(Photo: Ron Sider)
The federal budgets offered by both President Obama and House Republicans are inadequate at upholding biblical principles, according to evangelical author and theologian Ron Sider in an interview with The Christian Post.
Sider describes some biblical principles that he believes should be used to guide the current fiscal policy debate in a new book, Fixing the Moral Deficit: A Balanced Way to Balance the Budget (2012). Sider is also professor of theology, holistic ministry and public policy at Palmer Seminary and founder and president of Evangelicals for Social Action.
He said that neither the budget proposed by President Obama or passed by House Republicans this year are "close to being acceptable." Sider believes that the nation should achieve a balanced budget within the next five years and it should do so without cutting effective programs that help the poor.
Sider described some of the biblical principles that guided his views on the federal budget:
- We are not primarily isolated individuals, but are made for community.
- We have some responsibility to our neighbor.
- God is on the side of the poor.
- Government has a role to play in overcoming poverty.
The Republican budget, also known as the "Ryan plan" after Budget Chair Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), is inadequate, Sider believes, because it makes too many cuts to programs for the poor, suggests tax breaks for the wealthy, and increases defense spending. (The budget would also eliminate tax deductions to raise enough revenue to offset the revenue lost from tax cuts, but it does not specify which deductions would be eliminated.)
"Sixty-two percent of all the cuts [House Republicans] want to make in federal spending comes from programs that empower the poor, while at the same time giving millionaires tax cuts. I think that's wrong."
Obama's budget is inadequate, Sider believes, because it does not offer a balanced budget. (The Congressional Budget Office estimated that Obama's budget would never achieve balance and the Ryan plan would not achieve balance until the 2030s.) Borrowing money from future generations, Sider believes, is immoral.
"He actually proposes, over the next 10 years, adding $6.4 trillion to the budget and I think that is, economically, not just unwise, it's dangerous and I think the president owes us a proposal showing us how we can get to a balanced budget in the next five years."
Sider also criticized Obama's budget for only increasing taxes on families who make more than $250,000 per year. (During the 2008 campaign, Obama promised to not raise taxes on those making less than that amount.)
"That's ridiculous. If we're going to solve the budget deficit, people earning less than that are going to have to pay some more taxes."
Sider, who is politically liberal, believes that politically liberal and conservative Christians will continue to disagree on these issues, but "ought to do that civilly and respectfully."
At the same time, he believes that if evangelical Christians from different sides of the political debate on the federal budget were to "carefully look at what the scriptures tell us in terms of basic principles for public life on the one hand, and on the other, really get down to careful socioeconomic analysis of the actual facts, I think if we did that together, with open minds, we would move a lot closer than we are now.
"What's happening now, to a large extent is we're shouting at each other across big divides and don't really sit down and listen to each other."
Sider was involved last year in helping to craft a bipartisan document, "A Call for Intergenerational Justice: A Christian Proposal For American Debt Crisis," which made a moral argument for reducing the national debt. He has also participated in bipartisan negotiations with politically conservative evangelical Christians, such as Michael Gerson, a Washington Post columnist and former speechwriter for President George W. Bush.
"I actually worked with a key person from the Family Research Council and was surprised with how much common ground we identified.
"We ought to do more of that. We shouldn't be guided by some kind of secular political ideology. We should be guided by biblical principles and the best economic analysis we could come up with," Sider said.
Evangelicals for Social Action is currently involved in a "Demand Economic Justice" campaign to raise awareness of these issues. Supporters can visit its website and sign the "Call for Intergenerational Justice."