It's time for spiritual escalation. The extreme budget cuts proposed to critical programs that save the lives, dignity and future of poor and vulnerable people have crossed the line. They aren't just bad policy decisions; they are a sign of moral failure. But the devastating consequences of what has been proposed has united people of faith and conscience. And you can join us.
This is about ideology, not fiscal responsibility. The budget cutters are not going to where the real money is; they're going to where poor and vulnerable people are -- people who don't have the voice and clout to fight back. But many of us have decided that we will.
Over the past few weeks, I have personally felt in my heart a call to fast and pray about these issues during Lent, and to turn to God for wisdom, help and direction. As I talked to other leaders, I found that I am not the only one. Former Ambassador Tony Hall called and told me that fasting and prayer had been on his heart, too. In 1993, he fasted for 22 days in response to similar cuts. Now, almost 20 years later, with the stakes even higher and more lives at risk, a broad circle of faith-based and secular organizations have organized to form a "circle of protection" around vulnerable people. So I am joining Ambassador Tony Hall, David Beckmann of Bread for the World, ONE, American Jewish World Service, Meals on Wheels, Islamic Relief and a broad coalition of many others to fast, pray and act.
While following this budget debate, you might be wondering: What happened? How did we get here? First, we saw the proposed budget cuts to many critical programs that directly impact the lives and survival of the poorest people -- both at home and around the world. Life-saving and life-changing initiatives that previously had bipartisan support and were proven to be cost-effective successes are now on the chopping block. But enormous military expenditures, corporate subsidies, tax breaks and loopholes have all been left alone. No attention has been paid to the long-term challenges of Medicare and Medicaid. It was not spending on poor people that created this deficit, and these cruel cuts in programs that help poor people will do little to get us out of our deficit.
Now the budget debate continues to get worse. Plans are underway to single out programs for low-income people and cut them the most. The Republican Study Committee wants to radically scale back all programs for hungry and poor people, cap the programs and prevent their expansion. Congressman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the premier Republican budget cutter, claims that the safety net has become a "hammock." So those who are already hurting will now hurt even more. We are moving from neglecting the poor to targeting the poor. Theologically, this is an assault against the very people God specifically instructs us to protect, and whose well-being is the biblical test of a nation's righteousness.
Our nation and its leaders need to do some soul searching. All of us need to do some soul searching. The attacks coming out of Congress on programs that help poor and vulnerable people are unprecedented in my lifetime. Now, more than ever, people of faith need to speak and act. Statements of concern about the poor in the budget and deficit debate have now been released by the United States Council of Catholic Bishops, Catholic Relief Services, World Vision, the National Association of Evangelicals and the National Council of Churches. Collectively, they represent or are supported by more than 140 million Christians across the country. We need to turn to God for such a time as this, and seek God's wisdom and power, which is far beyond politics. Christians, Muslims, Jews and other people of concern have decided to fast. I hope you will join us in your own way, so we can act together during this important time. Perhaps our prayer, fasting and actions will remind the politicians that God judges nations by how they treat the most vulnerable.
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.