(Photo: American Bible Society)
Fulfilling a promise they made during the government shutdown, members of the anti-poverty coalition "Circle of Protection," are delivering 535 "Poverty and Justice" Bibles into the hands of senators and representatives this week.
Over the course of the 16-day-long government shutdown last month, members of the 65 denominations and relief and development agencies composing the coalition, publicly read the nearly 2,100 Bible verses pertaining to poverty and justice and vowed to reinforce the Scripture's messages to their Congressmen and women.
Beau Underwood, the Director for Campaigns and Advocacy at Christian social justice group Sojourners, said that as the government shutdown looked imminent, many of the Circle of Protection's members began discussing how Christians ought to respond to it.
"All of our organizations are non-partisan and none of us wanted to be seen as really prodding along either political party because that's not what we're called to do—we're called to be faithful witnesses in the public square—and so through those conversations arose the idea of 'What if we just stayed on message?'" Underwood told The Christian Post.
The edition of the Bible the group decided to mail to Congress members highlights each Bible verse discussing justice and poverty. It also includes a 64-page section that profiles the challenges faced by immigrants, refugees, widows, and other oppressed people to whom the Bible calls its adherents to reach out.
Geof Morin, the Chief Communications Officer at The American Bible Society, which donated the Bibles, said that he finds the edition a particularly helpful tool at reminding Christians that concern and action to help others is a central message in book.
"There are other claims that God is calling for us to respond in that God's word is highly concerned for those who are most vulnerable and fragile and so we must respond in accordance," Morin told The Christian Post.
Although the government shutdown ended more than a month ago, because of federal policy regarding sending gifts to elected officials, the Bibles are only now being delivered to Congress this week.
Underwood said in the short term, he hopes that the Bibles may influence congressional budget negotiations that will restart in January 2014.
"We're all prayerful and hopeful that because of our work and the work of others and also the realities of the shutdown, that lawmakers will take a different path," said Underwood.
Beyond the upcoming negotiations, Underwood hopes that the Bibles challenge Congress to engage in a more "civil discourse."
"At the end of the day, most Republicans and Democrats want the same things. They want a robust economy. They want to make sure we reduce poverty. They have disagreements with how to pursue it. We should not be afraid to have those debates, but we shouldn't let our political ideology triumph the common good," added Underwood.
Morin said that the actions of his organization have historical precedence dating back to founding of the United States.
"Back in the very first founding, we had a Bible printed by the Congress—and they've never done this since—that was for everyone that was involved," Morin told The Christian Post. "We can go back almost 200 years and we were founded by the folks you remember from your seventh grade social studies class. They were those who helped to found this very organization."
"The very first president of the American Bible Society was the president of the then--Continental Congress, a guy by the name of Elias Boudinot who was the president before George Washington…before we even were a nation…So there's sort of that deep precedent but it's been too long since we've had the opportunity with elected officials," Morin added.