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NCC says the budget Congress is voting on
Shows ‘callous indifference’ to persons in need
 

by Leslie Tune

Washington, December 14, 2005 – Denominational heads and other religious leaders gathered in Washington Wednesday to denounce the fiscal year 2006 federal budget, with some comparing its congressional supporters to the evil biblical King Herod. 

The leaders braved cold temperatures to protest the budget that cuts billions from programs that help the poor. Congress is to vote on the budget this week.

The demonstration, which was organized by the evangelical Christian group Call to Renewal, ended with more than 110 protesters being arrested when they knelt in prayer in the Cannon House Office Building to decry a budget they believe is immoral. Above, Rev. Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, General Secretary, Reformed Church in America, called the budget "a moral disgrace" and called on Congress to defeat it.

Also among the leaders who gathered on Capitol Hill were the Rev. Dr. Bob Edgar, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches USA; the Rev. John H. Thomas, General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ; and Phil Jones, Director of Witness and the Washington Office for the Church of the Brethren. 

Thomas (left) spoke of the upcoming celebration of Christmas and the parallels between the birth of Christ and a vote on the budget.  

“More than the candlelight services we attend or the carols we sing, this federal budget will reveal whether we and our leaders are like the Magi coming to adore the child or like Herod who, whether through intent or indifference, allows the innocents to be slaughtered,” Thomas said. 

If passed, the proposed budget would cut more than $50 billion in social programs that help the poor while giving tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans. Religious leaders have been protesting the proposed budget since it was first introduced by President Bush in January. 

At the protest, Edgar reminded members of Congress that one vote can make a difference in defeating this budget.  

In a letter sent to members of Congress today, Edgar said that he and millions of persons of faith “are appalled at the callous indifference to children, the elderly, veterans and low-income families that this budget reflects.” 

The proposed budget, Edgar said, “is immoral, unjust and it hurts the very people it should be helping.” 

He cited an earlier appeal to Congress by persons of faith to restore provisions that help the poor. (See below.) “Since January we have been writing and calling, pleading and begging you to defeat this budget that bestows tax cuts to the wealthiest among us while ruthlessly debilitating programs that help those most in need.”

On Wednesday (Dec. 14), some persons of faith will risk arrest . . . while demonstrating “their moral conviction that this is an immoral budget,” Edgar said. 

The full text of Edgar’s letter is below. Also below is a copy of an October 25, 2005 statement by religious leaders on the budget, and a report of the grassroots opposition to the budget by more than 8,000 people who signed a statement from the NCC’s FaithfulAmerica.

Photos by Leslie Tune. For High Res Pictures, see http://www.ncccusa.org/Granberg-Michaelson.html; and http://www.ncccusa.org/Thomas.html

Contact NCC News: Leslie Tune, 202-544-2350; or Philip E. Jenks, 212-870-2252

December 14, 2005 

Dear Member of Congress: 

It is with profound grief and extraordinary urgency that I send this appeal to you today on behalf of the National Council of Churches USA as you work toward final passage of the 2006 fiscal year budget. We speak with the authority given to us as those who have been empowered with the Holy Spirit and with the rights bestowed upon us as citizens of the United States of America. We are appalled at the callous indifference to children, the elderly, Veterans and low-income families that this budget reflects. This budget is immoral, unjust and it hurts the very people that it should be helping! We call on you to vote against this budget.

This is not our first appeal to you (see below). Since January we have been writing and calling, pleading and begging you to defeat this budget that bestows tax cuts to the wealthiest among us while ruthlessly debilitating programs that help those who are most in need. Our faith has demanded that we urge you not to go down this destructive path. We have prayed. We have rallied. We have met with Members of Congress and their staff. And, today some of our colleagues in ministry and other people of faith may face arrest out of their moral conviction that this is an immoral budget.

Now it is up to you. Now you are in a position to make an immediate difference in the lives of millions of people. For the families who struggle to make ends meet; for the senior adult who depends on Medicaid to stay one step ahead of an ailing body; for the Veteran who sacrificed that we might live in freedom; and, for the child who may have to go to school hungry and ill-prepared to learn; voting against this budget will make a real and tangible difference. These are people in our congregations who we greet before and after services on Sunday morning—or who stop by the church during the week asking for our help. And although we do the best that we can to help them and will continue to do so, churches cannot nor should they attempt to take the place of the government!

It is not too late. During this season of Advent when we celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we are profoundly aware of the power of one. One person can turn the world upside down! One person can bring hope to the hopeless and exchange beauty for ashes and joy for mourning. One person can cast a vote that will make a difference! We call on you to be the one to cast that vote. This moment requires courage. This moment requires resolve. We pray that you will have the courage to make a difference and the resolve to stand on the side of righteousness and justice because “. . . what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)

Sincerely,

Rev. Dr. Robert W. Edgar

General Secretary
National Council of Churches USA

October 25, 2005

Statement by Religious Leaders on the Budget

As leaders of America’s major faith communities, we write to you at a moment of great moral urgency for our nation when hundreds of thousands of our most vulnerable citizens are at risk.   We urge you to put aside partisan politics and pass a federal budget that reflects the moral priorities of the wide majority of Americans.  We urge you to work for, not against, the common good of all of America’s citizens and not just a privileged few.

This is a grave time in our nation. We are in the midst of a tremendous social and economic crisis, thrust vividly into public view by the recent natural disasters along the Gulf Coast.  The times demand profound changes if the quality of life is to improve for millions of families. The United States budget is a reflection of who we are and what our priorities are as a nation. It is inconceivable—in the wake of the devastating impact of the recent natural disasters—that Congress would propose $50 billion in cuts for child care benefits, Medicaid, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, Head Start, student loans, and other vital services for people in need.  In the aftermath of these disasters, such catastrophic cuts can only deepen the pain and suffering and dramatically increase the number of people living in poverty in this nation.

We watched as members of Congress vowed to help rebuild the Gulf Coast. We heard our representatives promise to make helping those affected by hurricanes Katrina and Rita a national priority. Yet despite those pledges, members of Congress now stand ready to cut $50 billion in essential programs that help those in need, while maintaining excessive tax cuts that help only the wealthy. The hurricanes were a natural disaster. But this proposed budget reconciliation would be a moral disaster of monumental proportion—and it is one that can be avoided.

The role of government is to protect its people and work for the common good. This is not the time for the budget reconciliation process to create greater hardships for those who are already experiencing great suffering. To do so is not only unjust; it is a sin.  It violates all the fundamental Christian principles of loving thy neighbor, caring for the poor, and showing mercy. As religious leaders, this violation is unacceptable to us. How is it that we show mercy for oil millionaires and not hurricane survivors?  We urge you to change this destructive course of action for the sake of our nation and for generations to come.

The outrage expressed by Americans across the country to the images of injustice following Hurricane Katrina—and the subsequent outpouring of generosity from these same citizens—is a  message from the grassroots that our government’s priorities and budget must reflect American values by helping those most in need at their time of need.  Please call a halt to budget reconciliation negotiations that are detrimental and direct your attention to healing rather than harming our society.

Respectfully submitted, 

Signed (as of October 19, 2005) 

Bishop Thomas Hoyt, Jr.
National Council of Churches USA 

Rev. Dr. Robert W. Edgar
National Council of Churches USA 

The Rev. Dr. Stan Hastey
Alliance of Baptists 

His Grace Bishop Vicken Aykazian
Diocese of the Armenian Church of America 

The Rev. Mark S. Hanson
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America 

Friend Retha McCutchen
Friends United Meeting 

Friend Thomas H. Jeavons
Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends 

His Eminence Bishop Dimitrios
Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America 

Rev. Michael E. Livingston
International Council of Community Churches 

His Grace Metropolitan Zachariah Nicholovos
Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church 

The Rev. David L. Wickmann
Moravian Church in America 

Rev. William Shaw
National Baptist Convention USA 

Dr. Melvin Wade
National Missionary Baptist Convention of America 

The Most Reverend Robert M. Nemkovich
Polish National Catholic Church of America 

The Rev. Dr. Clifton Kirkpatrick
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) 

The Rev. Dr. Major L. Jemison
Progressive National Baptist Convention 

Rev. Tyrone Pitts
Progressive National Baptist Convention 

Ms. Christine Laintner
Swedenborgian Church 

The Rev. John H. Thomas
United Church of Christ 

Mr. James Winkler
United Methodist General Board of Church and Society

Alert sent out on FaithfulAmerica.org, the National Council of Churches’ electronic advocacy program. More than 8,000 people of faith signed this letter. 

November 3, 2005 

America's Poor are Under Siege

A $50 BILLION hole is about to be blown in our national safety net for the poor, including:

  • $9.5 billion CUT in Medicaid $5 Billion CUT in Child Support Enforcement .
  • $844 Million CUT in food stamps 
  • $5 Billion in Child Support Enforcement

It has been called the cruelest, most immoral budget ever to reach the floor.  We must speak up.  Let your elected officials know that our nation's federal budget must not punish the poorest among us.   

Take action HERE! 

Sample Letter: 

Subject: Do Not Punish the Poor with an Immoral Budget

Dear [ Decision Maker ] ,

I am a person of conscience and faith and I write to urge you to oppose the billions in cuts to Medicaid, Food Stamps and other vital services, and to resist any attempt to reconcile our federal budget on the backs of the poorest in our nation. I believe this budget, as proposed, is immoral. [in my judgment]. It does not [must] reflect our highest priorities as a nation.

Our identity as Americans and our responsibility as citizens has long been to protect people from sickness and hardship, invest in housing, jobs, and other services that grow and support American families. This budget favors the wealthiest among us at the expense of those most in need.

Jesus once said, "I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me." (Matt 25:40) It is in that spirit that I ask you to oppose the current budget and all attempts to advance a more divided America.

Sincerely,

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