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NCC's Livingston, Blevins among faith leaders
arrested in Capitol protest to protect the poor


Washington, July 28, 2011 – Frustrated that their pleas to the Administration and Congress to protect funding for the nation’s most vulnerable are being ignored, nearly a dozen leaders from the faith community were arrested inside the U.S. Capitol Building on Thursday.

Despite repeated warnings from the U.S. Capitol Police, the leaders refused to end their public prayers asking the Administration and Congress not to balance the budget on the backs of the poor.

Among those who were arrested were the Rev. Michael Livingston, former president of the National Council of Churches, now director of the NCC’s poverty initiative; and Jordan Blevins, director of peace witness for the Church of the Brethren and the NCC.

“Congress is paralyzed by toxic partisan politics while people suffer,” said Livingston. “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.'”

"We are citizens first and foremost of the realm of God," added Blevins. "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."

Inspired by a common spiritual conviction that God has called on all Americans to protect the vulnerable and promote the dignity of all individuals living in society, the faith community has worked along side the United States government for decades to protect those struggling to overcome poverty in the U.S. and abroad. Without a sustained federal commitment to these programs, the interfaith leaders fear that their Houses of Worship will be unable to solely support the country’s most vulnerable in their time of need.

Others arrested include Jim Winkler, General Secretary, General Board of Church and Society, United Methodist Church; Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Shalom Center in Philadelphia; Rev. Jennifer Butler, Executive Director, Faith and Public Life; Rev. Paul Sherry, Director of the Washington Office, Interfaith Worker Justice; Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, Director of Public Witness, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.); Sandy Sorenson, Director of Washington Office, United Church of Christ; Martin Shupack, Director of Advocacy, Church World Service; and Rev. Dr. Bob Edgar, President of Common Cause. Edgar is a former general secretary of the NCC.

The religious leaders sang "Spirit of the Living God" and "We shall overcome" as they knelt and prayed in the Capitol rotunda.

Capitol Hill police asked them to clear the rotunda but the religious leaders continued praying. As they were being arrested, Rep. Chellie Pingree (D.-Maine) announced on the floor of the House of Representatives that religious leaders are being arrested for standing up for persons in poverty.

Recent events have catalyzed an eighteen-month public policy campaign led by faith leaders representing the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths to promote a message of the common good in the current economic debate. Members of the campaign are calling for Congress and the Administration to exempt programs from budget cuts that assist the most at-risk families and children in the U.S. and abroad.

To date, the campaign has mobilized constituents and brought about public statements from leaders, high-level meetings with policymakers, a Washington fly-in of religious leaders and daily prayer vigils, and today’s arrests.

The daily prayer vigils are being held on the front lawn of the United Methodist Building (100 Maryland Avenue, NE, Washington, DC), near the U.S. Capitol Building. Led by a different religious organization each day at 12:30 p.m. EDT, the prayer vigils will continue until a budget/deficit deal is enacted.

“Due to the inability of the Congress to work together, the good of the people across the globe are being compromised by the self interest of our political leaders,” said Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, Director of Public Witness, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). “Too many Congresspersons of all parties are trapped in a space where commitment to the common good is diminished for the sake of personal gain and the seduction of power. In this process, the American people and others all over the world are left to suffer. Faith leaders cannot stand idly by and watch while the mandate of the gospel to love our neighbors is violated in the halls of Congress.”

Christian, Jewish and Muslim institutions and faith-based organizations united by shared beliefs to lift up the nation’s most vulnerable, are mobilizing across the country to impact the national budget dialogue by demonstrating that America is a better nation when we follow our faiths’ imperative to promote the general welfare of all individuals.

 

For more information, see http://www.nccendpoverty.org/budget/faithfulbudget.html

Contact: Adam Muhlendorf, Rabinowitz/Dorf Communications
adam@rabinowitz-dorf.com; (202) 265-3000; (202) 641-6216 (c)



Since its founding in 1950, the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA has been the leading force for shared ecumenical witness among Christians in the United States. The NCC's 37 member communions -- from a wide spectrum of Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, Evangelical, historic African American and Living Peace churches -- include 45 million persons in more than 100,000 local congregations in communities across the nation.


NCC News contact:  Philip E. Jenks, 212-870-2228 (office), 646-853-4212 (cell),
pjenks@ncccusa.org

Shantha Ready Alonso contributed to the reporting of this story. See www.twitter.com/ncccusa )

 

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