The Common Good
May 2011

What Would Jesus Cut?

by Jim Wallis | May 2011

Tough choices are now upon us -- but they must be smart, courageous, and compassionate. 

The painful combination of high unemployment, falling incomes, and rising deficits has put the nation in a crisis situation.

The painful combination of high unemployment, falling incomes, and rising deficits has put the nation in a crisis situation. Tough choices are now upon us -- but they must be smart, courageous, and compassionate. Unfortunately, the choices being made by those in power seem more political and ideological than responsible.

In its budget proposals this spring, the House is not cutting spending where the real money is, such as in military spending, corporate tax cuts and loopholes, and long-term health-care costs. Instead, it is cutting programs for the poorest people at home and around the world while defending the largesse handed out to big corporations and military contractors. This is not genuine fiscal conservatism; it's just political.

These budget-cutters' priorities are to protect the richest Americans and abandon the poorest. The proposed House cuts are full of disproportionate cuts to initiatives that have proven to save children's lives and overcome poverty, while leaving untouched the most corrupt and wasteful spending of all American tax dollars -- the Pentagon entitlement program. This is not fiscal integrity; this is hypocrisy.

U.S. military spending is now about half of the world's military expenditures and is more than the military budgets of the next 15 countries combined. To claim that all that money is necessary for genuine American security is no longer credible. To say it is all more important than bed nets that prevent malaria, vaccines that prevent deadly diseases, or child health and family nutrition for low-income families is simply immoral.

To prioritize endless military spending over critical, life-saving programs for the poor is to reverse the biblical instruction to beat our swords into plowshares. The proposed budget cuts would beat plowshares into more swords.

Bread for the World made a list of the top 10 cuts that would hurt poor and hungry people at home and abroad. The total amount of those cuts is $5.177 billion. For President Obama's "surge" in Afghanistan, the U.S. sent an additional 30,000 troops. The estimated cost of keeping one soldier in Afghanistan for one year is now $1 million. Preserving the funding for the top 10 cuts that would most hurt poor and hungry people would cost about as much as 5,000 troops in Afghanistan.

This is the simple math. Bring 5,000 troops home from Afghanistan and save funding for Head Start; low-income energy assistance; the Women, Infants, and Children nutrition program; Hunger Free Communities Grants; McGovern-Dole food aid programs; the Development Assistance Account; the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief; the Global Health and Child Survival Account; and the Peace Corps. Most of these programs have enjoyed significant bipartisan support in the past because they are cost-effective and save the lives of children and families. Is every item of Pentagon spending more important to our well-being and security than school lunches, child health, and early education programs?

Sojourners' supporters and partners recently placed a full-page ad in Politico titled "What Would Jesus Cut?" It was signed by 28 leaders of churches and faith-based organizations across the theological and political spectrum. The ad's purpose was to ask our legislators to defend programs that save the lives of thousands of children and help low-income people survive. Tough choices are upon us, but faith leaders are saying that abandoning the most vulnerable should not be among our choices.

The ad called for Congress to defend international aid that saves lives from pandemic diseases, critical child health and family nutrition programs, proven work and income supports, and support for education, especially in low-income communities. In mid-March, we produced orange WWJC? bracelets that were delivered to every member of Congress. An ad has become a campaign.

Of course, the Bible doesn’t mandate specific programs or prescribe a specific level of funding for them. We haven't been trying to get Jesus to be the head of any budget committee, or think that he would ever want that job! The ad was to simply make a point about our faith and our values. Since Jesus is concerned about our action (and our inaction) when it comes to the poor, we should also be concerned. If these programs were being reformed to be more effective or replaced with better strategies to help the poor, that would be another issue; instead, they are just being slashed. Because our biblical values demand that we both serve and defend the poor, we want to make sure that legislators consider how their actions will impact the most vulnerable people.

As budget and deficit reduction debates continue this year, the community of faith will form a circle of protection around poor and vulnerable people who have no one else to speak for them. This is part of our vocation as people of faith.

Jim Wallis is editor-in-chief of Sojourners.

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