In the Protestant community, we’ve been in the charity business from day one,” Parsons acknowledged. “But we cannot alone fill in the gap that will be left if the social safety net is taken away.”

He was among a panel of leaders representing the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths who spoke about their concerns over the U.S. budget negotiations during a July 14 conference call.

The briefing was billed as “the kickoff” to an 18-month campaign by the faith community — including daily prayer vigils near the U.S. Capitol building during the budget negotiations — to persuade the Obama administration and Congress to maintain a strong commitment to domestic and international poverty programs.

Talks between the president and congressional negotiators over increasing the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling and reaching a comprehensive deficit reduction deal have stalled.

The call’s purpose was to tell the politicians “to get down to some serious business” as well as demand compassion and commitment “to those who have suffered longest,” said J. Herbert Nelson, director of public witness, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and the panel moderator.

“Budgets are not simply tools to play power games,” he declared. “The budget represents the conscience of our country.”

The Rev. John McCullough.
The Rev. John McCullough.
View in Photo Gallery

More vulnerable

The Rev. John McCullough, a United Methodist pastor and executive director of Church World Service, agreed that the current budget debate is “deeply disappointing and disturbing.”

He finds it “unacceptable” that people are more economically vulnerable than ever, even after “three generations of Americans have worked hard to change the equation for the poor.”

Concern — not just for the poor but for the moral character of the country — was the overriding theme of the briefing. Sayyid M. Syeed of the Islamic Society of North America pointed out that he was being faithful to his own tradition by talking about the devastating impact the budget cuts could have. “We hope our leaders will understand there is no other alternative than the budget be just and equitable,” he said.

Those working at the local level already have seen firsthand the effects of the economic downturn on both the poor and middle class, noted Sister Mary Hughes, a Dominican nun and president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.

“We are unable to keep food pantries sufficiently stocked,” she explained. “It is a new reality in parishes and churches that serve those who might be described as middle class. Those who once helped to stock those pantries now need their services.”

Rabbi Steve Gutow, president, Jewish Council for Public Affairs, said his organization is particularly concerned about proposed cuts to the already small block grants to states for Medicaid. “We can’t allow the poor to suffer, particularly when it comes to illness,” he said.

‘Life and death consequences’

Proposed budget cuts of as much as 30 percent to international humanitarian aid also have “life and death consequences” for millions around the world, McCullough pointed out.

Because such aid is less than 1percent of the budget, the cuts would have little impact on the deficit. But, the impact from a drastic reduction of international assistance would range from millions more going hungry to more children dying of treatable disease to shaky political security in economically fragile nations, he said.

Individual members of churches, temples and mosques can begin to address the call for a fair and just budget by telling the stories of their own economic woes, the leaders said. They also can express their faith commitment to the poor by writing or calling their Congressional representatives.

“It’s time for people of faith to step up and say, ‘We as Americans can do better,’” said the Rev. Peg Chamberlin, president of the National Council of Churches. “We must commit as a nation to a moral and economically just budget.”

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service multimedia reporter based in New York. Follow her at http://twitter.com/umcscribe.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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Showing 9 comments

  • cgmilleriii 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    Our founding fathers new that only by electing and appointing people to government who have Christian moral vlaues can our government work.  We have failed. There is no good answer now.
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  • Eric 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    Rev. John McCullough thinks this is unacceptable, how quaint.  Try taking another 30 to 50% out of the church budget to pay taxes and you will know how those of us that have paid for these ridiculous nanny state projects, that by his own admission have failed, feel.  The solution isn’t taking what little money the small business have left and wasting it on stupid ideas whose utility has already been proven to be negligible, it’s leaving us business owners alone to try to put people back to work and save the economy.  Then you dithering bleeding hearts can go back to trying to bankrupt the country.
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  • NCMethodist 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    I would like to see the religious organizations identified above and the UMC look at what the government can do to repeal the demands on employers under the "Patient Protection and affordable Care Act", limit other regulations that impact businesses, and our tax system so that businesses can have the stability needed to hire new employees. That will do more for our economy to recover and all persons to be better off financially. Our church leadership appears to have a limited perspective. What businessmen are brought into the discussions?
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  • Tom Bettes 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    If the church wants to support government run programs, then lets have our churches give up tax free status so the church can contribute like the members of its congregation contributes to the government. Clearly not a great idea. I agree with NMex. Our churches need to own the charity in our community and worldwide. Jesus taught us saying "Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s". We own the responsibility for the poor, not the government.
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  • Lee 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    World coming to an end, poor hit hardest...we hear this same story time-and-time again, not even interesting story 
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  • Carol Stoner 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    Before unloading on the government, I wonder if the local churches don't need to first examine their own budgets to see if they are "moral" and "economically just" and "represent our conscience" not to mention "support humanitarian international aid?"  Heard tell there are some local churches who devote 50 percent of their tithes and offerings to ministries WITH the poor in those same areas...you know, "loving neighbor as self." 
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  • Carol Stoner 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    I wonder if local churches don't need to first take a radical look at their very own budgets.  How many local churches are giving 50 percent ("love your neighbor as yourself") of their tithes and offerings to ministries WITH the poor (reference sidebar article in this UMN issue, Ministry with the Poor)?
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  • NMex 2 comments collapsed Collapse Expand
    Oh ye of little faith!  You think that God needs the government to feed the poor, clothe the naked, and shelter the homeless. You don't think that God can do that through the Body of Christ?  You obviously view God as very small and imcompetent that He needs the government.  And let's get real about this - the government is the main problem here - they created the problem through hand outs without consequences - and all in the name of buying votes to retain political power.  The government created a big mess and perhaps God is calling out to us the Body of Christ to make things right. We can feed the poor, we can shelter the homeless, we can clothe the naked, and we can change lives.  I see it in my church's ministry to homeless families.  If one small chruch in Albuquerque can do this the entire Body of Christ can do wonders without the help (?) of government.
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  • pm_racing 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    You took the words right out of my brain.  I scrolled down here to leave a comment and NMex had said it precisely the way I would.  We should not have to give money to the government through taxes to do what should be the work of God's people.  The reason liberals give in to allowing faith based organizations to be part of government support of the poor, is that they know that they are far more efficient than government agencies.  God has a way of multiplying the resources when He is at the center of the effort.  If not for that, they would use the so called separation of church and state to keep God out of what they see as Uncle Sam's job.  In reality, God's people are being brainwashed to think that their taxes go to solve the problems, so they don't need to support church missions.
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