Religious Leaders Storm the Hill

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On Wednesday, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops sent a letter to Speaker Boehner informing him of its opposition to his deficit reduction proposal and arguing that “future budgets cannot rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor persons.” On Thursday, religious organizations went from polite protest to full-scale mobilization on the Hill.

Seventy priests, nuns, and social justice workers from Boehner’s home state of Ohio sent the Catholic Speaker a sharp rebuke: “You can heed the consistent moral calls from Catholic leaders who have urged lawmakers to decrease our debt fairly and protect the most vulnerable, or you can yield to growing political pressure from Tea Party Republicans willing to accept catastrophic default for the first time in our nation’s history,” they wrote. Professors from Xavier University, Boehner’s alma mater, also signed the letter.

Sojourners, a Christian social justice organization, ran a full-page ad in Politico on Thursday morning, warning politicians that “God is Watching” their actions. Sojourners’ supporters have sent nearly 100,000 emails to Congress on budget morality in the past two weeks. “Scriptures teach that God is especially concerned with how the decisions of the politically powerful effect the poor and vulnerable (Isaiah10),” Tim King, a spokesman for Sojourners, told TIME. “The politically easy thing is to cut programs for those in need because poor people don’t have much for lobbyists in Washington D.C. The morally right thing is to defend those whom Jesus called, ‘the least of these.’”

And nearly a dozen religious leaders were arrested inside the Capitol on Thursday while praying and protesting a budget that would balance itself on the backs of the poor with cuts in crucial areas, like Medicaid and food stamps. Arrests included Jim Winkler, General Secretary of the United Methodist Church’s General Board of Church and Society; Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, Director of Public Witness for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.); Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Shalom Center in Philadelphia; Rev. Jennifer Butler, Executive Director at Faith in Public Life; Rev. Michael Livingston, Past President of the National Council of the Churches of Christ (USA); and Martin Shupack, Church World Service’s Director of Advocacy.

“As this politically manufactured default crisis approaches the point of no return, we can’t allow intransigent Congressional leaders to ignore us,” said Kristin Ford, spokeswoman for Faith in Public Life, a group whose Executive Director, Rev. Jennifer Butler, was among those arrested on Thursday. “We’ll hold Congress and the President accountable if they fail to protect struggling families and the most vulnerable.” Prayer vigils, led by different religious leaders, continue outside the United Methodist Building on Capitol Hill. Boehner’s bill has been a heavy lift — the vote was delayed Thursday evening while Republicans searched for more votes. Religious leaders aren’t making his life any easier.

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