During the unveiling of a Christian federal budget proposal on Thursday, progressive evangelical Ron Sider agreed with lawmakers that the national debt is "a moral threat," but reminded them that poverty is the measure by which God judges society.
While fixing the national budget is a moral priority, so is the treatment of those living in poverty in the Unites States and abroad, the Evangelicals for Social Action founder asserted.
"How we balance our national budget is first of all a moral question; that we must do so is clear. But the Bible says God measures societies by what they do to the people on the bottom," Sider stated.
Sider is among a large group of Christians advising Congress to be mindful of programs combating disease and hunger as it makes its cuts to reduce the federal debt. They launched a petition this week calling for fiscal frugality and compassion for the poor.
The group also lobbied Congress in a newspaper ad entitled "What Would Jesus Cut?" – borrowing from the popular "What Would Jesus Do," the phrase was printed for Congressmen to see in the Monday edition of the Politico newspaper.
Now the phrase is being sent to lawmakers emblazoned on an orange silicone wristband.
Leaders such as Fuller Theological Seminary President Richard Mouw, Messiah College President Kim Phipps and Northland Church pastor the Rev. Joel Hunter have all joined together to provide lawmakers with a Christian proposal to taking on the federal debt.
Entitled "A Call for Intergenerational Justice: A Christian Proposal on the American Debt Crisis," they ask the state to propose concrete ways to cut the federal debt while protecting the poor and investing in the nation's future.
More specifically, the statement calls on the government to make cuts to what leaders call wasteful corporate and agricultural subsidies, the defense budget and salary increases to federal employees.
So far, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have approved a temporary measure that shaves $4 billion off of the nation's current spending plan. The Senate approved the House's stopgap measure Wednesday by a 91-9 vote. The measure puts threats of a government shutdown at bay until March 18.
Responding to the current plan, Michael Gerson, a speech writer to former President George W. Bush, lamented that humanitarian aid is only .07 percent of the budget. But he is joyful that it is still alive.
Fiscal conservatives have tried for deeper cuts. Last month, House Republicans pushed through to the Senate a federal budget that would cut $61 billion out of federal programs and agencies' budgets. But the budget was voted down in the largely Democratic Senate.
Republican House Speaker John Boehner spurred the Congress on in a speech during the 2011 National Religious Broadcasters Convention in Nashville.
He goaded, "Yes, this debt is a mortal threat to our country. It is also a moral threat … It is immoral to bind our children to as leeching and destructive a force as debt. It is immoral to rob our children's future and make them beholden to China. No society is worthy that treats its children so shabbily."
Fiscal conservatives praised Wednesday's vote, but Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) noted that federal budget deficit was still on track to reaching $1.6 trillion this year.
Christians are recommending that lawmakers reform social security and control health care-related expenses rather than focus solely on trimming government budgets.
Sider also has recommended reforming the tax code to remove any special exemption and subsidies. He hopes these proposals will be taken seriously and balance the moral imperatives of cutting the national debt and caring for the powerless.
Others who have endorsed the Christian proposal include The Simple Way's Shaine Claiborne, Sojourners' Jim Wallis, author Andy Crouch and Richard Cizik of The New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good.
Correction: Friday, March 4, 2011:
An article on Thursday, March 3, 2011, about evangelical leaders' proposal on the federal budget incorrectly reported that Shirley Mullen is the president of Messiah College. Mullen is the president of Houghton College. Kim Phipps is the president of Messiah College. Both Mullen and Kim Phipps signed the proposal.