All posts from “Economy”

December 28, 2011

Poll: Evangelicals (and Everyone Else) Want Wealthy to Pay Fair Share of Taxes

Just before Christmas, Congress decided to delay major changes to income taxes. Instead, legislators gave themselves more time to negotiate by extending this year's payroll tax cuts through February. The payroll tax debate will be at the top of the agenda in 2012, but even supporters of an extended payroll tax cut know it is temporary.

Instead, most Americans prefer a more dramatic overhaul of the tax system, according to a recent poll by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. And unlike many other political issues, the poll shows few differences between religious groups: Most people of all faiths feel taxes are unfair and that the wealthy need to pay more.

1227Tax%20Poll.JPG

A majority (54 percent) said the federal tax system was either “not too fair” or “not at all fair” in Pew's December survey, a number up from 48 percent in 2003. Also up: the percentage who say the problem with the system is that some of the wealthy do not pay their fair share. The poll found that six out of ten believe Congress needs to completely change the system.

On many political issues, evangelicals tend to poll more conservatively than other religious groups. But on the question of fairness, all religious groups have the same evaluation of the tax system. Of evangelicals, 53 percent said the system is unfair, which was about the same as every other religious groups. A majority of each major religious group said the tax system is unfair.

There were some differences in opinion over what the problem was in the tax system, but much of these differences were due to race and income, not religion. Among all religious groups, most people said the problem with the tax system is that “some wealthy people get away with not paying their fair share.” However, this view is more prominent among Christians in historically African-American churches. 82 percent of black Protestants said this was the problem, compared to around half of white Protestants and Catholics.

About one-third of white Protestants and Catholics said they were bothered by the complexity of the tax system; one fifth of those unaffiliated with a religion said the same thing. Black Protestants, however, were much less likely to say the tax system was the problem (just eight percent).

The Pew survey suggests that there are major divisions among Republicans on the issue of taxes. Among Republicans who agree with the Tea Party, only 22 percent say the wealthy need to pay their fair share while 57 percent said the problem was the complexity of the tax system. Those in the GOP who disagree with the Tea Party, however, held a different view, with most saying the wealthy do not pay their fair share.

Editor's Note: The Pew Research Center for People and the Press (Pew) provided Christianity Today with a religious breakdown of questions from the Dec. 7-11 survey of 1,521 Americans on their views of the federal tax system. However, CT is responsible for all analysis and interpretation of the results. Pew identifies evangelicals as white, non-Hispanic Protestants who described themselves as "born-again or evangelical." Around 18 percent of Americans are evangelicals by this definition. The margin of error for this subsample is around seven percentage points. The results are descriptive; religious differences could be due to partisanship, ideology, income, or other factors.

October 7, 2011

Sojourners Among Those Occupying Wall Street

Occupy Wall Street began with just a few dozen protesters. Over the past two weeks, the number of protesters has increased, with participants living day and night near Wall Street. On Sunday, 700 protesters were arrested when they tried to cross the Brooklyn Bridge; another two dozen were arrested Sunday for disorderly conduct. This week, Sojourners joined anti-corporation movement and is looking for God in the midst of the protest.

occupywallst.jpg

Occupy Wall Street may be a momentary political side-show, but it has the potential of becoming the Left’s answer to the tea party. Both are protest movements aimed at changing who holds power in American politics. The tea party took aim at government overreach; Occupy Wall Street points to the power of corporations. The protestors say they are allies of people "wronged by the corporate forces of the world." They are seeking to reduce the power of corporations which, they say, "place profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality, [and] run our governments."

Tim King, Sojourners communications director, joined the protests. He is sleeping in the park and blogging about his experiences. He said one of his goals is to look for God’s presence amidst the event.

"I believe it’s often easier to find God on the streets than in a sanctuary," King said. "We serve a God who shows up for those in need, and for those who stand with them."

He reported that there are Christians at the event and that many of the protesters are open to religion.

King said, "Many protesters here have had some bad experiences with religion, but it’s clear that they are genuinely open to seeing religion done differently."

Also, like the early tea party protests, Occupy Wall Street is heavy on pointing out the problem (i.e., corporations) rather than articulating a set of policy proposals or goals.

BreakPoint’s John Stonestreet said that the message of the protests is that "things are broken—Wall Street, the environment, society, the list of complaints goes on and on. Their solution? Well, none have been offered." He compared this to BreakPoint’s recent Do the Right Thing movement, which "identifies that the central problem is an ethical collapse."

Columbia University sociology professor Courtney Bender said that media reports have missed the religious dimension of the protests because they are looking for either cooperation from churches and organized religion or focusing on alternative religions.

"This pair of reportorial strategies provides familiar but unhelpful ways to consider the religious dimensions of the occupation. In fact it makes it possible to overlook the varieties of spiritual symbols, performance, actions and discourse—not to mention religious and spiritual networks and communication webs—that energize events in Zuccotti Park and elsewhere," Bender said.

Sojourners president Jim Wallis said the purpose of Occupy Wall Street is still developing, but he is interested in what he has seen so far.

"People’s frustrations, hurts, and feelings of being betrayed by our nation’s politicians and economic leaders are clear. They want to be heard," Wallis said. "There is a lot of speculation as to who the ‘Occupiers’ are and what they might accomplish. There is much I still don’t know about the movement, but undeniably it has caught the imagination of a generation—and that matters."

Wallis encouraged people to help the protesters in New York and in other cities by ordering a pizza or bringing a meal.

He is planning on visiting the New York protests today. "They are carrying on the most interesting conversation going on in that city—or any other—right now. Besides, I love a good potluck or pizza party where people imagine a better world," Wallis said.

July 29, 2011

Debt Limit Fight: Is There a Christian Compromise?

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) delayed a vote yesterday on his plan to raise the federal debt limit because he did not have enough votes, according to Politico. Within his own party, freshman and tea party legislators wanted Speaker Boehner to push for more restrictions on spending. From the other side of the aisle, Democrats (including more conservative “blue dog” Democrats) opposed it. Indeed, the only bipartisan cooperation found this week in Washington appears to be an agreement to oppose any compromise on the debt limit. The House could vote on a plan to raise the debt ceiling today.  

The plan proposed Boehner would raise the debt limit (enough to cover until around February 2012). The plan is facing strong opposition from both sides of the aisle.

0729debt.png

Breakpoint's Charles Colson said the inability for those on the right and the left to come together is a sign that Washington is broken. Colson said that leaders in Washington need to do the right thing for the country despite the political costs.

“I’ve been involved in or fascinated by politics for more than 50 years,” Colson said. “But in all these years, I’ve never seen the kind of chaos, recalcitrance, and perhaps downright obstructionism that I’m witnessing in the battle over the budget and the debt ceiling.”

Colson is not alone. A new poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press finds that 68 percent of Americans believe that legislators should compromise rather than stand by their principles, even if that means the government will default. Support for compromise was greatest among Democrats, but a majority of Republicans also preferred to give up some of their positions to get a deal.

Continue reading Debt Limit Fight: Is There a Christian Compromise?...

July 21, 2011

Obama Meets with Christian Leaders over Budget

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

circleofprotection.jpg

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.

Continue reading Obama Meets with Christian Leaders over Budget...

July 12, 2011

Conservatives Push 'Cut, Cap, and Balance' Pledge: What Would it Do?

With the federal debt the number one political issue in Washington, conservative groups are asking candidates to sign  “cut, cap, and balance” pledge, calling for drastic cuts in spending to curb debt. Many of the candidates in the Republican presidential primary have already signed on (Michele Bachmann is the one notable exception). The pledge would do more than cut spending; it would make current Republican proposals in Washington seem tame.

0712budget.jpg

The pledge includes three proposals:

– Cut spending to decrease next year's deficit

– Cap spending to “enforceable levels”

– Pass a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution

Together, these policies would mean severe cuts in domestic programs than even the Republican budget proposal passed by the House of Representatives. The so-called 'Roadmanp for America's Future' was proposed by Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin). The roadmap includes cuts to both discretionary and mandatory spending, changes to the tax code, and a reform of welfare and health programs.

The roadmap is nothing if not bold—for some, its cuts are draconian, for others it is the kind of radical reform needed. Regardless, it is less severe than the cuts that would result under the “Cut, Cap, and Balance” pledge.

The budget amendment alone would mean cutting the equivalent of all discretionary spending, including the entire defense budget. Under the current budget, mandatory spending (e.g., Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid) alone is nearly as much as government revenue. Add in interest payments on the debt, and the result is a deficit. To achieve a balanced budget, Congress would need to find over $1 trillion dollars to cut from the budget. The roadmap, even with its arguably rosy economic assumptions, does not foresee a balanced budget any time in the next decade.

Continue reading Conservatives Push 'Cut, Cap, and Balance' Pledge: What Would it Do?...

June 1, 2011

Debt Limit Raises Ire of Social Conservatives

It's becoming a key issue for groups that once played down fiscal issues.

The House of Representatives is expected to vote—and vote down—a bill that would raise the federal debt limit. The debt limit (or "debt ceiling") is the maximum amount the federal government can borrow. The current limit is $14.3 trillion. The U.S. hit that limit last week, and if Congress does not raise the limit by August, the government will not be able to pay all of its obligations.

In previous years, many social conservatives would have viewed the debt limit as a technical, fiscal issue. Yet, many whose agenda typically revolve around issues of life, marriage, and religious liberty are now mobilizing around the debt ceiling.

The Family Research Council made the issue the focus of its weekly radio show and asked people to urge their members of Congress to vote down efforts to raise the debt limit without an agreement on spending reductions.

In a legislative alert, the FRC said, "The current fight is not against a looming debt limit but against the status quo of Washington’s out-of-control behavior with the public purse." The organization called for a Balanced Budget Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and "a serious statutory spending cap." According to the FRC, such measures are required "to keep future generations from suffering for the sins of their forbearers."

The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) echoed the FRC’s policy proposal. The ERLC’s Doug Carlson said the ERLC believes a "step in the right direction" would be the "cut, cap, and balance" proposal offered by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH). His proposal, which is backed by 75 other House members,

* cuts spending in order to cut the annual deficit in half

* caps federal spending to 18 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and

* sends a balanced budget amendment to the states for ratification.

Continue reading Debt Limit Raises Ire of Social Conservatives...

April 21, 2011

Fast over Budget Goes Without Gushee

Activists and members of Congress are nearing the end of a fast over cuts to federal programs aimed at assisting the poor in the U.S. and globally. HungerFast.org, a collection of relief and hunger organizations that opposed cuts, says more than 30,000 people have joined the fast, including members of Congress and celebrities.


There is one notable—and vocal—absentee: David Gushee of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good. Gushee said that the fast was well-intentioned but did not address the nation's fiscal issues in the right way.

0421gushee.PNG

“While I admire the compassion for the poor that motivates these actions, I think this is a time for deliberative decision-making about our nation’s long-term fiscal responsibility and moral sanity rather than a moment for dramatic gestures,” he said.

Gushee said the U.S. needs to address its structural fiscal problems. He called for a debate over the size and role of the military, the cost of health care, means-tests for Social Security, reductions in government spending and tax breaks, and tax increases for everyone but the poor.

“If we followed this kind of rational path toward fiscal solvency, tackling the big issues in a grown-up way, then we wouldn’t have to resort to showy, irrational budget-hacking or dramatic gestures of protest in response,” Gushee said.

Sojourners president Jim Wallis, a participant and advocate for the fast, said that deficits are moral issues, including how they are reduced.

“Of course, many Americans, including in the faith community, believe that rising deficits are immoral and a threat to our future,” said Wallis. “But how you reduce a deficit is also a moral issue, and to do so by further impoverishing the poor in order to add more wealth to the wealthy is not an acceptable political or moral strategy.”

The fast has been spearheaded by former Congressman and Ambassador Tony Hall. He said budgets are moral documents and that the recent budget compromise shows that the poor are not a national priority.

“I believe fasting, when done with the right heart and the right motive, gets God’s attention,” Hall said. “Hopefully this fast also gets the attention of politicians who would balance the budget on the backs of the poor. It’s time to call on God.”

0421tonyhall.php

Criticism of the budget as immoral has also come from the right. Social conservatives backed efforts to ban any federal funding of Planned Parenthood, to curtail the Environmental Protection Agency, and to repeal the health care law passed last year.

“Sadly, the Senate rejection of the defunding of Planned Parenthood and of ‘Obamacare’ means that these two moral blights on the American governmental landscape survived for a little longer,” said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

Family Research Council president Tony Perkins also agreed that budgets are moral documents.

“Budgets that shift the burden of responsibility to future generations, while seeking to use taxpayer funds to eliminate those same future generations through abortion, are not only immoral choices, but irresponsible as well,” Perkins said.

April 12, 2011

Effort to Curtail the EPA Fails Despite Southern Baptist Backing

The budget compromise approved by Congressional leaders last Friday made few evangelical leaders happy. The deal dropped the ban on funding to Planned Parenthood sought by social conservatives. Cuts to foreign aid and hunger programs remained despite outcries from relief organizations. Also dropped was an attempt backed by the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) to curtail efforts by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate green house gases.

0412epa.jpg

The fight against the EPA began last summer when the agency announced that it would begin regulating CO-2 emissions despite failed efforts in Congress to pass so-called “cap and trade” legislation. The Senate voted last year to stop the EPA, and despite lobbying by the ERLC, the American Family Association, and business groups, the effort failed.

With more Republicans in the Senate this year, the GOP leaders in the House and Senate tried again with a two-prong approach: stand-alone legislation to block the EPA and provisions in the budget negotiations that would strip the EPA of funds needed for the new regulations.

When the Senate voted on the stand-alone legislation last week, the ERLC sent an “Action Alert” urging people to ask their Senators to vote for legislation that would stop the EPA's plan to regulate greenhouse gases. The ERLC said that the regulations would unnecessarily hurt the economy.

“The poor would be hit especially hard,” the ERLC action alert said. “Making this worse, the whole basis for the policy—catastrophic, human-induced global warming—is not even settled among scientists, who are growing increasingly skeptical of such human impact.”

Continue reading Effort to Curtail the EPA Fails Despite Southern Baptist Backing...

April 8, 2011

Is the Possible Government Shutdown Dispute Really Over Abortion?

As the deadline looms to pass a funding measure or shut the government down, budget negotiations took a familiar twist today as some suggested that the debate hinges on abortion funding. The government cannot directly fund abortions, but many social conservatives say that funding other Planned Parenthood services ends up allowing it to provide abortions. A similar issue became a central issue in the health care debates last year until the final compromise.

The New York Times ran with with a early headline, "No Deal Overnight on Federal Budget as Abortion Remains Sticking Point" and a corresponding editorial that blames the Republicans' refusal to bend based on the issue on abortion. The Wall Street Journal says, "Abortion Returns to Center Stage." Businessweek says, "Abortion, Spending Divide Leaders Trying to Avert Shutdown."

However, most of the people making the case that the issue revolves around abortion appears to come from Democrats. The Hill reports that House Speaker John Boehner rejected claims that abortion is the central issue.

“There’s far more than one provision that’s holding up any agreement, I can tell you that,” Boehner said.

Ezra Klein of the Washington Post tweeted, "I don't know if the shutdown is really hung up on Planned Parenthood. But if public perceives it is, GOP is toast."

Jay Newton-Small of Time magazine reports that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said House Speaker John Boehner is pushing a rider that would enable governors to do what they want with Title X funding, a $327 million program which provides grants for clinics like Planned Parenthood that most conservative governors would defund.

Reid was asked by CNN's Brianna Keilar if he'd offered Boehner more money to drop the Title X rider. He said he had, but that Boehner had turned him down. This surprises me as I've always been under the impression that Boehner was using the policy riders as leverage for more cuts -- that he never really expected to move the needle on abortion, climate change or health care reform. The brouhaha over the riders must be taken with a grain of salt as it behooves Dems to portray Boehner as obsessed with "extreme" riders rather than negotiating in good faith on funding the government. Given that even Michele Bachmann called on Boehner to drop the riders and just pass a "clean" one week extension to give negotiators more time*, I'd be surprised if the only issue at play here is truly Title X.

*Bachmann voiced support for dropping riders for a bill that would insure that military paychecks continue in the event of a government shutdown. Her office made clear Friday that she does not support stripping riders that deal with abortion from the main 2011 continuing resolution bill that is now being negotiated by Boehner, Reid and Barack Obama.

Update: Boehner insisted again today that the debate is not over abortion and said, “Stay tuned. Keep the faith,” National Journal reports.

The lawmaker said Boehner reiterated that the hold-up is spending cuts, and not policy riders, contrary to what Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D.-Nev., has suggested. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.V., explicitly asked the speaker if the hold-up was “women’s rights” and Boehner said it was not.

Some conservative groups are suggesting that abortion does remain an issue. “The President has singled out Planned Parenthood, a significant financial and political supporter for special attention and protection,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of SBA List said in a statement.

Talking Points Memo reports that some Republican lawmakers are urging Boehner to drop the social issues discussion.

Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) another pro-life conservative echoed his call on MSNBC Thursday, saying the GOP should "move on."

"I'd like to defund Planned Parenthood, but I understand that Republicans don't have complete control of the elected government," Toomey said. "I think what we should do is cut spending as much as we can, get the policy changes that we can, but move on, because there are other, bigger battles that we are fighting."

The post also raised the question over whether the tea party is putting more prominence on fiscal issues over social issues.

April 6, 2011

Majority of Evangelicals Prefer Government Shutdown to Budget Compromise

The federal government is, once again, nearing a government shutdown due to the impasse between House Republicans and Senate Democrats over this year's budget. The key issue is how much to reduce discretionary spending. For evangelical political leaders, the fiscal fight represents a moral battle where there is little room for compromise.

A recent poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press suggests that a majority of Americans want legislators to compromise, but evangelicals want politicians to stand their ground.

Pew asked the public how they wanted lawmakers who share their views to do. A majority of Americans (55 percent) said that their legislators should “be more willing to compromise even if that means they pass a budget [I] disagree with.” Only 36 percent said lawmakers should “stand by their principles even if that means the government shuts down.”

Evangelicals are more likely to want lawmakers to say, “Here I stand. I can do no other.” Among the major religious groups in the U.S., evangelicals are the most likely to agree that their lawmakers should not compromise even if it leads to a shutdown. A majority (51 percent) took this position; 39 percent favored a compromise.

0406budgetbreakdown.jpg

This attitude on the budget is not found among other religious groups. Black Protestants are the most in favor of compromise (72 percent). A majority of other groups including Mainline Protestants (52 percent), Catholics (63 percent), and nonreligious people (55 percent) support compromise even if it means a budget that they disagree with.

Social conservatives want to keep in a complete ban on funding for Planned Parenthood. Advocates for relief organizations are conducting a month-long fast to raise awareness of cuts to aid for the world's poor. Both groups are calling on lawmakers to resist any compromise that violates these issues.

Continue reading Majority of Evangelicals Prefer Government Shutdown to Budget Compromise...

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.”

Continue reading Evangelicals Issue Warning on Budget Cuts ...

March 1, 2011

The Moral Components of the Wisconsin Labor Stalemate

The political stalemate in Wisconsin is entering its third week. One side includes the newly elected Republican Governor Scott Walker and Republicans state legislators who are seeking to pass a law that would reduce the wages and benefits of public employees and cut back on their collective bargaining rights. The other side includes public unions who are rallying in Madison and Democrats in the state Senate, who fled the capital, a strategy that keeps the Senate one vote short of a quorum.

With little movement by either side, the political fight has been mostly rhetorical volleys wrapped in religious and moral language.

In an interview with CBN's David Brody, House Speaker John Boehner compared public sector unions in the states to hostage takers.

“In some of these states you’ve got collective bargaining laws that are so weighted in favor of the public employees that there’s almost no bargaining. We’ve given them a machine gun and put it right at the heads of the local officials and they really have their hands tied,” said Boehner.   

But one person's hostage taker is another's faithful crusader. Service Employees International Union president Mary Kay Henry told Faith in Public Life, "Faith is the lifeline that gives me courage to act.” Henry also praised faith leaders who are supporting the labor unions. Some of these religious leaders went so far as to offer Senate Democrats “sanctuary” within their houses of worship as they avoid the quorum vote.

But while the left invokes the ancient right of “sanctuary,” the right sees the relationship between the government and public unions as sinister pact. American Family Radio's Crane Durham said, “State governments are facing budget crises because they have made this Faustian bargain with unions (i.e. votes for job protection) which inevitably leads to the incumbent’s political ouster, failing institutions and broken contracts.”

Continue reading The Moral Components of the Wisconsin Labor Stalemate...

February 25, 2011

Evangelicals and Tea Party Overlap in Congress, Public

The tea party movement is a conservative grassroots movement that is more known for its views on taxes than social issues. There is, however, increasing evidence that the tea party movement's message resonates with evangelicals.

In July of 2010, Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) announced a new tea party caucus in the House of Representatives. Bachmann, who is active among both social conservatives and the tea party movement, lined up about 50 Representatives to join the group.

0225bachmann.jpg

This caucus is more evangelical than the rest of the House. About 45 percent of the caucus attend an evangelical church, compared to 13 percent of others in the House. Another 30 percent are mainline Protestants, mostly of a largely Southern variety. Several Mormons are also part of the caucus.

There are no African-Americans or Jewish members. The caucus is less likely to include Catholics, with only 15 percent who are members of the caucus compared to 32 percent of those who are not.

Nearly all members of Congress express some religious affiliation. Most, however, do not advertise their faith. The members of the tea party caucus do, however, with 43 percent discussing their religious beliefs or membership on their House websites. This is over twice as many as non-members. Just 21 percent of other Representatives provide any mention of their religion.

The overlap between religiosity, evangelicalism, and the tea party is not limited to Congress. A new study by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life finds that those who agree with the Tea Party are also socially conservative and religious. Among the religious groups in America, evangelicals are the most supportive of the movement.

Despite its influence in national politics, many Americans remain unaware of the movement. Among evangelicals, nearly half (48 percent) had no opinion or had not heard of the Tea Party. But among those evangelicals that have an opinion on the Tea Party, 84 percent said that they agree with the movement. No other religious tradition comes close to this level of support for the movement. Dan Gilgoff has provided a summary of other traditions at CNN's Belief Blog.

The Pew study suggests that the mix of religion and the tea party movement in Congress is not an accident: nearly all of those who agreed with Christian conservatives also agreed with the tea party.

Continue reading Evangelicals and Tea Party Overlap in Congress, Public...

February 21, 2011

Polling Evangelicals: Fix Deficit with Spending Cuts, Tax Increases

On Saturday, the House of Representatives passed a resolution containing deep cuts for education, environment, and health care programs. All told, the resolution cuts $60 billion dollars from this year's budget. The resolution faces an uncertain future, as it must pass the Democrat-controlled Senate, and President Obama vowed to veto the House version of the bill.

0222Economy_L.jpg

For many evangelical activists, the deficit is a top moral concern. But how important is the deficit to everyday evangelicals in the pews?

The Pew Research Center for People and the Press provided Christianity Today with a religious breakdown of questions from its December and February polls on the deficit and government spending. These polls show that while unemployment is a more pressing economic issue for evangelicals, they agree that the federal government should fix the deficit immediately and are willing to raise taxes (coupled with spending cuts) to do so.

When asked if the federal government should spend more money to create jobs or reduce the budget, nearly two-thirds of evangelicals said that the deficit was a more urgent problem (64 percent). Other Americans were more evenly split, with only 46 percent favoring deficit reduction.

This emphasis on the deficit likely reflects a distrust of government spending as a solution to unemployment. In a December survey, Pew found that 39 percent of evangelicals thought the job situation was the nation's most pressing economic problem. Only 22 percent named the deficit. This is similar to the views of other Americans, 45 percent of whom chose jobs and 19 percent chose the deficit.

In that same poll, however, 80 percent of evangelicals said the deficit was an issue that needs to be addressed now rather than waiting until after the economy improved. Other Americans were more willing to wait. Just over two-thirds of other Americans voiced a need to address the deficit immediately (68 percent).

Continue reading Polling Evangelicals: Fix Deficit with Spending Cuts, Tax Increases...

February 17, 2011

National Debt Becomes Hot Issue for Evangelicals

Many economists warn that the government's huge national debt is a looming threat to long-term prosperity. But is it also immoral?

According to a growing number of conservative Christians, the answer is a resounding "Yes."

As Washington debates President Obama's proposed 2012 budget, the immorality of the deficit has become the hot topic on right-leaning Christian blogs, radio programs and political mailings.

The concern is not only that the estimated $14.13 trillion debt could cripple the economy, some conservative Christian leaders say, but also that borrowing so much money violates important biblical tenets.

And while religious conservatives have long mapped personal piety onto national politics, some of the moral arguments against excessive borrowing are getting a new hearing among Christians already anxious about the economy.

"America's growing debt is a not just a financial issue, it's a spiritual one," said Jerry Newcombe, host of "The Coral Ridge Hour," a television program broadcast by Coral Ridge Ministries. "The Bible is very clear about the moral dangers of debt."

The Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based evangelical ministry dedicated a segment of its television show earlier this month to the "monstrous debt burden," and has been sounding the alarm to its estimated 500,000 devotees through its radio programs, print publications and website.

Likewise, the Washington-based Family Research Council has delivered "action alerts" about the debt to its network of 40,000 pastors and myriad state-based advocacy groups. The Christian Coalition, Concerned Women for America, and the Faith and Freedom Coalition, a new group led by GOP strategist Ralph Reed, are also warning members with increasing intensity that the deficit is reaching immoral proportions.

Reed said concern about the debt is not new, but has risen to the top of some Christians' agenda partly because of the rising tally and partly because the Tea Party and Fox commentator Glenn Beck have focused so much attention on the issue.

"You can't give the Tea Party enough credit in terms of raising the consciousness about this issue," Reed said. For his part, Beck often cites on his television and radio programs "The Five Thousand Year Leap," a book that argues that the national debt imperils America's freedom.

John C. Green, an expert on religion and politics from the University of Akron in Ohio, said several factors, in addition to Beck and the Tea Party, have fueled interest in the deficit.

First, the national debt is a good mobilizing issue for the Republican coalition, able to unite social conservatives and fiscal hawks, whose alliance has sometimes been strained. Secondly, it allows religious leaders to ride the Tea Party wave of anger against government spending. And lastly, it broadens the conservative Christian agenda beyond such culture war battles as abortion and gay marriage.

In its segment on the debt, Coral Ridge, whose late founder, the Rev. D. James Kennedy, was known for blending conservative Christianity and politics, quoted the Bible to denounce the debt.

"Proverbs 13:22 says a `good man leaves an inheritance for his children's children,"' historian and author William Federer said on the program. "Right now, we're not leaving a very good inheritance."

Other budget-conscious Christians have cited passages from Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy, in which God tells Israel that "you will lend to many nations but will borrow from none."

Ken Blackwell, who is leading a balanced-budget campaign for the Family Research Council, cited the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous "fierce urgency of now" in a recent column advocating against the debt.

Blackwell acknowledged in an interview that King often spoke in favor of government-funded programs, especially to fight poverty. "But Dr. King did not say we should spend beyond our means, or steal our children's future," Blackwell said.

"It's legitimate to be concerned about leaving our children and grandchildren a mountain of debt," he said. "But it seems that in American politics, every seemingly pure moral claim is mixed with hypocrisy."

Continue reading National Debt Becomes Hot Issue for Evangelicals ...

April 15, 2009

Christian Conservative Groups Promote Tea Parties

At least 25,000 people turned out for tea party protests across the country today, according to the Atlantic, and groups like Focus on the Family Action, Family Research Council, Concerned Women for America, and the American Family Association helped promote the demonstrations.

tea_bags.jpg

The tea parties were initially promoted by FreedomWorks, a conservative nonprofit advocacy group based in Washington, but Christian conservative groups quickly latched on.

CitizenLink: "The mainstream media largely have ignored the nationwide protests, even as Congress loads pork projects and stimulus bills on the backs of American taxpayers and their children."

Tony Perkins: "There is no justification for the countless billions that citizens will have to pony up this tax season to fund liberalism's reckless abuse of the federal treasury."

"The religious right's support for the Tea Parties is a partisan exercise, not a religious one. It will not help their cause," Dan at the left-leaning Faith in Public Life writes.

What do you think? Would you participate in the tea party ritual?

March 24, 2009

Obama Responds to Charity Complaints, Defends Stem-Cell Decision

President Obama defended his plans tonight for a healthcare overhaul that include a lower tax deduction for wealthy who donate to charities.

"Those of us who are a little bit fortunate are going to have to spend a little bit more," Obama said at tonight's press conference.

Politico's Mike Allen asked him if he's "confident that charities are wrong" that this will hurt giving, and he responded: "yes."

The Washington Time's Jon Ward asked Obama whether he wrestled with the ethics of funding embryonic research.

Continue reading Obama Responds to Charity Complaints, Defends Stem-Cell Decision...

February 7, 2009

Senate Rejects Stimulus Aid for Religious Buildings

The U.S. Senate defeated an amendment to the economic stimulus bill Thursday that would have allowed federal funding for renovations at college buildings that are used for religious activity.

Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., proposed the amendment after voicing criticism of a stimulus provision that says funds for colleges and universities could not be used for modernization or renovation of buildings where "sectarian instruction" or "religious worship" occur.

"This is a direct attack on students of faith, and I'm outraged Democrats are using an economic stimulus bill to promote discrimination," DeMint said after the 54-43 vote defeating the amendment.

Church-state groups, however, welcomed the vote.

"The Senate has voted to reaffirm an important American principle -- that religious groups should pay their own way and not expect funding from the taxpayer," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Conservative Christian groups, meanwhile, agreed with DeMint. Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice said the provision "has nothing to do with economic stimulus and everything to do with religious discrimination."

Andrea Lafferty, executive directosr of the Traditional Values Coalition, called the vote "a significant defeat to our First Amendment's guarantee of religious freedom and free speech."

January 28, 2009

Stimulus Bill includes Funding for Faith-Based Organization Grants

The economic stimulus bill includes a provision for funding $100 million for grants to faith-based organizations, Howard M. Friedman notes on Religion Clause.

According to page 141 of bill, half of the amount would become available October 1, 2009. Friedman also notes that a proposed amendment by Rep. Susan Davis of California would increase the total appropriation to $500 million.

December 23, 2008

Bogus Bogus Trend Story?

Slate's media watchdog Jack Shafer thinks he's got the NYT dead to rights for Paul Vitello's December 14 story on how the recession is boosting worship attendance, at evangelical churches in particular. Not so, clucks Shafer, citing Gallup editor-in-chief Frank Newport's marshalling of evidence that there has, in fact, been no increase in church attendance in these hard times. Weekly attendance, saith Newport, has remained around 42 percent for months and months.

Unbeknownst to Shafer, however, is the bogosity of Gallup's church attendance numbers. What Newport doesn't say is that his company's surveys have shown church attendance to be in that exact numeric neighborhood ever since they began asking the question 60 years ago. As sure as death and taxes, two in five Americans will say they attend church weekly.

But for over a decade, sociologists of religion (and those who read them) have known that 1) a lot of those supposed weekly attenders are fibbing; and 2) more of them are fibbing now than used to. The evidence for this comes from multiple sources, including time-usage studies, on-the-ground observation of parking lots, church attendance records, interviews with clergy. These days, the real number for weekly attendance is in the low 20 percent range. (Here's a citation for one of the more important articles on the subject: C. Kirk Hadaway, Penny Long Marler and Mark Chaves, "Overreporting Church Attendance in America: Evidence That Demands the Same Verdict," American Sociological Review, Vol. 63, No. 1 [Feb., 1998], pp. 122-130.)

So does this meant that Vitello's article is on the money? Could be. A bunch of phone calls to pastors is more likely to turn up something new in the going-to-church department than Gallup's invariant two-in-five. Don't expect the phenomenon to last, though. After 9/11, a host of stories tracked a bump in churchgoing, and then a host tracked the quick reversion to the norm. As Yoda might have said, "Backsliding always we are."

(Originally published at Spiritual Politics.)

December 8, 2008

Praying for an Auto Bailout

It's not very often you'll see an S.U.V.'s at the altar, but that's where they sat at a church in Detroit, where the congregation prayed to save the auto industry.

The Wall Street Journal
put together a slideshow, and Nick Bunkley wrote about a Pentecostal church for The New York Times.

Greater Grace, the largest church in Detroit, invited officials from the United Automobile Workers union to speak before Bishop Ellis gave his sermon, titled "A Hybrid Hope."

The S.U.V.'s on the stage, a Chevrolet Tahoe, Ford Escape and Chrysler Aspen on loan from local dealerships, were all gas-electric hybrids, and Bishop Ellis urged worshipers to combat the region's woes by mixing hope with faith in God.

"We have done all that we can do in this union, so I turn it over to the Lord," General Holiefield, a U.A.W. vice president for Chrysler, told the crowd. A vice president for the parts suppliers, James Settles Jr., asked those present "to continue your prayers, so we can see a miracle next week."

(h/t Eileen Flynn)

October 14, 2008

Who has a better plan to fix the economic mess?

As Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson announced a plan to inject $250 billion into national banks, the candidates are getting more specific with their own plans to stimulate the economy.

John McCain will release proposals that add up to $52.5 billion, following Barack Obama's proposals unveiled yesterday estimated at $60 billion, The New York Times reports.

McCain will propose the following:

-Give a lower tax rate for people 59 years and older who withdraw money from retirement plans in 2009 and 2010

-Reduce the capital gains tax on stock profits for two years by 50 percent

-Create an acceleration in the tax write-off for stock losses, allowing Americans to deduct $15,000 in losses a year for 2008 and 2009

-Place a suspension on the tax on unemployment insurance benefits in 2008 and 2009

-Buy troubled mortgages at face value and give qualified homeowners instead fixed-rate mortgages (Already proposed)

Yesterday, Obama proposed the following:

-Give a $3,000 tax credit to employers who create new jobs

-Eliminate a tax penalty for everyone to borrow from their retirement savings, eliminate income taxes on unemployment benefits, and double the government’s loan guarantees for automakers

-Create a government facility to lend money to cities and states

-Place a 90-day moratorium on most home foreclosures
Share on Facebook

October 3, 2008

House passes bailout plan

The House of Representatives voted 263-171 today to pass the Senate’s version of the $700 billion bailout bill, a plan some evangelicals told me they cautiously support.

The House voted against the plan on Monday, creating a steep decline in the markets. The Senate sweetened the deal, adding $150 billion in tax breaks and increased Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation coverage from $100,000 to $250,000. The bill would also bill would curb executive pay, provide relief from the Alternative Minimum Tax for another year, and set up oversight committees.

Update: President Bush signed the bailout bill.

October 1, 2008

Senate passes bailout bill

John McCain, Barack Obama, and Joe Biden voted with 71 senators to pass the $700 billion bailout bill that would allow the government to buy troubled securities, The New York Times reports.

The bill included $150 billion in tax breaks for individuals and businesses and increased the amount covered by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation from $100,000 to $250,000. The bill was also attached to legislation requiring insurers to treat mental health conditions similar to general health problems, The Times reports. The House is expected to vote Friday.

September 29, 2008

Bailout Vote Fails

The Dow Jones industrials plunged this afternoon after the bailout plan failed to pass the House of Representatives.

Christianity Today posted two articles today related to the economic crisis: Christian Financial World Sees Silver Lining in Banking Mess and A Christian View of the Economic Crisis.

September 23, 2008

Dave Ramsey's take on the bailout

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson received a skeptical reception today when he appeared before senators, asking to grant him authority to rescue the country's financial system, The New York Times writes. The administration has proposed a $700 billion plan to buy up and hopefully resell troubled mortgage-backed securities.

Christian financial adviser Dave Ramsey is against the bailout. Feel free to post more evangelicals' reaction in the comments section below.

varveleconomy.jpg
Cartoon by Gary Varvel, Indianapolis Star

September 22, 2008

Bailout's potential impact on church-state relations

Howard Friedman looks at what could happen for church-state relations if the government's proposed bailout is approved.

The bailout would give the government powers to purchase mortgage related assets (residential or commercial mortgages) from any financial institution with headquarters in the United States. Friedman points to an article by The Deal, which reports that several churches are short in their mortgage payments and face foreclosure.

Friedman writes:

"In many cases the mortgage holders are not financial institutions, but instead holders of church bonds. But where the mortgage lender is a bank, is the draft bailout legislation broad enough to permit purchase of shaky church mortgages by the Treasury? If so, are there any church-state problems with the federal government essentially owning an interest in church buildings?"