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March 4, 2011

Evangelicals Issue Warning on Budget Cuts

Cutting the deficit without sacrificing the needy is a moral imperative, several prominent evangelicals stressed Thursday in a push-back against debate over taking government budget cuts out of humanitarian aid.

“From a fiscal perspective, cuts in global health programs are insignificant; from a moral and humanitarian perspective, they would be tragic,” said Michael Gerson, former speechwriter for President George Bush and current Washington Post columnist.

Ron Sider, founder of Evangelicals for Social Action, and Gideon Strauss, President of The Center for Public Justice, announced on a conference call March 3 that they, along with other faith leaders including Florida megachurch pastor Joel Hunter and Jim Wallis of Sojourners, have signed a document entitled “Christian Proposal on the American Debt Crisis.”

The proposal, available at EvangelicalsforSocialAction.org and The Center for Public Justice, is a response to the “double moral challenge,” in Strauss’ words, to both reduce the debt level and maintain programs that provide aid to the needy and vulnerable.

Gerson acknowledged that amongst evangelicals, there are many disagreements on where spending cuts can be made in the budget. However, he said, “There is broadly shared agreement that a focus on cutting effective discretionary programs is a seriously misplaced priority.” A spokesperson for USAID told CT that State and USAID comprise just 1 percent of of the federal budget.*

“We don't have a debt crisis because America spends too much on AIDS funds and malaria nets,” Gerson said. “We have a long-term debt crisis primarily, in my view, because of entitlement commitments, health care inflation, and an aging population. ... I think cuts in federal spending are possible and quite necessary, but the right priorities matter.”

Gerson criticized Congress for taking budget cuts out of AIDS programs, contributions to the Global Fund and child survival programs. He also said that educating new members of Congress on the effectiveness of programs such as PEPFAR (President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2003) and PMI (President's Malaria Initiative, launched in 2005) would be “an up-hill climb” in any attempt to emphasize the necessity of funding these programs to lawmakers. “There are a whole lot of members that don't know that history and don't know the dramatic success that's taken place,” he said.

Addressing the recent Pew Research Center survey finding that more than 50 percent of evangelicals surveyed favor cutting economic assistance to needy people around the world, Gerson said, “There is an educational task here to convince not just Christians but others that these commitments that we make, which are relatively inexpensive, in fact both serve our values and our interests.”

The same survey indicated that evangelicals tend to support increased spending on defense. “People think of those interests as just served by military power, but they're also really served by helping to create stability and hope in unstable parts of the work,” Gerson said. “The case that needs to be made is that this aid is both a moral imperative but it's also in the interests of the United States.”

Shane Claiborne, founder of social justice group The Simple Way, said he was “deeply troubled” by the results of the survey. “A country that continues to spend more money on military defense than on programs that social uplift is approaching a spiritual death,” he said, also referring to the Sojourners’ campaign question, “What would Jesus cut?”
Strauss had an answer. “We must cut federal spending, we must control health care expenses, we must make social security sustainable, and we must reform the tax code,” Strauss said of their goals. “At the same time, government [must] ensure that appropriate steps are taken to address poverty.”
“As soon as we get substantial numbers of signers, we will be using that [to contact Congress],” Sider said. “The process of dealing with our ongoing deficit is not something that will end when Congress agrees on our 2012 budget.”

Jordan Ballor of the Acton Institute says that the proposal "consists of leaps in logic largely based on unstated assumptions about the role that government should have in administering that care."

The language of the statement doesn’t seem to do justice to the principled positions that agree with the vague notion of the obligation to care for the poor, but disagree about the particular policy and budgetary implications at the federal level. Wallis and Chuck Colson recently agreed that Christians ought engage in principled and honest debate, and not demonize other positions, even implicitly. To cast the debate in the terms that budget hawks don’t care about the poor I think violates this kind of commitment.

Original signers of the call to action include the following:
Miriam Adeney
Paul Alexander
Stanley Carlson-Thies
Richard Cizik
Shane Claiborne
Luis Cortes
Andy Crouch
Richard Foster
Michael Gerson
David Gushee
Joel Hunter
Jonathan Merritt
Richard Mouw
Shirley Mullen
Kim Phipps
Soong-Chan Rah
Stephanie Summers
H. Dean Trulear
Jim Wallis

*The post has been updated to correct the percentage of international aid in the federal budget.

Comments

I am not sure how the number of 12% for international aid is derived. US international aid is a bit less than 1% of US federal spending. If you include military aid it is around 1.5%. If you are interested in cutting the budget, you are not going to get very far with international aid.

Finally in 2010, aid to international health was higher than military aid for the first time. Still aid to fairly developed countries is where most money is spent. Egypt and Israel get almost a third. So I would not suggest that it is all spent well. But it is still essential, especially food and health aid.

Just to reiterate a point above, foreign aid is 1/2 of 1% of the budget, not 12%. We could cut it entirely, which would ensure that millions of people die, and the cut would do almost nothing to solve our budget problems. Seems like a pretty black-and-white Christian issue, yet CT has given it all of two blog posts, no articles, and no editorials.


How strange that those claiming to be Christians would seem to have no idea what God says is the role of civil government (Romans 13). And to have no idea what our U.S. Constitution allows the Congress to spend money on (Article 1, Section 8.) Neither God's Word nor our Constitution authorize civil government to spend money to give people healthcare, education, welfare, foreign aid.

John Lofton, Editor, TheAmericanView.com
Communications Director, Institute On The Constitution
Recovering Republican
JLof@aol.com

Claiborne is right. It's pretty appalling that evangelicals favor increases in a military budget that's already the largest in the world and accounts for about half of our wealthy nation's expenditures. I've been a believer since I was about 7 years old and I've never understood this mindset. I just can't see Jesus doing that. The Scriptures say an awful lot about care for the poor and needy.

As for the Acton Institute, they have a right-leaning agenda as much as some of the signers of the document have a left-leaning one. I remember a video from them being shown in a church I used to go to that essentially pinned the entire blame for the breakdown of the family unit on the implementation of welfare. Less than convincing.

A union member, a CEO and a Tea Party member are sitting at a table with 12 cookies. The CEO grabs 11, turns to the Tea Partier and says “The Union's out to take your cookie!” Our military spending grabs 11 cookies and leaves us all battling over the 12th…the actual military budget is something like $1.2 trillion dollars…a million seconds is 12 days. A trillion seconds is 31,688 years…So after all that cash is gone, what are we left with? Not a whole heck of a lot for the rest of us. “Discretionary” spending is nearly 40% of the budget, but if Hellman's numbers are accurate, that $1.2 trillion eats up nearly 90% of discretionary funds, leaving just 10% for the rest of us. (That doesn't include mandatory spending on things like Social Security and Medicare, which are separate.) Instead of fighting over the last crumbs, maybe it's time to team up and grab some of the cookies back from the people who've been hanging on to far more than their share.
Fighting Over Crumbs Left from Military Spending
http://www.commondreams.org/view/2011/03/03-14

We the People…in Order to…promote the general Welfare…do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Taxpayers in The United States will pay $553.0 billion for Proposed Department of Defense Budget for FY2012. For the same amount of money, the following could be provided:
* 283.5 million Children Receiving Low-Income Healthcare for One Year

If Jesus returned today, He wouldn't take the bus up to Washington to lobby for additional aid for the needy. He would head straight to His church and ask why His people were not doing more. There is no Biblical evidence that He ever expected or required governmental units to provide for the welfare of the needy. He demanded that individuals do that. If He were with us today, he would weep because His church is rotten from the top down. Church leaders erect multi-million dollar sanctuaries and yet demand that Washington feed the needy going hungry only feet from their front doors. May God have mercy on the signers of this open letter. Evangelical Marxism represents the real evil here.

By and large, Democrats and liberals really don't want to cut federal spending. By and large, Republicans and conservatives would like to cut federal spending.The problem isn't what should be cut, but how to convey to the public the need to cut federal spending and the defecit. Oh sure, the federal govt is supposedly mortgaging our kids future by continuing to run massive defecits, but how will that manifest itself? The question is, how will contd defecit spending actually hurt Joe Citizen down the road. Until the conservatives can actually articulate that (and they haven't), Obama and the liberals will have the upper hand on this issue.

So then, one thing is clear in all of this Socio-political action on the part of "evangelicals".

They do cheat on the Government as much as they cheat on their spouses, their friends and their employers.

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if you aren't going to support programs that are federally funded in order to provide for the orphans (ex: foster kids), widows (ex: single moms), and oppressed (ex: homeless) as commanded repeatedly, then give of your own riches voluntarily. he who has much should give to he who has none, so that no one may suffer. God will make it happen, whether we volunteer ourselves or not. if we are not doing it as a Church, God, who turns the hearts of kings, will orchestrate our government so that we do not have a choice. God will have His way, and the orphans, widows, and oppressed will be cared for as He promised. if we who have much would willingly give to they that have little, maybe God wouldn't have seen fit to turn our government's heart in that direction.
God always keeps his promises, whether His people are willing to be His tools or not.

Dear Ms. Cohn and readers,
Please correct the attribution for the following quotation:
“A country that continues to spend more money on military defense than on programs that social uplift is approaching a spiritual death.”

These are not Shane Claiborne's words. He was quoting the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr's "Beyond Vietnam" speech delivered at Riverside Church, NYC, April 4, 1967.

The words are no less true for me, but let us hold one another's words and lives with care.

Peace

As a member of christs church, I can say I can not afford to give to the poor. I am the poor, nor can I afford the tax increases, because I am the poor. Nor can I afford the inflation of prices that comes when the government borrows money to pay for things it cant afford, because I am the poor. We need to cut everything except military by 75% and the military by 90%. Then we need to get the illegals out, and close the border. Then we need to increase tariffs so we can keep foreign crap out of the country, and force the reopening of factories here, which will lead to more jobs, and less poverty. This means much fewer people will need help, and the church would be able to afford to take care of those who need it.

Stop cheating the Government, your spouses, your friends, your neighbors, your customers and pay to those you owe.

Begining with the respect you want for yourselves !!

1. Salero21: What is that supposed to mean?
2. b: I couldn't agree with you more. We are supposed to give on our own. But is it Biblical for the government to take from whomever it wants and to squander the resources? Does God approve of that? I doubt it. I think he values a personal act of generosity and kindness more. I have a neighbor who exists on a modest retirement income. He supports a group of homeless living in the woods less than 2 miles from my front door. Each morning, he prepares breakfast for 8 poor souls and makes the drive down to the forest's edge as the tyey emerge from their camp. I think the Lord smiles on an act of mercy like that; moreso than the passage of a healthcare bill that holds dubious benefit for those it's intended to help.

Yes, individual responsibility is Biblically mandated. Governmental lobbying is not. Those who believe that the Christian heart is found through the redistribution of wealth are dangerous. Scriptures, in fact the Lord Himself, warn us of those pretending to speak for Him yet do not do so. So called clergy like Wallis, Hunter, et al dramatically damage the church through their political involvement.

God uses enlightened rulers as agents of deliverance. In Psalm 72, King David offers prayerful instruction for his son Solomon, who will become the ruler of a nation. David’s expression of devotion and care for his people, near and far, is a foreshadowing of the righteous reign of Christ and his promise and covenant. “For he delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper. … From oppression and violence he redeems their life .…” (Psalm 72:12-14)

God even uses the enlightened intervention of foreign governments. The good and faithful governor Nehemiah rebuilds a community, giving life and restoring dignity to the people, with the support of the God-inspired benevolence of King Cyrus of Persia. (Nehemiah 5:1-6)

Paul: An insightful and relavent comment that adds to the conversation. Your command of the Old Testament certainly exceeds my own. Thanks.

Incidentally, I don't think it is wrong for a ruler to show compassion to the poor and oppressed. I think God certainly is pleased by that. I do not, however, believe that He sees the ruler (or government) as the primary source of this relief. The spirit of scripture tells us that He wants us, as individuals, to help one another. And also, He expects the leadership of His church to motivate the "flock" to open their hearts and wallets. Generosity without good will, in my view, means little to God. And charity through forced taxation certainly does not foster good will. For a man of God to prioritize aid to the poor through this vehicle is not Christian at all. Of course, that is only my opinion.

Thanks for reminding me Neil, I forgot stop cheating on your Employers, stop stealing time from them, stop cheating on your fellow workers, fellow students.

Stop the gluttony and the hoarding, the gossip and the rumor spreading. Then maybe, just maybe God will remember and send His blessings.

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How about before we cut programs that help the poor from government budgets, let's as the Church & individual Christians by our giving first make government assistance unecessary.

Cutting the defense budget as a first step just seems like common sense. It would be understandable for unbelievers to support increased defense spending as it may be the only way they will feel protected. But for evangelicals to support defense spending at higher rates than the general public is shocking. Are believers seeing the terrorist threat through the eyes of faith or fear? Love casts out fear not building a stonger bunker.

What we need right now is a President with the strength and resolve that Ronald Reagan showed, not more Caspar Milquetoast naivete. The enemy, who wants to bring our country down, respected Reagan and knew that he would have the courage to do anything to protect our country. Recent polls show that people are very fearful of attack because of the policies of the current president. Many of us, millions of us, think he is doing the exact wrong thing in his foreign and domestic policies. So, you can be naive like Caspar, who was described as "the man who speaks softly and gets hit with a big stick", or show that we have a strong military. This is what has worked to protect our country, not naivety.

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Fear may really be a problem of Conscience.


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Defending our nation is, arguably, the first and foremost (Constitutional) responsibility of the federal government. Without doubt, our expenditures for this purpose are wasteful - aren't those going to social programs the same? - but to devalue the government's obligation to protect and defend is both irresponsible and unconstitutional. Take a look at the nation-states that do not support a strong military and you will find the nations that receive the highest amount of economica aid (with some exception, of course).

Or maybe Conscience "problemas" produce Fear.

Or Fear is the end result of a bad Conscience.

Or Fear is a fruit of the Flesh.

Fear and a bad Conscience go hand in hand.

blah blah blah

Well, anyways by now, you probably guessed right that I'm Not fascinated or have a Platonical love affair with the Military. Otherwise I would have joined back in the days my friends.

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I think if you replace the word “Israel” in the book of Isaiah with “American Christian” you can hone in on both the problem and solution for our country. The parallel is striking to me. See ch. 1-7. Also note that God’s remedy was not to hammer plowshares into swords as we are currently doing. Instead chapter 2 indicates Jesus will be instruction the world in the ways of God. And note what that results in - making peace, not war. If that is what He will be doing then why can’t we get started today doing the same? Is Jesus on vacation or something that He can’t be our leader now?

And look at Jesus for Christ’s sake. He overthrew a corrupt religion and nation all at the same time without firing a shot. But we in our infinite wisdom believe that by sacrificing 4700+ souls to kill 1,400,000+ bystanders and make homeless many, many more in countries God gave to others, we are the answer to our prayers for all "to lead a tranquil and quiet life" (1 Tim 2). How is our progress going? Our military budget has been more than all the other countries in the world combined! And we need to spend more? I think we like sheep have been fooled by those forces Eisenhower warned us about when he left office. Surely, God will send the same woes upon us as He did His people before in the days of Isaiah unless we follow His prescription to avoid them.

Lord, truly we have eyes to see but we see not. Have mercy again on us.

1 John 2:6 the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.

Why would I, as a responsible person, want the US government giving my money to the poor when I can do the same thing and be sure that the majority of every dollar is going to work for those who need it? "World Magazine", in practically every issue, runs articles about faith run groups that are doing incredible things with the donations they receive from Godly, CONSERVATIVE believers. I have lived too long to buy into the rhetoric of men like Ron Sider and Jim Wallis.

John Stott explained it something like this. If Christians successfully run an ambulance ministry to take to the hospital the injured from a dangerous intersection, why would they oppose if someone - say from government (which we remember is another of God’s divine institutions, whose public servants are also called ministers of God, whose purpose is two-fold to both thwart evil and promote good), comes up with the idea to install a traffic light that saves many times the number saved by that Christian ministry? Should they be opposed simply because they are government?

Robert: An interesting analogy, I suppose but nonetheless irrelavent. I also challenge the assertion that all governments are "divine institutions". Government "public servants" are not always ministers of God either; to consider them such is a stretch. I don't think anyone writing in this blog is telling us that government is inherently evil or bad. Nor is anyone stating that it does not have a purpose. On the other hand, government should not steal from one person (who may be needy also, by the way) and claim to give to another in the name of charity. Christ never asked the Romans to do that; He asked His church to do that.

Government is not held accountable in terms of money as we are seeing so clearly at this time. The groups to whom we give money and the groups to whom we will give money for something like this disaster in Japan, are held accountable - by man and God. Samaritan's Purse is a great truly evangelical group giving money, gifts, and service in such a way that all is done within a tight accountability structure and to God's glory.
One side note - we use the term, "evangelical" too loosely. Jim Wallis stopped falling under that tent quite a while ago.

@Neil
True, Jesus asked and equipped the church to do that. Paul often carried alms to the poor. The church organized in Acts 6 to do that. They did what they could with what they had. We should be no different. But stop and think further because unlike you I think this is relevant. Christ could not ask the Romans to do anything politically could He? Jesus had no civil rights because He was a Jew and as a Jew He had given up all political rights along with the Jews in order to practice their own religion without having to worship Caesar. It was not a matter of spirituality for them to remain silent in the public square and avoid involvement in civic issues. They couldn’t; they had no voice. We on the other hand have a voice. We are Americans and God has given us additional responsibilities. The supreme law of our land places a burden upon us all, both Christians and non-Christians, to “promote the general welfare”. We should do that the best way we see fit.

RObert: Thank you for your comments. They add much to the discussion. I can see that you represent the more "liberal" approach to governance. That is a very popular position amongst modern "evangelicals". I myself am more of a traditionalist, both in terms of constitutional interpretation and Christian doctrine.

Saying that the early church "did what it could with what it had" and presuming that this gives us license to use whatever tool(s) are necessary is quite a reach. I don't believe that at all. I don't believe Jesus asked His followers to care for the poor because the government did not do so. Nor do I believe that the Son of God did not have the appropriate "standing" to confront the government of the day. Christ proved, with his discourse with Pilate, that - in His own way - He was quite prepared to be provocative. No, Robert, Jesus did not rely on His people to provide for the poor as a matter of last resort. The fact is, He did not challenge politicians to do it because He did not expect them to do it.

Of course these Evangelical leaders want the government to continue giving to those who can't take care of themselves. It is so the Evangelicals can continue to shirk their responsibility of taking care of those who can't take of themselves.

Ron Paul 2012. for the WIN, Alex!