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“I tolerate with utmost latitude the right of others to differ with me in opinion without imputing to them criminality. I know too well all the weaknesses and uncertainty of human reason to wonder at its different results.” Thomas Jefferson
Charles Redfern - The Alternative Mainstream

Religious Leaders: End the Shutdown

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Is the government shutdown pro-life and ethical? Many religious leaders are saying no. One example: More than a hundred Catholic, mainline Protestant, and evangelical leaders signed a statement of protest, which is now filtering its way through the internet. See the full story here. Two especially salient paragraphs: 

We especially challenge those Members of Congress who call themselves pro-life to cease their political posturing on Capitol Hill. Shutting down the government in a futile effort to defund or delay the Affordable Care Act will hurt low-income pregnant women and infants who receive vital nutrition support. The Special Supplemental Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) will receive no additional funds during the shutdown.

There is nothing “pro-life” or Christian about taking food away from pregnant women and babies. It is hypocritical and shameful for those who tout their commitment to family values to show such callous indifference.

What’s more, a coalition of religious leaders are holding daily “Faithful Filibusters” on Capitol Hill, presenting biblical passages on the poor as they do so. See the fuller story here.  Note how the closure of national parks has ruined wedding plans. More important, note how the National Transportation Safety Board could not investigate a church bus accident. 

Then there are the three predictables and an enigma.  

The first predictable: Sojourners President Jim Wallis contends that the shutdown is unbiblical. His main point: 

The biblical purpose of government is to protect from evil and to promote the good — protect and promote. Government is meant to protect its people’s safety, security, and peace, and promote the common good of a society — and even collect taxes for those purposes. Read Romans 13 by the apostle Paul and other similar texts. The Scriptures also make it clear that governmental authority is responsible for fairness and justice and particularly responsible to protect the poor and vulnerable. Read Isaiah, Amos, Jeremiah, the Psalms, and even the book of Kings to see that God will judge kings and rulers (governments) for how they treat the poor. And it wasn’t just the kings of Israel who were held accountable for the poor, but also the kings of neighboring countries — all governments.

Go here for more. 

The second predictable: The rebuttal from Rob Schwarzwalder, vice president of the Family Research Council. Find that here. Wallis’s argument may be flawed (we’re all familiar with faulty reasoning for good causes) but Schwarzwalder only critiques his interpretation of one Scriptural text.

The third predictable: Some on the political left lay blame for the shutdown on an “evangelical cabal.” Read all about it in The Nation, here. So much for in-depth understanding and fair-mindedness. 

The enigma: The US Catholic bishops voiced concern a day before the shutdown began, writing this on September 30th (see full letter here): 

We urge wise bipartisan leadership and moral clarity in crafting a plan to ensure the government continues to operate and meet its responsibility to protect human life and dignity, care for poor and vulnerable people at home and abroad, and advance the universal common good. Additionally, responsibly completing a budget deal according to our principles allows Congress to continue the essential task of immigration reform.

They offered “moral criteria” for budgetary decisions: 

1. Every budget decision should be assessed by whether it protects or threatens human life and dignity.
2. A central moral measure of any budget proposal is how it affects “the least of these” (Mt 25). The needs of those who are hungry and homeless, without work or in poverty should come first.
3. Government and other institutions have a shared responsibility to promote the common good of all, especially ordinary workers and families who struggle to live in dignity in difficult economic times.

Another salient paragraph:

A just framework for future budgets cannot rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor persons. It requires shared sacrifice by all, including raising adequate revenues, eliminating unnecessary military and other spending, and addressing the long-term costs of health insurance and retirement programs fairly. As Cardinal O’Malley and Archbishop Lori explain in their September 26 letter, access to health care may also be compromised by recent threats to conscience rights in health care.

The final sentence alluded to a previous letter, interpreted by some to endorse a shutdown. Are the bishops sending conflicting signals? Perhaps, but the wording of the September 30th letter seems unambiguous: ” … to ensure the government continues to operate …”

Unanswered questions remain: How much longer will the US citizenry see the GOP as the more religion-friendly party? Perhaps it all hinges on the Democratic leadership, which is often tone-deaf to the desires of the most religious of the world’s industrialized nations. The Republicans are stumbling. Will the Democrats wake up to a potential constituency? Only time will tell.

Author: Charles Redfern - The Alternative Mainstream

Charles Redfern lives in Connecticut with his wife and son and has been a pastor for two decades. He writes The Alternative Mainstream, which gives news and commentary on spirituality, culture, and politics through the new evangelical lens (Christians need not be right wing thugs) — with occasional poetry and autobiography thrown in for fun. He also blogs for www.creedible.com, an online religious news magazine.

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