The Common Good

Fiscal Cliff: Time to Challenge the 'Mighty on Their Thrones'

We must be very careful about bringing theological judgments to political ones. Most policy decisions are prudential judgments — compromises between two political parties, neither of which represents the kingdom of God. But sometimes, political ideologies come to a place where they so clearly threaten the well-being of so many and the very foundations of the common good that they must be challenged by theology. This is a moment like that. 

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U.S. Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) speaks during his weekly news conference Dec. 20. Alex Wong/Getty Images

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Yesterday, Speaker John Boehner brought two bills to the House floor – a tax bill that failed and a spending cut bill that passed. Both fail the basic test of protecting the poor and vulnerable. While it does not look like even the spending bill has much of a future, what it portends for the future of the deficit reduction debate is grim. The package taken together would enact harmful cuts in food assistance, health care, and tax credits that help struggling families make ends meet. 

Cuts to SNAP would take $41 in food assistance away from a family of four each month – a real difference to those living on the edge. The cuts to health insurance subsidies and Medicaid would leave millions uninsured. The cut in tax credits would push 1.5 million Americans — and 800,000 children — in working families into poverty. And, the wholesale elimination of the Social Services Block Grant would cut adoption services, child care help to working mothers, and community-based supports to the elderly so they can live in their homes rather than nursing homes.

The extreme political ideology that now seem to be controlling the Republican caucus in the House of Representatives, as evidenced by their “plans” to solve our fiscal problems are directly contrary to the religious convictions of our many faith traditions and must be challenged as such. The proposals being advanced continue to provide enormous benefits to the wealthiest members of our society while threatening the harsh assaults against our poorest and most vulnerable neighbors. This a moral inversion of the values espoused by Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and all people of conscience regardless of religion.

Fiscal conservatism is one thing, and it can be accomplished in ways that protect the poor. But, the current Republican proposals and their hardline commitments show none of those concerns and are decidedly very bad news to the poor. As an evangelical Christian, I believe that the Gospel of Christ is to be "good news to the poor," and that those who say they follow Jesus should be those who bring that good news to the poor.  

Mary, the mother of Jesus, was speaking directly to us when she announced the meaning of our coming Savior, whom she carried in her womb when she said, “He has put down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of low degree; he has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.” Because the Republican budget proposals fill the rich with good things and send the hungry away, it is time to challenge the mighty on their thrones. 

Today, I challenge our political leaders to read the Christmas story of God come to earth and born in a manger as a child of working-class parents, and then reexamine their own budget priorities. Especially at Christmas, it is time for Members of the Congress and the Senate, who also express personal religious commitments — Evangelical, Protestant, Catholic — to reflect upon their faith and their theology and re-examine their political ideology. 

And it is time for our elected leaders from both parties to explicitly commit to the principle of protecting the poor and vulnerable in any agreement that is reached to avoid the fiscal cliff.

It’s time to take out our Bibles and to read the Christmas story over the holiday season.

See Sojourners new ad up now in Speaker Boehner’s District:

Jim Wallis is the author of Rediscovering Values: A Guide for Economic and Moral Recovery, and CEO of Sojourners. His forthcoming book, On God's Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned about Serving the Common Good, is set to release in 2013. Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.

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