In a move that may be surprising to some, evangelicals have formed a coalition with progressive Christians as well as Catholics to oppose federal budget cuts that would hurt the poor.
While a “moral budget” is the expected agenda of the “religious left,” the National Association of Evangelicals is lending their voice to calls for budgetary protection of domestic and international assistance programs that help the needy.
Alongside the Rev. Jim Wallis of Sojourners, David Beckmann of Bread for the World and the Rev. Peg Chemberlin of the National Council of Churches USA, NAE President Leith Anderson is among the signatories to the “Circle of Protection.”
The coalition’s statement includes an appeal that funding focused on reducing poverty should not be cut. In a Wednesday media call, coalition members also urged for increased taxes to the wealthy and cuts to the defense budget over cuts to assistance programs.
The NAE director of Government Affairs, Galen Carey, stated that it is concerned about programs for the poor and lamented that the U.S. House’s proposed budget disproportionately cuts federal funding to those programs.
However, in a phone interview following the press conference, Carey told The Christian Post that the NAE’s emphasis is on ensuring that the national budget reflects a continued effort to help the poor at home and aboard.
“The current level of effort addressing poverty should not be reduced,” said Carey.
The NAE, he said, also believes that financial support can be shifted in and out of less effective programs in order to sustain past efforts. “If there’s a certain program that’s more effective than the other one, it could receive more support and the other less, that wouldn’t be a problem,” he stated.
While stressing the importance of protecting federal efforts to uplift the poor for the Gospel’s sake, the NAE stopped short of advocating that no cuts be made to assistance programs.
The Circle of Protection’s mission is a continuation of the “What Would Jesus Cut?” campaign launched by social justice group Sojourners and Evangelicals for Social Action’s “Call for Intergenerational Justice.” All three proposals emphasize the biblical importance of helping the poor. They also all recommend that Congress explore other financial options rather make cuts to programs that offer health, educational and food aid to the poor.
Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, denounced supporters of such proposals as liberals who would rather protect the growth of their favorite federal programs than tackle the national deficit.
“The faith that unites these groups seems to be in perpetually expanding ‘Big Government,’” said Tooley in a Tuesday statement. “That this false idol will deliver endless debt and reduced economic opportunity without helping the poor does not seem to distress these self-proclaimed ‘prophetic’ voices.”
In the Wednesday teleconference, Carey stated that both the federal debt and poverty assistance have spiritual implications and urged Christians to not try to choose one over the other.
“Our nation faces two profound challenges, moral challenges which are wrongly thought to be in conflict,” he explained.
In fact, Carey believes they are connected. He said reducing poverty is, in part, the answer to the nation’s debt. Job training and work assistance programs help the poor work out of poverty, he noted, ultimately strengthening the U.S. economy and possibly lessening the need of other types of federal aid.
Giving global aid, Carey expressed, provides for the U.S.’s national security interests.
Congress should be focused on both solving the national debt and uplifting those in poverty, stressed Carey.
However, he asserted, “neither problem will be solved with business as usual.”
Adjustments must be made to the national budget and some federal programs must be reorganized by financial priority.
The Circle of Protection announced that it will be meeting at the White House on Thursday to continue spreading its message.