Earlier this morning, religious leaders and anti-poverty advocates announced that they will begin fasting to protest budget cuts that they argue “balance the budget on the backs of poor people.” Progressive evangelical leader Jim Wallis and David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, joined former Democratic congressman Tony Hall in calling on others to join them in the fast and on Congress to restore funding for hunger programs and other anti-poverty initiatives.
When he served as a congressman from Ohio in the 1990s, Tony Hall fasted for 22 days in response to budget cuts and the elimination of the House Select Committee on Hunger. At the time, the committee had a nominal budget and no power to appropriate or authorize funds–its termination was trumpeted as a budget-cutting measure but had virtually no practical effect except to eliminate a congressional body focused on the issue of mass hunger.
Wallis charges that similarly cynical politics are behind the current proposed cuts in programs that target the poor in the U.S. and internationally. “If this was really about fiscal responsibility, they’d go where the money was,” he told me by phone last Friday. “Every day we’re spending more in Libya than everything we’d like to keep in the budget. That’s turning around the Biblical imperatives and beating your plowshares into swords. You’re not going to solve the deficit with these programs. This is just mean. This is not believing the government should help poor people as a principle.”
Religious organizations from the National Association of Evangelicals to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have criticized proposed federal budgets to means-tested programs as immoral and unjust. And Wallis, Beckmann, and Hall are attracting support for their fast from an array of partners, including the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, Islamic Relief USA, and Meals on Wheels. They haven’t yet decided how long they’ll continue the fast, but Wallis issued an additional challenge to members of Congress who support cuts in anti-poverty programs: be honest. “I want to hear just one of them say out loud that every line item of military spending is more important to the well-being of the country than child nutrition, than child health and vaccinations. They’ve crossed a line, but they want to keep pretending this is all about fiscal responsibility.”