Faith Community to Launch Grassroots Campaign to Protect Funding for Anti-Poverty Programs

August 3, 2011

For immediate release
August 3, 2011

WASHINGTON – One day after President Obama signed legislation raising the debt ceiling and creating a Congressional “Super Committee” to address the nation’s mounting debt, senior religious leaders representing the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths announced plans to expand their campaign to ensure the Administration and Congress do not balance the budget on the backs of the poor.

The interfaith campaign is seeking to lift up the voices of the nation’s most vulnerable and ensure that the Super Committee looks at the human impact of budget line-items while negotiating steps to build a stronger America. The faith leaders will enlist faithful Americans across the country to encourage members of the new Committee to make compassionate investments in America’s future – calling for a “shared commitment” by all Americans for the nation’s common good, including raising federal revenues as necessary.

[Douglas G. Grace, M.Div., S.T.M., the Coordinator of Ecumenical Advocacy Days for Global Peace with Justice, responded that EAD is committed to the effort to ensure the Administration and Congress do not balance the federal budget on the backs of the poor. Through EAD, Christian advocates will come to Washington, DC March 23-26, 2012 to raise their voices for a just global economy, an abundant livelihood for all in the U.S. and abroad, and a national priority for the common good. EAD will make a public announcement of the theme for its March 2012 gathering in Washington the week of August 8th, 2011 – Stay Tuned!]

“It is good that our nation did not default on our responsibility to pay for past expenditures. It is also good that there is a way forward to ‘get our fiscal house in order,'” said Sister Simone Campbell, SSS, the Executive Director of NETWORK: A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby. “But as a person of faith, I am extremely concerned that those who will be most adversely affected by this budget agreement are not in the consciousness of members of Congress. Our country is not built on preference for the wealthy elite; rather it is grounded in the common good that benefits us all. During the next weeks and months we, the interfaith community, will be both vigilant and active to bring this message from the grassroots to members of Congress. We will not be silent!”

Rabbi David Saperstein, the Executive Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, added, “Although the budget deal passed by Congress avoided economic calamity, the Reform Jewish Movement calls on Congress to steel itself for the fight ahead to preserve essential social safety net programs and put the jobless back to work. We call on our congregations and rabbis to call their elected officials and ask them to ensure that the poor are protected in any spending cuts and that both entitlement and tax reform occur so that social safety net programs retain their ability to address urgent needs.”

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 alongside 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 faith community fears that their houses of worship, as much as they will try, will not be able to solely support the country’s most vulnerable in their time of need.

“The unprecedented spending cuts mandated in the debt ceiling agreement will almost certainly have detrimental, life-and-death consequences for millions of vulnerable and desperate people recovering from disasters and living in poverty worldwide,” said Rev. John L. McCullough, the Executive Director and CEO of Church World Service. “As Congress decides exactly which programs to cut, Church World Service will work to preserve funding for our neighbors in need here and abroad, calling on policy makers to reduce the deficit by focusing on job creation, closing tax loopholes for those among us most able to make such sacrifices, and cutting unnecessary and duplicative military spending.”

Dr. Sayyid M. Syeed, the National Director of the Office for Interfaith & Community Alliances for the Islamic Society of North America, added, “The Muslim community in America in this month of Ramadan (fasting) has been praying that God guides our leaders to make sure that the poor and the hungry are not forgotten in the budget debate. We will continue to work with other faith leaders to emphasize our collective commitment for programs that serve the poor and the suffering.”

Recent events have catalyzed an 18-month public policy campaign led by senior faith leaders to promote a message of the common good in the current economic debate. Members of the interfaith action are calling for Congress and the Administration to exempt from budget cuts programs 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 faith community leaders, held high-level meetings with policymakers, organized a Washington fly-in of senior religious leaders, daily prayer vigils and the arrests of 11 faith leaders who refused to stop praying inside the U.S. Capitol Building on behalf of the nation’s most vulnerable.

The Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, the Director of Public Witness for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), one of the faith leaders arrested in the Capitol Rotunda, explained the faith community’s act of civil disobedience by exclaiming, “We knelt down to pray so that others might now stand up and make their voice heard!”

Sandy Sorensen, the Director of the Washington Office for United Church of Christ’s Justice and Witness Ministries, who was also arrested inside the U.S. Capitol Building, added, “Those who struggle on the economic margins of our society in the U.S. and around the world – children living in poverty, people living with chronic health challenges, older adults living on fixed incomes, women trying to escape domestic violence in their homes – the most vulnerable are not sitting around the tables where decisions are being made about the federal budget and the debt ceiling. These decisions affect their daily lives, whether they will have enough to eat, to pay rent, to pay for medical care. Scripture tells us that when one of us suffers, all suffer together. Our faith calls us to lift up the voices and the stories of the most vulnerable in our society. We are committed to ensuring that those voices are heard in the months ahead as the debt limit agreement is implemented.”

Daily prayer vigils were held for four weeks on the front lawn of the United Methodist Building (100 Maryland Avenue, NE, Washington, DC), near the U.S. Capitol Building throughout the budget reduction/debt ceiling negotiations. Led by a different religious organization each day at 12:30 p.m. EDT, the prayer vigils inspired individuals from across the country to speak up and pray on behalf of the nation’s most vulnerable. Religious leaders plan to resume the prayer vigils after the August Congressional recess inviting people of faith across the U.S. to join them in prayer.

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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