US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Christian leaders call for "Circle of Protection" in budget talks

By Elizabeth Lefebvre | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

The budget resolution—and its effects on the poor—has the potential to be the defining moral mark of the Obama administration. The question is: Will they pay attention to the most vulnerable among us while attempting to solve this crisis?

Coming from a background in volunteerism and social justice, I have developed friendships with many of the people likely to be affected by cuts to social services and other programs aimed at reducing poverty. I was pleased to find that Christian leaders from across the nation met with President Obama Wednesday to ask for a “Circle of Protection” surrounding programs that serve the poor and vulnerable in the face of the ongoing budget crisis. A broad spectrum of religious leaders, such as the National Association of Evangelicals, the National African American Clergy Network, and the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, provided a clear message to the president in the face of polarizing discussions in Washington: There exists a fundamental moral principle to protect the vulnerable in the budget.

One member present at the meeting with President Obama was Bishop Ricardo Ramirez of Las Cruces, New Mexico, there representing the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Bishop Ramirez, along with his fellow religious leaders, stressed the words of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew: What you have done for the least of us, you have done for me. Ramirez and the other representatives were not there to advance any personal or organizational agenda, but rather to make sure the administration focuses on the essential moral principle of placing the poor first.

“We are not interested in which party ‘wins’ [in the budget talks],” Ramirez said, “but rather on who is most likely to lose.”

The hungry, the jobless, the hopeless—these are the people who need a voice in Washington, stressed Ramirez. This era of recession has created a new face of poverty, as college graduates and lifelong middle class workers join the lengthening ranks of unemployed in our nation.

Washington has little political motivation to pay attention to the poor. People without an income or who struggle to pay rent or put food on the table won’t be contributing campaign dollars. Many people lack the access or resources to vote, especially in the face of new voter identification laws. As Ramirez and the other leaders sought to remind the administration: We must pay attention to the poor, for they are the face of Christ.