God Is Watching

The markets are watching, the Republicans are watching, the Democrats are watching, the media are watching, the pollsters and pundits are watching. The public is watching and is disgusted with Washington, D.C.

When it comes to the bitter and ultra-partisan battles over the budget, the deficit, and the fast-approaching deadline for America to avoid defaulting on its financial commitments, the whole nation and even the world is watching.

But God is watching too.

Others are watching to see how their self-interests will benefit in the final deal. Or they are watching to see who's up and who's down, who will get the political win, and whose election chances will be better afterward.

Forty-eight hours after President Obama mentioned corporate jet tax deductions, and suggested they might not be as important as scholarships for low-income kids going to college for the first time, a headline appeared in the New York Times reading, "Industry Set for Fight to Keep Corporate Jet Tax Breaks." Wow. That was pretty fast. The ones who will win the current battle over the budget and deficit are the ones who are watching. As the book of Proverbs teaches, the poor are shunned, but the rich have many friends.

Agribusiness is ready to respond if anyone challenges the subsidies that go to millionaire "farmers" living in Manhattan. The oil and gas industry reacts to questions about whether $2.5 billion in offshore drilling subsidies might be less needed than $2.5 billion slated to be cut in home heating oil assistance for low-income families. The Pentagon is watching and ready to invoke national security interests, or question the patriotism of anyone daring to cut its budget. A bipartisan commission came up with $1 trillion in military cuts over the next 10 years that wouldn't hurt our national security, but it is unlikely that more than a fraction of their recommendations will ever be taken.

Republicans are watching and are ready to push the nation even closer to the brink of default if anyone suggests that revenue from the wealthy be a part of the solution. Democrats are watching, but, with a few notable exceptions, they don't say the word "poor" out loud anymore. Anyone who could end up paying more in taxes is watching, even though taxes as a percentage of GDP dropped from 20 percent in 2000 to just over 14 percent in 2010. The average effective tax rate for the wealthiest is now only 17 percent of their income, and many corporations do not pay any taxes at all.

At the same time, nutrition programs for low-income mothers and children are at risk of being cut, as well as children's health programs, education for low-income students, early childhood development, and the most effective initiatives in the world, which are dramatically reducing both disease and hunger. These programs are at the risk of being cut because nobody has been watching out for them.

But the religious community is changing this: It formed "A Circle of Protection" to defend the most effective anti-poverty efforts both at home and around the world. Today, Sojourners has a full-page ad in Politico with the message "God Is Watching" as a part of our series of print ads on the budget. This week our radio ads, recorded by local pastors, are playing in Nevada, Kentucky, and Ohio to remind politicians of the moral issues at stake. Faith leaders say God is biased in such matters, and prefers to protect the poor instead of the rich, and instructs the faithful to do the same. This is class warfare now, and when it breaks out, the Bible suggests that God is on the side of defending the poor from assault.

In the past, our country has successfully reduced deficits and poverty at the same time. There were bipartisan agreements to defend the means-tested programs for low-income people against cuts. And for the past 25 years, every automatic budget cut mechanism has exempted core low-income assistance programs. But not this time. Neither the Republican House, the Democratic Senate, nor the Obama White House has clearly and publicly committed to protect the poor and vulnerable, even though religious leaders have persistently pressed them all to do so. It's a moral imperative that we do so again today. So now, faith leaders are watching the political leaders. And we believe God is watching us all.

Jim Wallis is the author of Rediscovering Values: A Guide for Economic and Moral Recovery, and CEO of Sojourners. He blogs at www.godspolitics.com. Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.