Yesterday, a group of religious leaders spoke to the press about their new initiative to create a “circle of protection” around the poor and the vulnerable in the upcoming debates about the federal budget. They announced a new website to help recruit and organize religiously motivated voters to call on Congress not to balance the budget on the backs of the poor.
Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton, who chairs the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development was one of the religious leaders on the call. He said he and the USCCB were honored to be a part of this “unprecedented” gathering of religious leaders. “We are standing on behalf of the poor and vulnerable,” Bishop Blaire said. “We want to bring moral clarity to these (budgetary) issues.”
Bishop Blaire noted that the USCCB’s engagement in political issues is based on four traditional principles of Catholic social teaching. First, does a given program protect human life and dignity? Second, how do certain policies and programs affect the poor and the vulnerable? And, third, Bishop Blaire said that government and other social organizations have a responsibility to promote the common good.
At the Q&A, I noted that many of the leaders of the House ran as pro-life candidates, and that it seemed that many of the budget cuts did not protect or promote life. I asked Bishop Blaire if he and the USCCB were pointing this out in their lobbying on Capitol Hill and if they were meeting with any success? Bishop Blaire replied that, “It is distressing when you have persons who do not embrace the whole spectrum of concerns about human life and dignity.” This strikes me as a very even-handed, and accurate way, to describe the situation. I am distressed when I encounter a pro-choice Catholic offering some lam excuses for Roe though, come to think of it, there has not been a lot of agita in conservative catholic circles over these cuts to programs for the poor. At least some of us pro-life Democrats stand up. Are there no conservative Catholics Republicans to do the same?
Bishop Blaire also noted that the Pro-Life Secretariat at the USCCB and the Social Justice Committee’s Secretariat work together very well, “but that doesn’t always carry over to the political realm.” This was important for him to note because some conservatives have cast aspersions at the social justice staff’s commitment to life issues. It was obvious to me during the discussion about health care that there was not a sliver of difference within the USCCB staff and that it was nothing but partisan nastiness to suggest there was.
The Circle of Protection website lists several key principles that unite the religious leaders and they are worth repeating because they neatly encapsulate the Christian moral vision on the budgetary issues our nation faces at this time. After you read them, ask yourself which part does a better job defending these principles.
1.tThe nation needs to substantially reduce future deficits, but not at the expense of hungry and poor people.
2.tFunding focused on reducing poverty should not be cut. It should be made as effective as possible, but not cut.
3.tWe urge our leaders to protect and improve poverty-focused development and humanitarian assistance to promote a better, safer world.
4.tNational leaders must review and consider tax revenues, military spending, and entitlements in the search for ways to share sacrifice and cut deficits.
5.tA fundamental task is to create jobs and spur economic growth. Decent jobs at decent wages are the best path out of poverty, and restoring growth is a powerful way to reduce deficits.
6.tThe budget debate has a central moral dimension. Christians are asking how we protect "the least of these." "What would Jesus cut?" "How do we share sacrifice?" As believers, we turn to God with prayer and fasting, to ask for guidance as our nation makes decisions about our priorities as a people.
7.tGod continues to shower our nation and the world with blessings. As Christians, we are rooted in the love of God in Jesus Christ. Our task is to share these blessings with love and justice and with a special priority for those who are poor.
8.tBudgets are moral documents, and how we reduce future deficits are historic and defining moral choices. As Christian leaders, we urge Congress and the administration to give moral priority to programs that protect the life and dignity of poor and vulnerable people in these difficult times, our broken economy, and our wounded world. It is the vocation and obligation of the church to speak and act on behalf of those Jesus called "the least of these." This is our calling, and we will strive to be faithful in carrying out this mission.
The statement was signed by a variety of religious leaders from evangelical Christians to Catholic bishops to Jim Wallis of Sojourners.