Dear President Obama, Majority Leader Reid and Speaker Boehner,
Recently, in the midst of the debt-ceiling crisis, a group calling themselves the “Circle of Protection,” led by Jim Wallis of the activist group Sojourners, met with you and your staff to claim that biblical mandates preclude limits to federal programs for low-income people. The Circle includes representatives of the National Association of Evangelicals, Bread for the World, and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Wallis and the “Circle of Protection” do not speak for all Christians. However laudable their intentions, the consequence of their action is to provide a religious imprimatur for big government and sanctify federal welfare programs that are often ineffective — even counterproductive. Contrary to their founding “Statement,” we do not need to “protect programs for the poor.” We need to protect the poor themselves. Indeed, sometimes we need to protect them from the very programs that ostensibly serve the poor, but actually demean the poor, undermine their family structures and trap them in poverty, dependency and despair for generations. Such programs are unwise, uncompassionate, and unjust.
Let no one be deceived: the Budget Control Act may resolve the immediate cash-flow crisis, but the long-term crisis of government insolvency remains. The Act does not touch the mountain of debt we are preparing to pass on to our families; in fact, the purpose of the Act is to permit our leaders to make that mountain larger, by raising the debt ceiling. This debt will only impoverish even more Americans. So we ask that you meet with us, Christians for A Sustainable Economy (case4america.org). We believe the poor of this generation and generations to come are best served by policies that promote economic freedom and growth, that encourage productivity and creativity in every able person, and that wisely steward our common resources for generations to come. All Americans – especially the poor – are best served by sustainable economic policies for a free and flourishing society. When creativity and entrepreneurship are rewarded, the yield is an increase of productivity and generosity.
Compassion and charity for “the least of these” is an essential expression of our faith, flowing from a heart inclined towards God. And just as the love of God frees us for a more abundant life, so our charity must go beyond mere material provision to meet the deeper needs of the poor. To suggest that Matthew 25 – or any commandment concerning Christian charity – can be met through wealth redistribution is to obscure these truths. We encourage you to consider the whole counsel of scripture, which urges not only compassion and provision for the poor but also the perils of debt and the importance of wise stewardship.
To the question, “What would Jesus cut?”, we add the question, “Whom would Jesus indebt?” The Good Samaritan did not use a government credit card.
The government plays an important role, and communities do need the support of social safety nets for those in need. A Christian approach to the budget crisis considers the interests of the poor. All of us suffer when our nation exchanges wisdom, prudence, liberty and faithful stewardship for the chronic unemployment of a stagnant economy and the enslaving power of debt.
Both parties have failed. Our common resources have been stewarded unwisely and the United States is trillions of dollars in debt. We have reached a breaking point. Fiscal recklessness must stop. Just as we should not balance the budget “on the backs of the poor,” so we should not balance the budget on the backs of our children and grandchildren.
Even as the debt-ceiling crisis passes, the long-term challenge of making federal spending wise and effective remains. We recommend three steps:
1. Correctly identify the problem.
The debt disaster is a spending issue. Tax revenues are finite, while the growth of government is unceasing. By any measure, federal spending has skyrocketed, from $2.9 trillion in 2008 to $3.8 trillion in 2011. We presently borrow over forty cents of every dollar we spend. While increasing taxes will generate additional revenues and reduce the deficit in the short term, it will ultimately harm the economy, constrain economic growth, and hasten the out-of-control growth of government. To give more money to Washington is to give the sickness the remedy it requests. The last thing the government needs is more money. It needs to cease its unwise and profligate spending.
2. Put narrow political interests aside.
Entrenched political interests stagnate reform. Every cent of government spending must be on the table, for ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ priorities alike. The stated intention of helping the needy does not make poverty programs sacrosanct. Some of these programs ‘serve’ the poor so well that they make more people poor and keep them in poverty longer. Stop the demagoguery against those who propose substantive changes to entitlements and social welfare programs.
3. Lead for the long term.
Americans yearn for, and deeply appreciate, leaders who embrace a burden of responsibility that transcends the implications of the next election cycle. While we agree that budgets are moral documents insofar as they reflect values and decisions for which we are morally culpable, long-term budget plans are morally meaningful promises we make to later generations. Right now we are morally failing our children and grandchildren by selling their future flourishing for our present comfort. In hard times, true leaders make hard decisions. We encourage you to put aside political calculations and the pressures of special interest groups to make commitments that are in the long-term interest of the American economy and the American people.
People of faith come in all stripes, and differ on many points. Jim Wallis and the “Circle of Protection” are but one perspective. We believe they have not fully represented the large and diverse community of Christian faith, as you will see by the list of signatories below,* and have conveyed less than the full biblical witness and the counsel it provides in the current crisis. As such, even as you met with the “Circle of Protection,” we request a meeting as well. If you are committed to hearing voices of faith, even those that challenge your policy priorities, we hope you will meet with us.
As Christians striving for a sustainable economy, one that will lift the poor out of poverty and dependency on government (learn more at case4america.org), we thank you for considering our message –- and for your service to our nation. May God bless America, and return us soon to wise stewardship of our common resources.
Co-Founders and Co-Authors
*Affiliations for identification purposes only
Content Director, Managing Editor of the Evangelical Portal at Patheos.com
Professor of Economics, Emeritus, Wheaton College
Author, Finding God Beyond Harvard: the Quest for Veritas
Co-editor/author, Faith and Culture
Founder, the Veritas Forum
Program Manager, Values & Capitalism; a project of the American Enterprise Institute.
President, Institute on Religion and Democracy
Past president, Concerned Women for America
*Affiliations for identification purposes only
Professor Emeritus, Family and Consumer Sciences, Montana State University
Orthodox Church; The Acton Institute
Vice President, Ethics and Public Policy Center, Washington, DC
Former syndicated radio host
President, American Orthodox Institute
Consultant and writer; member, Lutheran Church (NALC)
Editor-in-Chief, World Magazine
Author, The Tragedy of American Compassion
National Association of Scholars
Anglican Communion; Institute on Religion and Democracy
*Affiliations for identification purposes only
Chief Operating Officer, Bristol House, Ltd.
Associate Dean of Arts and Sciences, Associate Professor of Political Science, Union University
Professor of Philosophy and Church-State Studies, Baylor University
Founder and National Spokesman, The Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation (2005-present)
Church Planting Minister, Holy Trinity Presbyterian Church (2007-2010)
Founder, Breakpoint and The Colson Center for Christian Worldview
President, Evangelical Philosophical Society
Professor of Philosophy and Ethics, Palm Beach Atlantic University
Concerned Women for America
Executive Director of Presbyterians for Faith, Family and Ministry.
President, Union University
Business owner, Atlanta, Georgia
Senior Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Edmond, Oklahoma
Chairman, Home School Legal Defense Association
Associate Professor of Historical Theology, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
Senior Counsel, American Center for Law and Justice
Co-author, Home and Away: A Story of Family in a Time of War
The Navigators, National Metro Mission, Washington DC, author
Anglian Mission in the Americas
Research Professor of Theology and Biblical Studies, Phoenix Seminary, Phoenix, AZ
Senior Pastor, First Baptist Church, Woodstock, GA; Past President of the Southern Baptist Convention
Professor of Philosophy, Luther College
Author, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy.
Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery
Founder, Socrates in the City
Chairman, Summit Ministries
President, Family Research Council
Catholic Church; Senior Fellow, The Discovery Institute
Executive Producer, documentary, Effective Stewardship
Author, Money, Greed and God
Director of Policy and International Operations, American Center for Law and Justice
Professor of Nutrition Emeritus, Harvard School of Dental Medicine
Chairman, Coalition for Marriage and Family
Director, Alpha New England
Chair, National Taxpayers Union
Director and Officer, Institute on Religion and Democracy
Chair, Public Interest Institute
Trustee, Foundation for Evangelism
Director, Methodist Laity Reform Movement
Steering Committee Member, United Methodist Action
Summit Ministres, Breakpoint and the Colson Center for Christian Worldview
Executive Director, Focus Renewal Ministries in the United Church of Christ
President, Camellia & Main, Inc.
Professor of Political Science and Law, Vanderbilt University
Author, We the People
Blogger, author, editor
Founder and President, C.S. Lewis Society of California
Founder and President, The Independent Institute
Commander, US Navy (Retired)
President, Patrick Henry College
Director, Amercian Center for Civic Character
Board Member “Heart to Honduras”