The Washington Post

Religious groups: Debt ceiling is a moral issue

In Washington, when you’re in crisis mode, when your back is to the wall, when no solution is in sight, you ... meet.

So every interest group in Washington is meeting these days — with President Obama, House Speaker Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Reid, House Majority Leader Cantor and Democratic leader Pelosi, or with other groups, to influence the debt ceiling debate.

Perhaps the most unusual debt ceiling meeting was one Obama had last week with a coalition of Christian religious leaders who urged him not to hammer the poor in trying to reduce the national debt.

It is, one participant said, “an unprecedented coalition,” including leaders from the Episcopal Church, the Salvation Army, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the National Association of Evangelicals, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the United Church of Christ.

The reason it’s unprecedented is because “we don’t agree on much else,” said John Carr of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.

The coalition focuses on those Jesus called “the least of these” (Matthew 25:45), which speaks to obligations to look to the less fortunate. One goal it to get lawmakers to consider, “what would Jesus cut?” (Actually, to ask the question is probably to answer it.)

The religious media has covered the coalition, which is called the “Circle of Protection,” but the lamestream media generally hasn’t written much about its activities, which have included prayer vigils on the Hill and fasts. The group has been working the issue hard.

“Poor people don’t have an office on K Street,” said Galen Carey of the National Association of Evangelicals. “They don’t have lobbyists, so their voice is muted. That’s why it’s important for people of faith to step into the void.” The association is headed by Leith Anderson, former pastor to Tim Pawlenty, the former Minnesota governor and current Republican presidential candidate.

So how have the meetings gone? “Most people say, ‘Yes, that’s a good point,’ ” Carey said. “We haven’t had anyone say that the goal is to take food out of hungry childrens’ mouths.” Well, that’s hopeful.

“A budget is a moral document,” said Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners, a Christian social justice group. “We’re making choices,” he added, such as whether to cut $8.5 billion for low-income housing or whether to retain a similar amount in tax deductions for mortgages on vacation homes for the wealthy.

Everyone is watching the budget battle, Wallis said, including Wall Street, the private jet industry, the banks and so on.

“But I think God is watching this, too.”

Follow In the Loop on Twitter: @AlKamenWP

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993.


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