A speech by Jim Wallis at a Rally in Washington DC yesterday.
I want to begin with what the Religious Community said all last year: A budget is a moral document! That was our clarion cry in the 2006 budget debate. If some political leaders haven't got the message yet - just wait until this year.
You see, we believe that fiscal choices, economic choices are also moral choices and, for us, even religious choices. Who is important? And who is not? What is important? And what is not? Who do we most value? And who don't we value at all? They are fiscal choices, but also moral and religious matters.
Jesus actually got uncharacteristically judgmental about these kinds of choices. He said, "As you have done to the least of these, you have done to me." Are you paying attention yet, members of Congress?
Because of moral pressure - much of it from the religious community who every day care for the poor that our national politics neglect - last year's budget almost didn't pass. It took a fast trip home from Dick Cheney to pass the budget in the Senate and, in the House, the final budget measure only passed by a few votes. Some elected officials were making new moral choices. But the White House and the Republican leadership seem not to have gotten this message from the religious community, by the look of the new budget they now propose. I thought we were supposed to be their base?
You see a budget process is just a series of moral choices: tax cuts for the wealthiest, or services for the poorest? Congressional pork and earmarks, or investments in the common good? Searching for security through endless expenditures for war, or seeking to end the insecurity of poverty to make our nation stronger? Ignoring the costs of deficits for our children's children, and making the most vulnerable pay the price of fiscal responsibility; or sharing the burdens of financial responsibility more fairly by not asking the poor to carry the heaviest load?
These are all moral choices. Those with the power to make budget proposals have made their moral choices; and so will we. They are choosing to bestow more windfalls of benefit on their wealthy donors - that's their moral choice. We will stand up for the low-income families that we know and serve and whom they will again ignore - no, assault - that's our moral choice.
They are choosing the corruption of rewarding the special interests who pay for them - that's their moral choice. We will defend those who have the most need - that's our moral choice. They will place no limits on money for wars that have no end, and weapons systems that have no need - that's their moral choice. We will not let them cut vital programs of nutrition, health care, child care, and education to pay for their bad choices - that's our moral choice.
Here is what the biblical prophet Isaiah says about their moral choices: "Woe to the legislators of infamous laws, to those who issue tyrannical decrees, who refuse justice to the unfortunate and cheat the poor among my people of their rights, and make widows their prey and rob the orphan."
Last Dec. 14, 115 Christians who work with the poor every day, interrupted their works of compassion to come to the Capitol-to pray, preach, and prophesy. And we were taken to jail. Mary Nelson, from Chicago, looked up at the congressional staff and members looking out their windows and invited them, "Come walk with us."
John Perkins, 75-year-old evangelical and Black church leader who has spent his life in faithful ministry with poor people, told the story of his mother's death from a nutritional deficiency when he was seven months old. John said he was breastfeeding at the time and thought for years that he had killed her. Only later, he said, did I realize that a white society doesn't care about the nutrition of poor black women and their families. And now they're trying to cut food stamps from this budget. Then he emotionally said, "This is my last stand," before he was arrested.
Due in part to the pressure from religious community - we saved food stamps from cuts. Now, the proposed cuts stamps are back. People should know that many of those arrested last December voted for George Bush, some twice. Now they get arrested to protest his moral choices. They were his base, they are no longer.
The media noted that the words religious, Christian, even evangelical, are no longer just alongside the words abortion and gay marriage, but now alongside words like food stamps, health care, and education. Get used to it. When the politicians pat faith-based organizations on the back for doing such a wonderful job, they are now turning around and saying, "Stop hurting the people we work with and care about!" Come walk with us.
After the vote, Republicans e-mailed me, "I just want you to know that I voted against this budget and am listening to the religious community." Bless you. Overcoming poverty must be a bipartisan commitment and a nonpartisan cause. The religious community will ask Democrats to stand firm against this budget violence against poor people, to make the moral choice of favoring the poor over the rich - which is also a biblical choice. Democrats must get religion on the budget.
And we will ask Republicans: Follow your conscience, not your party. Help your party make better moral choices than favoring the rich over the poor - stop turning the biblical wisdom upside down - and then having the nerve to claim that you are the religion-friendly party! It's time for Republicans to get religion on this budget.
We've had a year of organizing around the budget in the religious community. We are watching this debate very carefully. We will hold our elected officials accountable in 2006 and 2008 for their votes on this budget - whether they vote for or against poor families.
If you think we were aroused last year, we were just getting started. Budgets are moral documents and we will fight this budget. And that's our moral choice.