Last night, President Obama concluded his Debt-ceiling speech by reminding the American people that “America … has always been a grand experiment in compromise.”
“As a democracy made up of every race and religion, where every belief and point of view is welcomed, we have put to the test time and again the proposition at the heart of our founding: that out of many, we are one,” he said.
But last week, in a phone conference with reporters, a group of Christian leaders who had met with the president earlier about the budget debate seemed to frame the issue as a matter of social justice for the poor, whom they suggested were being neglected in favor of the rich and middle class.
Matthew 25 to say, ‘Whatever you do for the forgotten middle class you do unto me.'” He said the group reminded the president that “we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers.”, from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, for example, said politicians in Washington have “twisted
, co-facilitator of the National African American Clergy Network, affirmed Ramirez’s statement that Matthew 25 is not about the middle class.
“I reminded [President Obama] and all of us that the moral choices about the budget must be made in the context of over 2,000 verses of scripture on God’s concern for the poor, the orphan, the widow, and the fatherless, that they be held harmless in the actions of government,” said Skinner.
“Washington is talking about almost everything except how these decisions affect the poor and vulnerable. The silence has been pretty deafening,” said John Carr, Executive Director of the Department of Justice, Peace, and Human Development at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
But Galen Carey, Vice President of Government Relations at the National Association of Evangelicals, struck a more moderate note, saying they were pleased that the president “acknowledged that we face a fiscal crisis.”
“We need to get our fiscal house in order is one of the messages that we also delivered. We are not among those who want to kick the can down the road. We want our nation’s leaders to come together to fix the financial and fiscal problems which we face,” said Carey.
“The president indicated his commitment to do that, and, most importantly, to do that in a way which does not solve our problems on the backs of the poor,” he said.
Carey said the president “acknowledged the good will of the American people and of leaders in congress” in wanting to help those who are in need.
“Part of the challenge we discussed with the president is how we help the American people and our leaders to understand the human impact. …This is an issue of stewardship and we need to come together,” Carey said the group told the president.
“With families in particular, we are seeing the widening gap of poverty, including now many professional people,” explained, president of the National Baptist Convention of America.
“In our communities, we are seeing teachers that are on food stamps, many of them ex-teachers. We’re seeing lawyers that are on food stamps. We’ re seeing young college graduates that cannot get jobs that are on food stamps, and poverty is taking a new face. The new face of poverty is being seen by someone in almost every family that we are speaking to on Sundays and meeting in our communities,” said Thurston.
UrbanFaith asked if the signatories risk alienating middle class voters by appearing to pit their concerns against those of the poor.
John Carr answered first, saying he may have contributed to this perception.
“I don’t think we’re pitting them against each other. What we’re asking is that the shared bipartisan focus on how this affects the middle class needs to also include, and, in fact, take a particular focus on the poor,” said Carr.
Jim Wallis, president and CEO of Sojourners, said the 2,000 verses in the Bible about the poor, poverty, widows, and orphans don’t mean that God doesn’t care about other people.
“It’s more that we don’t pay attention. We pay more attention to people that seem more important. Politics clearly pays more attention to the wealthy who have more influence than their one vote by far … and both parties want to lure the middle class,” said Wallis.
“The poor don’t vote very much and they don’t make donations, and so Washington D.C. just doesn’t pay attention to poor people,” he said, adding that their job as Christian leaders is to put those names and faces before the American people.
“Bishop Thurston reminded us of the new poor,” said Skinner. “He reminded us of middle class people who never expected to lose their jobs or to have their jobs go overseas. As a middle class person, I’d like to know that I’m in a country that if I get in that kind of straight, if I need food stamps, or if I need Medicaid or Medicare that it’s there.”
“Rather than seeing it as pitting middle class people against the poor, our conversation with the president was about the new poor and about the need to have a country defined by the way it treats all people who happen to find themselves in poverty.”
A study published today by the Pew Research Center indicates that median wealth of white households is 20 times that of black households and 18 times that of Hispanic ones.
“These lopsided wealth ratios are the largest since the government began publishing such data a quarter century ago and roughly twice the size of the ratios that had prevailed between these three groups for the two decades prior to the Great Recession that ended in 2009,” Pew’s report said.
What about you? Has this recession impacted you and/or your loved ones to a greater degree than previous ones? Are members of your family that never expected to receive government assistance receiving it now? How do we balance economic stewardship with God’s heart for the poor and vulnerable?