Written by Barb Powell
Frustrated that their pleas to the Administration and Congress to protect funding for the nation’s most vulnerable people are being ignored, nearly a dozen leaders from the faith community were arrested inside the U.S. Capitol Building on Thursday. 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 poor persons.
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 U.S. government for decades to protect those struggling to overcome poverty in the United States 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 persons in their time of need.
Among those arrested were Sandra Sorensen, director of the United Church of Christ Washington office, and former UCC President the Rev. Paul H. Sherry. They were joined by seven other interfaith leaders: Jim Winkler, general secretary, General Board of Church and Society, United Methodist Church; Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Shalom Center in Philadelphia; the Rev. Jennifer Butler, executive director, Faith and Public Life; the Rev. J. Herbert Nelson, director of public witness, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.); the Rev. Michael Livingston, past president, National Council of the Churches of Christ (USA); Jordan Blevins, director of Peace Witness Ministries, Church of the Brethren; and the Rev. Bob Edgar, president of Common Cause.
When asked why she felt civil disobedience was necessary at this point in the budget debate, Sorensen said, “Those who struggle on the economic margins of our society –– children living in poverty, people living with chronic health issues, seniors, women trying to escape domestic violence in their homes –– the most vulnerable do not have a voice at the negotiation table. Our faith calls us to lift up the voices and the stories of the most vulnerable.”
“With economic disparities becoming ever greater, now is not the time to balance budgets on the backs of the most vulnerable,” Sorensen said. “We risk leaving our children to shoulder a legacy of poverty, underinvestment and diminished opportunities if we do not adequately fund programs that invest in the common good and make all of our communities strong.”
Recent events have catalyzed an 18-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 United States 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 and 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 Ave. NE, Washington, D.C.), 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 is being compromised by the self interest of our political leaders,” said Nelson of the Presbyterian Church (USA). “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.