As faith coalition for the poor grows, so does conservative opposition
From left, Tony Hall, Ritu Sharma, David Beckman and Jim Wallis at the announcement of their hunger strike.
April 28th, 2011
09:09 AM ET

As faith coalition for the poor grows, so does conservative opposition

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Washington (CNN) - A coalition of Christian groups opposing budget cuts for the poor is growing - and so is the conservative media’s backlash against the group.

It began a few weeks ago when a group of Christians took out a full-page advertisement in Politico asking, “What would Jesus cut” as it relates to the federal budget.

The movement grew to include a hunger strike during Lent spearheaded by Jim Wallis of Sojourners, David Beckmann of Bread for the World, Women Thrive Worldwide co-founder Ritu Sharma and former congressman Tony Hall.

Eventually 28 congressional Democrats joined the religious leaders’ hunger strike.

On Wednesday, the religious leaders renewed their efforts. A broad range of Catholic, Protestant and evangelical leaders called on members of Congress to spare programs that help the poor both at home and abroad.

“It’s time for political leaders on both sides of the aisle to draw a line in the sand and establish a fundamental principle in this budget debate that essential and proven programs that save the lives of the poorest at home and abroad should be protected in our budget and deficit choices,” Wallis said on a conference call with reporters.

“Lawmakers need to understand what a circle of protection means," Wallis said. "It means if you come after the poor, you will have to come and go through us first."

The group forming the circle of protection now includes the National Association of Evangelicals and the National Council of Churches, as well as Catholic, African American and Latino church leaders.

“We are engaging our own constituents on this issue and encouraging them to engage their legislators,” said Galen Carey, director of government affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals.

“We are all calling on all of our members to pray, because we believe this is a spiritual battle as well as a political issue, and so we pray that our leaders will have courage because they need a tremendous amount of courage to deal with these issues in an honorable way.”

But as the group has grown more diverse to include members from the Christian right and the Christian left, the movement has become a punching bag for some conservative media outlets.

Rush Limbaugh picked up on the debate on his radio broadcast on Monday. He highlighted ABC’s Sunday public affairs program "This Week," hosted by Christiane Amanpour.

She began a discussion with influential American pastors asking, “What would Jesus do” in terms of the budget.

Limbaugh said, "A favorite tactic of the left, you know, when it suits them they'll talk about Jesus Christ. When they can convince or try to convince everybody Jesus Christ was the patron saint of liberalism, then they will herald Jesus Christ."

Roger Pilon, a libertarian from the Cato Institute and former Reagan administration official, wrote an op-ed last week in The Wall Street Journal criticizing the spirit of the religious leaders' defense of government programs to assist the poor.

“The Good Samaritan is virtuous not because he helps the fallen through the force of law but because he does so voluntarily,” he wrote.

“I agree with them that the budget is a moral document,” Pilon told CNN. “The objection I have is with their conception of the federal budget as reflecting the kind of principles a family would have in determining a family budget.”

Pilon said Americans are extraordinarily generous and that if federal taxes were lower, charitable giving would rise. At issue, he said, is a basic principle.

“The religious organizations that are non-political or are on the right think of beneficence as a private virtue. The religious organizations that come from the left promote charity or beneficence through government and therefore do not draw the distinction between private and public charity.”

On Saturday on the "Journal Editorial Report" on Fox News, Wall Street Journal columnist Bill McGurn said, “I think the political motivation is - one of it is to rig this debate, so you present the budget cuts as heartless and you don't have to debate whether they're effective. We want to debate whether they're effective, what the programs are accomplishing.”

Wallis and others countered that since the beginning of their campaign they have said social programs should be fixed or changed if they are underperforming.

“We have to remember that budgets are not just about sacristy, they’re about choices - moral choices,” Wallis.

Members of Congress are due back in Washington on Monday after two weeks off, and the budget and debt ceiling debates are expected to continue.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Belief • Catholic Church • Christianity • Church • Church and state • DC • Politics • United States

soundoff (93 Responses)
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    November 27, 2013 at 11:18 pm |
  2. Robin 'Roblimo' Miller

    Look: Republicans today have signed a pact with Satan and vote accordingly. We need to start a movement to exorcise the poor dears. It's not hard. Whenever you see one or are in front of one of their offices, yell FOUL REPUBLICAN SPIRITS COME OUT!!! If enough of us do this often enough, Jesus will replace Satan in their poor, tormented Republican souls, and they will stop being so anti-Christian.

    May 20, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
  3. frank

    they got us not to talk about what they are not cutting, things for the rich and wealthy, like tax cuts,
    come on really, stop fighting with each other while they stay super rich!

    May 13, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
  4. M-Theory

    The underlying fundemental philosophy that shades one's particular side of this issue is: Either you're personally OK with paying your taxes to help the poor OR you don't want to pay to help the poor... it's that simple. Any other argument is a smokescreen. The argument 'the programs are ineffective" is disingenuous by nature because no money or will is allocated to fix them. Each individual has a vision of who he thinks the masses of poor to be..... either helpless, needing sympathy or opportunists gaming the system. The truth is there are both kinds...but to leave the helpless for the sake of spiting the opportunists is morally inept, which is hypocrisy among supposed evangelicals.

    May 12, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
  5. Colleen Harper

    Dear Prism,
    My atheism does not require me to show universal opposition to all Christians, nor to all religious faiths. My atheism DOES require me to show opposition to all those who would demand that government endorse their religious beliefs or demand that all people show enthrallment to their particular beliefs.

    Where Christians can show through their works that they and I are essentially on the same page concerning the welfare of the poor and disenfranchised, I will happily work with them on our common goals. I would only ask that – as I respect their faith – that they respect my willingness to work for the betterment of others despite my lack of faith.

    May 5, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
  6. PRISM 1234

    Hm.....I wonder how come that the crowd of atheists isn't having their campfire here, on this forum?....Maybe it is because they DON"T WANT TO KNOW that there is another side of Christianity , other then one they love to paint us with!

    Darn cowards! !

    May 5, 2011 at 9:39 am |
    • CM

      I'm well aware there is another side of Christianity. When that side gets more than a few random members doing about as much to change things as Ralph Nader's 2000 presidential campaign did, we'll talk. Did you read the rest of the article where Rush and the rest of the religious right are already working to destroy and silence this splinter group? Once you guys actually carry some weight comparable to the Pat Robertson style nazis, then I'll start giving Christian politics the benefit of the doubt.

      May 12, 2011 at 12:51 pm |
  7. BuckHolliday

    It would be nice if CNN would give each discussion a percentage rating. 100% would mean that everybody made coherent comments worthy of reading, 0% would mean just a lot of useless rambling and idiotic potshots at one another. This string would rate about 10%

    May 2, 2011 at 11:09 am |
  8. Better Error Detector (BED)

    Buckminster Fullerene

    I'm pretty amazed how you detected "congresses" but missed-out "its". Likewise, "dfinately" but not "peopls"

    You should have done your homework before going to BED.

    May 1, 2011 at 7:10 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.