Religious leaders of 18 national Christian and Jewish groups charged this week that President Reagan's 1984 budget proposal charts a "selfish and dangerous course" and urged Congress to cut military spending and provide programs for the poor and the unemployed.
"We are profoundly disturbed by the vision which emerges from this fiscal year '84 edition of our statement of moral purpose," the leaders said Tuesday in a statement released at a press conference at the Capitol. "It is a vision of a nation intent on a selfish and dangerous course of social stinginess and military overkill."
Church leaders at the press conference said their organizations cannot meet increasing needs of the poor. Reagan called last year for the private sector to fill gaps left by federal funding reductions in or abolishment of social service programs.
The religious leaders' statement called for Congress "to refuse to reduce any further those survival programs on which the poor depend, and to restore funding to meet the needs of our poorest citizens."
It urged adoption of proposed supplemental jobs and emergency relief legislation and enaction of a comprehensive jobs program. It also called for Congress to reduce military spending and cancel "dangerous or unnecessary" weapons systems, naming specifically the MX missile and B1 systems.
The statement was read by the Rev. Dr. Avery Post, president of the United Church of Christ. He estimated that the leaders endorsing it come from organizations with more than 50 million members.
"The president called on churches to respond" to needs of the poor, said the Rev. Dr. Kenneth L. Teegarden, president of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Churches have extended their programs and instituted unemployment counseling, but the attempts are an "inadequate" approach to "a problem national in scope," he said.
"We're going to provide aid, but we insist that the government provide a safety net," said Ron Krietemeyer, director of the Domestic Social Development Office of the U.S. Catholic Conference. He called "the real need out there" a "scandal." Each night, lines of people are turned away from emergency shelters in churches across the country, he said.
The Rev. Dr. C. J. Malloy Jr., general secretary of the Progressive National Baptist Convention, said one local church has raised more than $20,000 for the poor, but can no longer keep this up.
The religious leaders' statement said the Reagan budget "rejects the rights" of the poor, the unemployed, and "all human beings to live their lives in peace and security.
It said the proposed budget "continues the policy of using unemployment as the principal weapon to fight inflation and thereby deliberately flouts society's collective responsibility to take direct action to reduce this enormous and unnecessary waste of human potential."
On military spending, it said, "In the name of national defense this budget equates peacekeeping with firepower and thereby increases our insecurity as more and more destabilizing weapons systems are added to an already bloated arsenal."
Leaders endorsing the statement are from the African Methodist Episcopal Church, American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A., Church of the Brethren, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, Friends United Meeting, Progressive National Baptist Convention, Reformed Church in America, American Jewish Congress, Union of American Hebrew Congregations, Unitarian Universalist Association, American Ethical Union, United Church of Christ, United Methodist Church, United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., and Presbyterian Church in the U.S.