I picked this report up from the United Methodist News Service last week. Worth considering. Where does faith and its values fit in the process of prioritizing funding decisions?
Budget’s ‘moral’ impact
Faith leaders condemn ‘draconian cuts’
By Linda Bloom
Faith leaders are expressing concern over proposed U.S. federal budget changes that could slash aid to the poor. Cuts passed by the U.S. House of Representatives would reduce international food-aid programs by up to 50%.
UMNS — The poor have no one staging mass protests on their behalf, but religious leaders are speaking out about how proposed changes to the U.S. budget for 2011 and 2012 could affect them.
“The message is consistent year in and year out: We want to make sure we’re protecting those living in poverty or on the economic margins both in the U.S and around the world,” explained John Hill, director of Economic & Environmental Justice at the United Methodist General Board of Church & Society.
In a March 1 letter to Congress, 16 religious leaders — including Bishop Larry Goodpaster, president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops, and the Rev. John McCullough, a United Methodist who is executive director of Church World Service — expressed their full commitment to ministry with the poor.
“None of us can prosper and be secure while some of us live in misery and desperation,” the letter said. “In an interdependent world, the security and prosperity of any nation is inseparable from that of even the most vulnerable both within and beyond their borders.”
Last month, President Barack Obama released his budget proposal for 2012, and the U.S. House of Representatives passed a $61 billion budget-cut package for the rest of the 2011 fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. The U.S. Senate has yet to agree on the House cuts. The president signed a budget extension bill March 2 that will keep federal agencies open through March 18 and enact $4 billion in new spending cuts.
Politicians on both sides of the aisle are proposing draconian cuts that will greatly compromise “our capacity as a nation to respond to situations of need,” McCullough said. “The budget reduction essentially reduces what we would call the safety net for poor people and for vulnerable communities here in the United States.”
Faith leaders understand the concerns over the nation’s financial deficits. Drastically reducing discretionary programs for the poor that constitute an extremely small part of the budget is not a solution to the economic crisis, they pointed out in the letter to Congress.
“These cuts will devastate those living in poverty, at home and around the world, cost jobs, and in the long run, will harm, not help, our fiscal situation,” the letter said. “While ‘shared sacrifice’ can be an appropriate banner, those who would be devastated by these cuts have nothing left to sacrifice.”
The sacrifice is global, not just local, said Thomas Kemper, top executive of the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries. And while only a fraction, 0.5% of the budget, relates to international aid, “for the people who are affected by these cuts, it makes a lot of difference,” according to Kemper.
Budget decisions have ethical as well as financial implications, say Christian leaders organized by Jim Wallis and Sojourners, a faith-based social justice organization. Those leaders took out a full-page ad in the Feb. 28 edition of Politico, a newspaper devoted to politics.
’What would Jesus Cut?’
Titled “What would Jesus Cut?,” the ad declared, “A budget is a moral document.” It called on legislators to defend international aid for pandemic diseases, critical child-health and family-nutrition programs, “proven” work and income supports for poverty-level families and educational support, particularly in low-income communities.
Sojourners, a faith-based social justice organization, took out a full-page ad with a simple question in the Feb. 28 issue of Politico, a publication devoted to politics.
“Our faith tells us that the moral test of a society is how it treats the poor,” the ad said. “As a country, we face difficult choices, but whether or not we defend vulnerable people should not be one of them.”
Engaging in ministry with the poor is a mission priority for The United Methodist Church, and its 13 agencies and commissions have adopted “guiding principles and foundations” for that work.
“It’s fundamental to our faith that we care for the poor and vulnerable,” said the Rev. Larry Hollon, top executive of United Methodist Communications. He pointed out that in the Wesleyan tradition holiness does not exist without social holiness. “We are a faith community who believes faith should not only promote our personal growth, it should also equip and mobilize us for mission and service to the world,” he said.
It’s about personally being involved and being with the poor.
The understanding of that ministry goes beyond charity, according to Kemper. “It’s not only about giving money. It’s not only about doing a soup kitchen. It’s about personally being involved and being with the poor,” he emphasized.
Advocacy actions over federal budget matters since January have included a call by faith leaders to Obama to renew his campaign pledge to “cut poverty in half” in the next 10 years and a Valentine’s Day lobbying effort to “show love” and make the poor a priority.
After the House bill passed, Hill said National Council of Churches leaders drafted the March 1 letter that reflected deep concern that these cuts are particularly affecting faith-based anti-poverty ministries, both in the U.S. and around the world.
Alternative solutions exist, Hill asserted. At times of fiscal crisis in the 1990s, he pointed out that Congress was able to make reductions while still protecting those in poverty. “As a result, even though there were very large cuts, poverty rates were down,” he said. “We’re basically asking them to do that again.”
The House bill cuts in the 2011 budget also would greatly affect international assistance, according to the Washington Post. It slashes international food-aid programs by up to 50% and State Dept. funding for refugees by more than 40%.
The International Disaster Assistance Fund would be reduced by 67%. McCullough questioned this cut because it is obvious, judging from the outpouring of support by Americans to help victims of disasters like the Asian tsunami and Haiti earthquake, “people expect the United States is going to be in a position to respond to these types of disasters.”
Makes no sense
Humanitarian agencies like Church World Service already are aware, McCullough said, that when resources for aid and development work are severely curtailed “the potential for [human] survival diminishes dramatically.”
It also makes no sense to cut aid that helps avoid military conflicts and fights terrorism, said Kemper. He used as an example the new nation of South Sudan emerging after years of civil war. “If you take away funding and aid from these countries, they get more fragile,” he said.
Because of the denomination’s pledge to help eradicate malaria, United Methodist leaders are particularly concerned about the House bill’s decrease in the U.S. contribution to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Malaria & Tuberculosis by 40%. Kemper called it “a blow” to church members trying so hard to raise $75 million themselves through the Imagine No Malaria initiative.
Some of the “unacceptable” consequences of that budget reduction were pointed out by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when she spoke to the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Those consequences include the denial of treatment and prevention measures for malaria to 5 million children and family members; denial of treatment for tropical diseases to some 16 million people and a loss of millions of available polio and measles vaccines.
“It means children will die, more people will get sick, and preventable diseases will not be prevented,” said Hollon, whose agency coordinates Imagine No Malaria.
Editor’s note: Linda Bloom is a United Methodist News Service reporter based in New York.