The Common Good

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We've got a problem in this country. I know it, you know it, and the politicians know it too, but most won't even say it out loud: poverty. We're bracing ourselves for next month's release of the 2011 numbers -- most economists predict that we're looking at the highest rates of poverty in fifty years.
There is hardly a more controversial political battle in America today than that around the role of government. The ideological sides have lined up, and the arguments rage about the size of government: how big, how small should it be? Some famously have said government should be shrunk so small that it "could be drowned in a bathtub."
Consequently, a number of Christian groups, including the Evangelical Sojourners, Catholic bishops, and even some nuns on a bus, have confronted Republicans on these policies which seek to build wealth on the backs of the poor. Still, these remain voices in the wilderness. For the most part, conservative Evangelicals still offer unquestioning support for the Republican party. But the fact is, a major change has gradually taken place in the GOP. Gone is the focus on "compassionate conservatism" with its legislation to help the poor, and in its place is an Ayn Rand philosophy that despises compassion as weakness, and idealizes the super-rich. So while Republicans may continue to use religious vocabulary in order to appeal to their conservative Christian base, they are nevertheless promoting values that are diametrically opposed to those of Jesus.
I recently asked Lisa Sharon Harper, Sojourners Director of Mobilizing and founding executive director of New York Faith & Justice, what broke here heart. Her answer? The Paul Ryan Plan.
A few weeks ago during his talk at the Wild Goose Festival, Sojourners founder Jim Wallis made an important point that is easily forgotten in the heat of the culture wars: The terms "right" and "left" are political categories, not religious categories. And whenever we try to cram our faith into one or the other, we wind up distorting not only our religion but our politics as well.
A budget is a moral document. That phrase was coined by the faith community and has become a refrain in the ongoing debates over deficits and budgets. But in this week's House vote on extending the Bush-era tax cuts, we see one more example of the priorities and principles of the broader GOP budget and how they apply to the rich and to the poor. Because of this, we must conclude that the Republican budget is an immoral document -- in the way it treats the poor. I certainly don't believe that all our Republican lawmakers came to Washington to hurt poor people, but it's time for some of them to challenge the dominant forces in their party and face the consequences of such indefensible choices.
This is one of the clearest examples of a fundamental moral problem in our society -- the protection of an institution has become more important than the lives of innocent children.
This week, I and many U.S. Christian leaders signed on to a letter, concerning a re-introduced version of Uganda's Anti-Homosexuality Bill, a bill which perpetuates some alarming and hateful language about the LGBT community in Uganda, and indeed, around the world.
Interfaith Worker Justice is organizing faith-labor partnerships, and Sojourners and Wild Goose are inquiring about justice nationally. By Their Strange Fruit is asking hard questions about now we treat our neighbors. Give Us Names is working on displacement in Colombia, and Occupy Our Homes is asking why government-funded banks displace people from their homes without negotiation or warning instead of offering them opportunities to refinance.
When was the last time you saw a millionaire sweat it out at the check-out counter? When was the last time you saw someone making $800,000 per year call the neighbor to see if her teenager could babysit? When was the last time you saw someone making $500,000 a year rejoicing that they can finally afford to buy a pre-owned Ford Escort made in the late 1990s?