Debating the Debt Ceiling

Debating the Debt Ceiling

If you’re like me, the debt-ceiling debate seems like one more opportunity for various political operatives to sling mud without offering real solutions. But since the House of Representatives voted to approve a “Cut, Cap, and Balance” bill Tuesday that President Obama said he would veto and Senate Democrats are expected to reject in favor of the “Gang of Six” plan, perhaps it’s time to give the debt-ceiling debate serious thought.

First, what is the debt ceiling?

Reporting for NPR in June, The Root’s Cynthia Gordy said the debt ceiling is “the amount of money, set by Congress, that the federal government can legally borrow in order to pay for its commitments — things like Social Security, Medicare and military operations.” She reported that the government has been overspending since the end of the Clinton administration and borrows money by selling U.S. Treasury bonds, notes and T-bills to the public, financial institutions and other countries.  We reached the current $14.3 trillion debt limit on May 16, according to Gordy, but by suspending payments to federal retirement funds, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner prevented a default and estimated that the government could continue borrowing until Aug. 2.

Now that we know what it is, what are Christian leaders saying about the debate?

Baptist Press reports that the Southern Baptist Convention’s public policy enitity, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, is “sponsoring a three-part standard — including congressional approval of a balanced budget amendment — that must be met before raising the country’s debt limit.”

The “Cut, Cap, Balance Pledge” consists of substantial spending cuts, enforceable spending caps, and passage of a Balanced Budget Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, “but only if it includes both a spending limitation and a super-majority for raising taxes, in addition to balancing revenues and expenses.”

The Family Research Council (FRC) published an action alert this week that said, “The House of Representatives will vote Tuesday on Cut, Cap, and Balance to ensure immediate cuts to government spending, place caps on future spending, and would grant the President’s request to lift the debt ceiling only if the Balanced Budget Amendment is passed and sent to the states for ratification.” The organization advises its constituency to contact their U.S. Senators to “urge them to oppose any ‘back-up’ plan, such as Senator McConnell’s surrender plan,” which it says will “allow the President to lift the debt ceiling and only allow Congress a vote to stop it if it could garner a super majority.” FRC advises instead that constiuents ask their sensators to support efforts to pass the Cut, Cap, and Balance Act.

In a July 7 Sojourners blog post, Jim Wallis described the debate as a “clash between two competing moral visions,” one that pits “those who believe in the common good and those who believe individual good is the only good.” Wallis wrote:

“While a biblical worldview informs Christians that they should be wary of the rich and defend the poor, a competing ideology says that wealth is equivalent to righteousness and God’s blessing. It is a morality play in which Washington, D.C. is the stage, politicians are actors, lobbyists are directors, the ‘debt ceiling’ is the conflict, and we are the audience who will pay the cost of the production, whether we enjoyed it or not.”

A group of Christian Circle of Protection signatories including John R. Bryant, Senior Bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church; Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference; Stephen J. Thurston, president of the National Baptist Convention of America; and Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner, co-facilitator of the National African American Clergy Network issued a statement that listed the debt ceiling among its concerns:

“Budgets are moral documents, and how we reduce future deficits are historic and defining moral choices. As Christian leaders, we urge Congress and the administration to give moral priority to programs that protect the life and dignity of poor and vulnerable people in these difficult times, our broken economy, and our wounded world.”

UrbanFaith has not yet found any explicit Christian endorsements of the Gang of Six plan. CNN reports that the  plan, drafted by three Democratic and three Republican senators, would “impose” $500 billion in budget savings, reduce marginal income tax rates, and ultimately abolish an alternative minimum tax, but create three tax brackets to generate an additional $1 trillion in revenue, require cost changes to Medicare’s growth rate formula, and cut the Pentagon budget by $80 billion.

Is the Religious Right driving the fight?

At The Huffington Post, anti-evangelical curmudgeon Frank Schaeffer, as he is want to do, blamed the current debate on the “religious right”:

“The reality is that the debt ceiling confrontation is by, for and the result of America’s evangelical Christian control of the Republican Party. It is the ultimate expression of an alternate reality, one that has the mistrust of the U.S. government as its bedrock ‘faith,’ second only to faith in Jesus.”

We’ll spare you the rest of his diatribe.

Finally, is this debate really about racism against President Obama?

Believe it or not, there’s a race angle to this fiasco, as well.

At National Review, Andrew Stiles quotes Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D., Texas) as “strongly suggesting” racism against President Obama is at the root of Republican opposition to raising the limit. Said Jackson Lee:

“I do not understand what I think is the maligning and maliciousness [toward] this president. … Why is he different? And in my community, that is the question that we raise. In the minority community that is question that is being raised. Why is this president being treated so disrespectfully? Why has the debt limit been raised 60 times? Why did the leader of the Senate continually talk about his job is to bring the president down to make sure he is unelected?”

If the reader comments on the post are any indication, the congresswoman may have a point.

What do you think? Is the federal budget a moral document? If so, is it immoral to keep borrowing against the future? Or does the current controversy amount to just another racially motivated political attack against President Obama?

Who’s That Girl?

pop circumstance impaceIn a moment reminiscent of the funerals of Princess Diana and John F. Kennedy Jr., the world paused on Tuesday to mourn the loss of “the King of Pop,” Michael Jackson.

After the parade of stars crossed the stage at the memorial service, one big question lingered for millions of folks who watched — who was that unfamiliar Asian girl singing “Heal the World” like she was somebody we should know? Well, I’ve been grinning from ear to ear, because while the media’s been speculating over her identity, I instantly recognized her as the incredible vocalist Judith Hill, a fellow Biola University alumna.

Before we both graduated from Biola back in 2005, Judith’s powerhouse voice could be heard echoing off the walls of Crowell Hall at the Biola campus, while she studied under Dr. John Browning to get her degree in music composition. At Biola, she sang in an urban gospel group called Unveiled. I also remember Judith picking up gigs at local coffee shops and performing in events for Biola’s Conservatory of Music. She even appeared on a jazz CD for the school called Crossroads, where she sings the Doxology. And though Judith has been a Christian since she was young, her life has been marked by the challenges of finding her way socially given her biracial background — her mother is Japanese and father is Black. Her website reveals, “Depending on the social circle, she was labeled ‘too quiet,’ ‘too loud,’ ‘too black,’ ‘too Asian,’ or too something.” But the need to measure up to the world’s standards didn’t get her down for long. She goes on to say, “I had a pretty good life in my childhood. Me and God were friends since the beginning. That helped a lot.”

After college, Judith went off to France to sing background vocals for pop star Michel Polnareff. The tour opened her up to a host of experiences, enriching her life story and deepening the richness of her sound. After a brief hiatus from music to battle some personal demons of family issues and depression, this June she was back and stronger than ever, ready to join Michael Jackson on tour in London … that is until his fateful death.

Her strong appearance at the Michael Jackson Memorial has been praised by the industry and fans alike. Now Rolling Stone reports that Judith and her fellow members of the Michael Jackson “This Is It! Tour” will be a part of a tribute concert AEG is planning. Her mother Michiko Hill told Biola, “We didn’t expect this, but it seems like God put her there for a purpose — to bring hope,” she said. “We’re praying that the Lord will use her and she will be an ambassador for Christ through her music.”

Donald Gordon, a fellow Biola University alum who sang with Judith in Unveiled, says he isn’t surprised by her success. “Watching her sing at Michael Jackson’s funeral reminded me of singing with her in Biola’s chapel or at churches,” he told me. “Same Judith — no difference. I want people to know she’s just as passionate about her faith as she is about her music; it’s one and the same.”

Well, all I can say is Godspeed to you, Judith. Despite the sad circumstances, you stood as a shining light of talent and grace. In front of an audience of literally every recording-industry executive, musician, producer — not to mention much of America and the watching world via television — you held your own. And now millions are finding out about you and the fact that you serve an awesome God. Just keep the faith and remember your Biola friends when you blow up!

Want more of Judith Hill? Check out the performance below of her performing “One Love Forever” back in 2008.

15 Moments That Made Me Yell “Preach” During the MJ Memorial

The memorial, which dominated nearly every television station and monopolized the web and Twitterverse, was heavily religious in tone. While expressions of spirituality are not unusual for a funeral, given the vast audience of attendees and viewers, the messaging was shockingly Christian-centric.

Here are the top 15 moments from the memorial that made me want to scream, “You better preach!” at the television screen:

1. The entrance of Michael Jackson’s body as the Sandra Crouch-led choir sang the sharp lines of “We Are Going to See the King.” In a moment, the Staples Center was instantly transformed from the Lakers’ playground into a house of worship.

2. Pastor Lucious Smith’s opening speech that reminded us of Michael’s humanity. A close friend of the Jackson family, Smith said, “We remember this man by celebrating his life and all of the love that he brought to our own lives for half a century.”

3. Mariah closing out her oft-celebrated rendition of “I’ll Be There” (featuring Trey Lorenz) with a grateful “Thank you Jesus.” Her vocals aren’t what they used to be back in the day, but her faith might be stronger.

4. Queen Latifah’s recitation of Dr. Maya Angelou’s eulogy “We Had Him.” Angelou’s words always wrench the heart and stroke the soul. Yet again she left goosebumps on the packed crowd.

5. Lionel Richie taking a stadium full of people to church by singing Commodore’s classic “Jesus is Love.” The moving lyrics call on the name of the LORD saying, “And I know the Truth and His words will be our salvation. Lift up our hearts to be thankful and glad that Jesus is love.” (FYI — gospel favorite Smokie Norful and Heather Headley recently remade this song on Norful’s recent Live album).

6. Barry Gordy delivering the best tribute to Michael Jackson to date. The music legend recounted Motown memories to the crowd making us feel like we were all right there with Michael when he signed to the label at 10 years old.

7. Stevie Wonder saying “I do know that God is good” before singing a stirring medley of 1971’s “Never Dreamed You’d Leave in Summer” and 1974’s “They Won’t Go When I Go.” He’s just good, all day everyday.

8. Acting as the unofficial mayor of the Staple Center, Magic Johnson laughing over eating Kentucky Fried Chicken with Michael Jackson. After his KFC promo, he spoke directly to the family saying, “May God continue to bless this incredible family. We want to say that we’re praying for you. Remain strong.”

9. A very pregnant Jennifer Hudson commanding the stage with her powerful voice. Hudson was so good she made us momentarily forget about the controversy over her pregnancy. She brought the gospel into every note of Michael Jackson’s “Will You Be There.”

10. Reverend Al Sharpton honoring Michael’s ability to connect people around the world and push through boundaries with the power of his dream. In a moment that made the church say Amen — complete with a tambourine shaking in the background — Sharpton brought the crowd to its feet, saying, “I want his three children to know, wasn’t nothin’ strange about yo’ daddy. It was strange what yo’ daddy had to deal with.”

11. The children of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. empathizing with the Jackson family’s public loss, as only they could do. Martin Luther King III intoned his father, saying “The heavens must be proud of how Michael entertained the world. Then King’s daughter Bernice echoed the truth of Scripture, preaching, “My prayer is that no one and nothing, public or private, fact or fiction, true or rumored, will separate you from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus. […] It is only God’s love that will anchor you, sustain you, and move you to a higher ground above the noise of life.”

12. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas sharing the story of the Good Samaritan before an international audience. She said Michael Jackson called us all into public service with his record-breaking humanitarianism.

13. Smokey Robinson summing up our peace for today and hope for tomorrow. The Motown crooner said, “I believe so much in God. I believe that this is not it. We have life after this is done.”

14. Newcomer Judith Hill leading a stage full of children and celebrities in a performance of Michael Jackson’s “Heal the World.” Aside from our excitement over Hill being a strong Christian (and Biola University alumna!), the moment was fitting in that more than any other, it seemed to be exactly what Michael Jackson would have wanted.

15. Little Paris bursting into tears as she spoke about her father. The famous daughter touched the world’s heart and finally humanized Michael Jackson when she tearfully shared her feelings on her dad’s passing: “I just want to say, ever since I was born, Daddy has been the best father you could ever imagine. And I just want to say, I love him so much.”

It was a beautiful memorial, full of music, laughter, and fond farewells. Who knows what Michael Jackson’s spirituality was like at his death? But this celebration of his life certainly honored God. We are thankful for the blessing he was to the world of entertainment.