Faith Leaders Arrested in Capitol Hill Protest to Protect the Poor

July 29, 2011

For immediate release
July 29, 2011

WASHINGTON — Frustrated that their pleas to the Administration and Congress to protect funding for the nation’s most vulnerable are being ignored, nearly a dozen leaders from the faith community were arrested in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol Building on Thursday, July 28th. Despite repeated warnings from the U.S. Capitol Police, the leaders refused to end their public prayers asking the Administration and Congress not to balance the budget on the backs of the poor. Over twenty-five other religious observers were present to witness the demonstration as an act of solidarity.

Inspired by a common spiritual conviction that God has called on all Americans to protect the vulnerable and promote the dignity of all individuals living in society, the faith community has worked along the United States government for decades to protect those struggling to overcome poverty in the U.S. and abroad. Without a sustained federal commitment to these programs, the interfaith leaders fear that their Houses of Worship will be unable to solely support the country’s most vulnerable in their time of need.

Among those who were arrested include Jim Winkler, General Secretary, General Board of Church and Society, United Methodist Church; Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Shalom Center in Philadelphia; Rev. Jennifer Butler, Executive Director, Faith and Public Life; Rev. Paul Sherry, Director of the Washington Office, Interfaith Worker Justice; Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, Director of Public Witness, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.); Rev. Michael Livingston, Past President, National Council of the Churches of Christ (USA); Sandy Sorensen, Director of Washington Office, United Church of Christ; Martin Shupack, Director of Advocacy, Church World Service; Jordan Blevins, Director of Peace Witness Ministries, Church of the Brethren; and Rev. Dr. Bob Edgar, President of Common Cause.

“Congress is paralyzed by toxic partisan politics while people suffer,” Rev. Michael Livingston, Past President, National Council of the Churches of Christ (USA). “Our elected officials are protecting corporations and wealthy individuals while shredding the safety net for millions of the most vulnerable people in our nation and abroad. Our faith won’t allow us to passively watch this travesty unfold. We’ve written letters, talked with and prayed for our elected officials, and prayed together daily in interreligious community. Today, we offer our bodies as a living sacrifice to say to congress “Protect the vulnerable and those living in poverty.'”

Recent events have catalyzed an eighteen-month public policy campaign led by faith leaders representing the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths to promote a message of the common good in the current economic debate. Members of the campaign are calling for Congress and the Administration to exempt programs from budget cuts that assist the most at-risk families and children in the U.S. and abroad.

To date, the campaign has mobilized constituents and brought about public statements from leaders, high-level meetings with policymakers, a Washington fly-in of religious leaders, daily prayer vigils and today’s arrests.

The daily prayer vigils are being held on the front lawn of the United Methodist Building (100 Maryland Avenue, NE, Washington, DC), near the U.S. Capitol Building. Led by a different religious organization each day at 12:30 p.m. EDT, the prayer vigils will continue until a budget/deficit deal is enacted.

“Due to the inability of the Congress to work together, the good of the people across the globe are being compromised by the self interest of our political leaders,” said Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, Director of Public Witness, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). “Too many Congresspersons of all parties are trapped in a space where conviction 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. Faith leaders cannot stand idly by and watch while the mandate of the gospel to love our neighbors is violated in the halls of Congress.”

Christian, Jewish and Muslim institutions and faith-based organizations united by shared beliefs to lift up the nation’s most vulnerable, are mobilizing across the country to impact the national budget dialogue by demonstrating that America is a better nation when we follow our faiths’ imperative to promote the general welfare of all individuals.


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