As a national financial crisis looms on the horizon because of the federal government shutdown, the United Church of Christ's Sandy Sorensen was part of an interfaith effort that urged action on a clean budget bill on Capitol Hill. Sorensen, director of the UCC's D.C. Office was one of more than 70 religious leaders who joined a group of locked-out federal workers Oct. 15, walking from office to office of key House members, asking them to end the government shutdown and address the possible default of U.S. loans by raising the debt ceiling.
"Our faith pilgrimage through the halls of House office buildings this morning was an effort to bring the much-needed and necessary voices of the faith community into the debate around ending the government shutdown and avoiding debt default," said Sorensen. "We did not bring the demands of special interests groups or engage in partisan rhetoric; rather we lifted up the voices of most vulnerable, which are at the core of our various faith traditions.
"We walked with furloughed workers, many of whom barely earn a minimum wage and can scarcely provide for themselves and their families – now, without a paycheck, many of them are unable to pay the rent and provide food for their families," Sorensen added.
The faith leaders also criticized Republican tactics to defund and disturb implementing the Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as Obamacare, that have prevented approval of a federal budget between the House and Senate.
At each office, the group prayed for the member of Congress, and delivered a letter urging an end to the shutdown signed by more than 30 religious organizations. The shutdown began on Oct. 1, the result of Congress’ inability to pass a budget bill to fund the federal government. But in the two weeks since, nearly three out of four Americans are placing the blame on House Republicans, according to a CNN and Washington Post Poll of American people.
If the debt ceiling – the amount the U.S. is allowed to borrow to fund the government – isn’t raised by Oct. 17, the nation would default on some of its loans and would likely cause a major economic rift.
The price of the government shutdown is an estimated $20 billion to the U.S. economy. The situation has placed about 800,000 federal workers on unpaid furlough, while others have worked for two weeks without pay. National parks and monuments are closed, and services such as IRS audits and food assistance are suspended.
It also comes at a high cost to Americans of various ages and backgrounds, from seniors without their "Meals on Wheels," pregnant women and infants losing vital nutrition support, federal workers locked out of their jobs as bills pile up, veterans who face benefit cuts. An estimated 19,000 impoverished children without preschool because of the shutdown, which affected 20 programs in 11 states.
People of faith also delivered more than 32,000 petitions to Congressional offices around the country calling Congress back to work, urging an end to the government shutdown. The petition signers are members of Faithful America — a growing online community dedicated to reclaiming Christianity from the religious right and putting faith into action for social justice.
"Their stories are what this debate is all about – in the end, it is not about numbers or ideology or political strategy or financial projections. It is about real lives and our commitment to caring for the common good, not narrow self-interests," Sorensen said. "Our faith brings into the equation how we respond to the ‘least of these’ in our midst."