A group of liberal religious leaders who believe America’s government has a “biblical mandate” to curb poverty met on January 15 at the National Press Club. Circle of Protection, as the coalition of church leaders is called, gathered to urge 2016 Presidential candidates to make poverty a primary focal point of their political platforms. While at the press club, Rev. Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners, stated, “It has to be unacceptable in the richest nation in the world for so many people to be poor. That’s all we’re saying.” But that isn’t quite all this collective Circle is saying.
On its surface-level, the collective mission is an admirable display of Christian concern for the well-being of our neighbors. However, the group’s advocacy to strengthen the nanny state and mandate wealth redistribution deviates from classical understandings of Christian social responsibility.
Guided largely by Jim Wallis’ Sojourners, Bread for the World, and Catholic Charities USA, the Circle also comprises liberal activists including Shane Claiborne, founder of the Simple Way, and Tony Compolo, author of Red Letter Christians. The group originated in the midst of the 2011 fiscal crisis in an effort to fight budget proposals to reduce our ever-expanding welfare programs and balance the federal budget. In 2013, more than 80 major religious leaders signed the group’s “A Pastoral Letter of Faith, Finances, and the Federal Budget,” which was sent to President Barack Obama and Congress to assert the immorality of budget cuts.
Also present at the press conference last week, Rev. David Beckman, president of Bread for the World, suggested churches and charities were not sufficient to feed the hungry, and that is why government entitlements were necessary to national leadership. “We can’t food-bank our way to the end of hunger. Virtually every church, every synagogue, every mosque in the country is trying to help people in need.” He continued, “The people who are involved in that work know that churches and charities can’t do it all. The government has to do its part. Government has to provide leadership.”
Essentially Beckman asserted that if the government focuses on wealth redistribution, then the impoverished will be able to help themselves and their families. Beckman said, “The truth is, poverty in America hasn’t been a priority for the president or Congress for 40 years. And it shows!,” He continued, “So by January 2017, at least, we have got to have a president who says it’s time for us to get serious about hunger and poverty and we’ve got to have in place a Congress that’s ready to engage with the president to pass serious bipartisan legislation.”
Rev. Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA, added, “If we’re not moved by the plight of children in our country, then I think we’re not in a very good place.” Wallis added, “You want their families to be healthy and whole. You want their kids to be raised up in ways that are working for them.”
Conservative Christians share Snyder and Wallis’ concern for the welfare of America’s families. However, we must also suggest that a major part of creating stability for children means defending and strengthening marriage. Children thrive best when raised by both a father and a mother, yet our friends on the Left continue to rally for the dismantling of the family unit. For conservative Christians, this is not compassion in action that will better children’s welfare.
In conclusion, Wallis stated, “You judge a nation by what’s happening at the bottom and not the top.” Wallis’ sentiments are surprising since “judge” is not typically a word the Evangelical Left likes to hear or use for that matter. But it seems Circle leaders believe advancing the nanny state is the moral choice. Yet, the Circle collection fails to acknowledge the immorality of indebtedness and national leaders’ accrual of debt on the backs of struggling middle class tax-payers.
As Circle of Protection raises the question, “What would Jesus cut?” IRD responds, “Whom would Jesus indebt?” As we have said, “The Good Samaritan did not use a government credit card.”