Earlier this morning, religious leaders and anti-poverty advocates announced that they will begin fasting to protest budget cuts that they argue "balance the budget on the backs of poor people." Progressive evangelical leader Jim Wallis and David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, joined former Democratic congressman Tony Hall in calling on others to join them in the fast and on Congress to restore funding for hunger programs and other anti-poverty initiatives.
Religious organizations from the National Association of Evangelicals to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have criticized proposed federal budgets to means-tested programs as immoral and unjust. And Wallis, Beckmann, and Hall are attracting support for their fast from an array of partners, including the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, Islamic Relief USA, and Meals on Wheels. They haven't yet decided how long they'll continue the fast, but Wallis issued an additional challenge to members of Congress who support cuts in anti-poverty programs: be honest. "I want to hear just one of them say out loud that every line item of military spending is more important to the well-being of the country than child nutrition, than child health and vaccinations. They've crossed a line, but they want to keep pretending this is all about fiscal responsibility."
Good for them. You can read Tony Hall's powerful message "Why I Am Fasting (Again)" here.
I hate to be so cynical but I don’t look for the national news media to carry this story any further than a blog post. Jim Wallis and other social justice Christians have protested, been arrested over the Iraq War, and arrested over the 2006 budget, which raised nary an eyebrow from the national media. Who remembers this:
115 religious leaders were arrested in front of the Cannon House Office Building while kneeling in prayer to protest the immoral budget and tax agenda which slashes spending on the poor to finance tax breaks for the rich. Led by Jim Wallis of Call to Renewal, national faith leaders, clergy and faith-based providers of services to the poor held a press conference.
We never hear about this stuff, but some redneck with 10 followers in Bumfug, Tennessee wants to burn a Koran and it’s all the media can talk about.
Anyway, I’m posting this information for a couple of reasons. 1) Not all Christians are right-wing, intolerant assholes and 2) Budgets are moral documents which tell the world your priorities. Where your treasure is, so is your heart. And if your treasure is devoted to war, and torture, and bombs, instead of feeding poor children and funding schools and the rest, then you’re in deep trouble as a nation. You're failing your people. And when no one in power stands up and says "enough, this will not stand," then you no longer have the moral authority to tell anyone else in the world how to behave.
Bob Herbert penned his final column for the New York Times on Saturday, and it brought tears to my eyes. He wrote:
The U.S. has not just misplaced its priorities. When the most powerful country ever to inhabit the earth finds it so easy to plunge into the horror of warfare but almost impossible to find adequate work for its people or to properly educate its young, it has lost its way entirely.
Nearly 14 million Americans are jobless and the outlook for many of them is grim. Since there is just one job available for every five individuals looking for work, four of the five are out of luck. Instead of a land of opportunity, the U.S. is increasingly becoming a place of limited expectations. A college professor in Washington told me this week that graduates from his program were finding jobs, but they were not making very much money, certainly not enough to think about raising a family.
There is plenty of economic activity in the U.S., and plenty of wealth. But like greedy children, the folks at the top are seizing virtually all the marbles. Income and wealth inequality in the U.S. have reached stages that would make the third world blush. As the Economic Policy Institute has reported, the richest 10 percent of Americans received an unconscionable 100 percent of the average income growth in the years 2000 to 2007, the most recent extended period of economic expansion.
Yes that was the “Bush boom,” which was a big, fat bust for most people. This is Republican America, where the haves feel they’re entitled to their looted wealth, and the rest of us are told to stop whining.
It’s enough to make some folks lose their appetite.