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July 21, 2011

Obama Meets with Christian Leaders over Budget

The President endorses message of reducing deficit while protecting the poor.

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At a White House meeting with Christian leaders, President Obama endorsed the goal of reducing the federal deficit without harming those most in need. The leaders represented the Circle of Protection, a diverse, non-partisan coalition that represents evangelicals, mainline Protestants, Catholics, and other Christian groups.

"The President embraced the principle that as we work on deficit reduction the poor should be protected," said National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) vice president Galen Carey, who attended the meeting.

The meeting with Obama came after several meetings between the Circle and high level White House staff. Those meetings included discussions of specific policies, but the Circle wanted to meet with the President because they wanted him to better articulate the need to protect programs for those in poverty.

The 40 minute meeting Wednesday afternoon included only a dozen of the members of the Circle. Evangelicals in attendance included the NAE's Carey, Salvation Army national commander William Roberts, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference president Samuel Rodriguez, and Sojourners president Jim Wallis (see full list at the end of this post).

For Rodriguez, the timing of the meeting was "divinely ordained." The meeting was announced on Monday. On Tuesday, the so-called "Gang of Six" in the Senate announced that there had been a breakthrough in bipartisan negotiations over the debt limit and the deficit. Their proposal would reduce the deficit by $3.7 trillion over the next ten years. The plan includes both spending cuts and increases in tax revenue. The President met with the Circle on Wednesday. After a discussion and a prayer, Obama left the meeting to attend meetings with congressional leaders on the budget. According to Rodriguez, the Circle expects to hold a public event with the President in the future.

During the meeting, Obama mentioned that congressional leaders are supportive of protecting the poor in the abstract. The devil is in the details, so to speak. The NAE's Carey said one example is the Food for Peace Act (previously known as P.L. 480) programs administered by the Department of Agriculture and USAID. A reduction in these programs, said Carey, means that there would be less food for the poorest in the world.

"It is important to magnify our message to the President with thousands of citizens across the country" Wallis said. "Our political leaders need to hear from those who will be affected by these proposed spending cuts—real people who are struggling, some of whom are poor; families, children, and the elderly."

The Circle of Protection includes Christian leaders on the left, the right, and the middle. Many disagree with the President on other issues, such as abortion or social issues. The cause that unites those in the Circle of Protection is the protection of those most vulnerable to government cuts.

Those who belong to the group issued a joint statement, saying, "As Christian leaders, we are committed to fiscal responsibility and shared sacrifice. We are also committed to resist budget cuts that undermine the lives, dignity, and rights of poor and vulnerable people. Therefore, we join with others to form a circle of protection around programs that meet the essential needs of hungry and poor people at home and abroad."

In addition to the official signatories, over 4,000 pastors have agreed with the goals of the Circle of Protection. Sojourners and Faith in Public Life placed an ad in Politico. The ad was an open letter to Congress and the President to "listen to your pastors."

Representatives from the group say that they want to meet with all congressional leaders. The group has asked to meet with House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R–Ky.), but to date, they have not been able to discuss their message with these leaders.

List of Circle of Protection representatives attending the White House meeting:

David Beckmann
President, Bread for the World

Galen Carey
Vice President, Government Relations, National Association of Evangelicals

John Carr
Executive Director, Department of Justice, Peace, and Human Development, U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

Ambassador Tony Hall
Executive Director, Alliance to End Hunger

Bishop Mark S. Hanson
Presiding Bishop, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Michael Livingston
Director, Poverty Initiative, National Council of Churches of Christ

Bishop Ricardo Ramirez
Bishop of Las Cruces, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

Commissioner William A. Roberts
National Commander, The Salvation Army

Samuel Rodriguez
President, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference

Stephen J. Thurston
President, National Baptist Convention of America

Jim Wallis
President and CEO, Sojourners

Barbara Williams-Skinner
Co-facilitator, National African American Clergy Network

Comments

Question (and I'm not being snarky) -- Is it possible for the *church* to form a circle of protection for the poor and needy *without* federal funding? It's one thing if your government is actively oppressing the poor. It's quite another if they don't have welfare programs and you call that oppression. Isn't it our calling as a community to do that?

(and if we didn't have our incomes taxed at a rate of 20%-40%, how much more could we voluntarily give to local charities?)

I want to make sure government isn't oppressing people. But does that mean we need the state-run programs we have? In the short-term, yes, probably. In the long-term, I'd like to see the answer be "no." BUT if it's impossible, and someone has the insight and the education to show me as much, that would help me get on board the right train. I may lean fiscal conservative, but I'm also pragmatic, and I'm willing to sign on to anything that will help our society be just and merciful.

All Democratic sympathizers I see. Where's Franklin Graham

Why would the President invite Franklin Graham to the White House after Graham's television insults against the President's birth certificate and Christian faith on Easter Sunday of this year?

I'm glad Obama only invited "Democratic sympathizers," as one commentor wrote, to the White House. Every word out of Obama's mouth regarding the debt ceiling and debt and the budget has been a complete and utter lie. I saw him speak last Friday to answer cherry-picked questions from the press, and I counted 36 lies. This is the same president, remember, who just said on a very recent national interview that he would not even guarantee the Social Security checks would go out in August if the ceiling was not raised, yet there is actually plenty of federal income to meet this current responsibility. That, too, was a lie and worse -- it was a scare tactic to frighten the poor, elderly and disabled into supporting his efforts. And now he can talk about protecting the poor? The best way to put a "circle around the poor" would be to make sure Obama is nowhere near it and has nothing to do with it.

The "poor" are statistically more likely to be obese than the middle class or rich. By pouring money into food stamps and other food programs, you are much, much more likely to be contributing to a person's obesity than you are to be saving them from dying--or hurting badly--from hunger!!

Where do I start? The evangelical church does more in giving than the non-churched organizations, but not sure how much is targeted towards the poor in the USA. Without access to the information, I believe it is perfectly moral for the the government to provide funds and programs to the poor. As the wealthy continue hanging on to their funds (supposedly around uncertainty of Obama's leadership or lack thereof of the economy and threats around "Obamacare) and not hiring, we will see more move movement into the lower socioeconomic levels.

Regarding obesity, much of the poor do not have access to fruits and vegetables as many of us living in the "burbs." They don't have access because corporations do not see it economical to put grocery stores with fresh produce near the poor (both inner-city and rural), they do not have the transportation to access the stores we most likely enjoy and convenience stores tend to provide "junk food," I use the term food very loosely.

In my view, I respect the President and the Circle of Protection representatives providing advise and perspective around the deficit, budget and concerns of the poor.

John, regarding food choices it's even worse than you point out. I have a neighbor down the street who is disabled and lives on about $650 a month in Social Security. In addition, she gets a mere $67 in Food Stamps. She lives on rice, pasta, and $1 packs of hot dogs and Ramen noodles from what I have seen. How many apples, oranges or any fresh vegetables is she supposed to buy on $67 a month? THAT'S why so many of the extremely poor are obese. I'm not suggesting they get enough added so they can eat rib eye every night (I can't even afford that), but the support they are given is ridiculous. Thanks to the latest re-figuring of the inflation formula, thanks to Obama and Dems mainly, you can expect the poor living on minimum SS to eat even worse in the future. Already, her weight has caused two other health issues which caused long-term hospitalization (I take care of her cat). I'm sure she has run up several thousands in Medicare from the result of meager support, this "help" our government gives her. They need to learn to do it right, or they can pay even more for her healthcare down the road. So much for gov't help and, personally, I think Obama just wants the votes of the dependent and cares very little about helping "folks" out.

This is President Obama's ploy to manipulate the "Christian" community. The Bible does not teach that helping the poor is the responsibility of the government. People often refer to the teachings in the Old Testament for the Israelites to help one another. But they are God's people. It is a shame and a disgrace to the God of the Bible for "Christian leaders" to rely on the government to carry out God's work. No wonder they keep compromising their beliefs for the mighty dollar.

It appears many people have not worked with the poor, elderly, and handicapped. It is extremely expensive to care for a person who does not have the means to provide for their own care. When I worked with different agencies I saw first hand the challenges of caring for them. The equipment alone is thousands of dollars. It is easy to say the govt. should not be involved in caring for the poor. But realistically does the church have the funds and volunteers to provide 24 hr. care to the handicapped who need extensive care? When I retire I will only be receiving a little over six hundred dollars a month in SS. What am I suppose to do? Will the church assist me in paying my rent, fuel bill, clothing, and food?

Hey, folks, 2 plus 2 is always and only 4. If poor people cut the bottom 10 or 20 or 30% of their diet out--the junkiest stuff--and replace it with small or modest amounts of fruits or vegetables--available in every city center and ghetto in America, they would be healthier and less obese. I didn't say this was easy; you are fighting against human nature. But if it doesn't happen it isn't the fault of real or imaginary cuts in govt food assistance!

By the time Obama gets done, we will all be poor and completely depending on his one world government for dear life. Before we run down the poor and disabled because of their atatus in life, go out there and live 90 days on what some of these people live on. Maybe you will change you tune. It's time to help each other, not tear each other down.

hmm, there's that "shared sacrifice" meme again; and I notice the freedom *from* religion people haven't raised a whisper about this. Of course, "Sojourners" is involved so . . .