As elected leaders in Washington, D.C., continued to squabble over a deal to raise the federal debt ceiling, the faith community urged them to protect the poor and vulnerable from the effects of indiscriminate budget cuts. In a time of anemic economic recovery, our country is relying on Unemployment Insurance, Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, SNAP (formerly Food Stamps), and countless other federally funded services that make a difference in the lives of millions of people. Severe cuts to any of these programs, or even across-the-board budget changes like a global spending cap, debt trigger, or Balanced Budget Amendment, would increase suffering and exact the most sacrifice from those who can least afford it, while exempting from additional responsibility those who can afford to pay more.
“Inspired by a common spiritual conviction that God has called on all people to protect the vulnerable and promote the dignity of all individuals living in society,” Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons joined other Christian, Jewish, and Muslim leaders on Tuesday to meet with Republican and Democratic Congressional leadership, lifting up those struggling with poverty in the U.S. and abroad.
In addition to meetings with Congressional leadership and their staff, the religious leaders led a daily prayer vigil on the grounds of the United Methodist building on Capitol Hill, where Reverend Parsons said, “We have come to Washington to meet with Congressional leaders and to join with you in daily prayer for a global economy and a federal budget that breaks the yokes of injustice, poverty, hunger, and unemployment throughout the world.”
For Rev. Parsons’ full remarks, please visit http://officeofpublicwitness.blogspot.com.
After their meetings with Congressional leadership, religious leaders were struck by the pessimism they encountered when they expressed hope for a productive, balanced approach to the nation’s fiscal woes. The Reverend Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, PC(USA) Director for Public Witness, who attended the meetings with Reverend Parsons said, “There seems to be no movement and no hope among political leaders. Now is the time for faith leaders and the faith community to take deliberate and forthright action to express disgust at the current situation and to demand a fair solution. We must be actively involved in this debate, both in Washington, D.C. and across the country.”
Frustrated that their pleas to the Administration and Congress to protect funding for the nation’s most vulnerable people are being ignored, the Reverend Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, together with nearly a dozen other religious leaders, was arrested Thursday afternoon in the U.S. Capitol Building while engaging in prayer and civil disobedience. The leaders refused to end their public prayers for an equitable resolution to the debt ceiling debate, despite repeated warnings from the U.S. Capitol Police and we then handcuffed and escorted to holding cells and were released later that evening.
Joined by Presbyterian ministers Jennifer Butler, Executive Director of Faith and Public Life, and Michael Livingston, past-President of the National Council of Churches, Reverend Nelson led religious leaders in prayerful civil disobedience, kneeling down in the Capitol Rotunda to pray for a debt ceiling deal that does not sacrifice the poor on the altar of political ideology. His participation was a matter of personal conscience and public witness. He said, “We are in a political quagmire. Due to the inability of the Congress to work together, the good of people across the globe is being compromised by the self interest of our political leaders. I am convinced that this is not the fault of Republicans, Democrats or Tea Party members alone. 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. Our denomination cannot stand idly by and watch while the mandate of the gospel to love our neighbors is violated in the halls of Congress.”
To see pictures of their prayer vigil in the Capitol building, find us on Facebook at Presbyterian Church (USA) Washington Office.
This weekend, Congressional leaders and President Obama announced a negotiated deal details of which are slowly trickling into the mainstream media. Congressional action is expected. On Wednesday, August 3rd at 12pm Eastern, Leslie Woods, Representative for Domestic Poverty and Environmental Issues, will work with interfaith partners to present a webinar explaining what the latest budget deal means for your community.
To participate, click http://umc.adobeconnect.com/budget at 12pm Eastern on Wednesday, Aug. 3rd.
Source: Office of Public Witness, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.): www.pcusa.org/washington
Photo: The Rev. Gradye Parsons, right, during prayer vigil on Capitol Hill ( PC USA Office of Public Witness)