The Common Good

The Moral Default

Sojomail - August 4, 2011


"The disabled are human beings with dignity and shouldn't be discriminated against. It doesn't matter if we don't have an arm or a leg, we still have our same minds ... that's how we overcome our disability."

- Haji Nader, 49, who lost part of his right arm fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan and now directs a weekly radio program that profiles those who have overcome physical impediments.
(Source: USA Today)

+ Sign up to receive "Verse and Voice" - our daily quote and Bible verse e-mail

Hearts & Minds by Jim Wallis

The Moral Default

Get a free trial issue of Sojourners Get a free issue of Sojourners
Donate to Support Sojourners
Donate to support

The debate we have just witnessed has shown Washington, D.C. to be not just broken, but corrupt. The American people are disgusted watching politicians play political chicken with the nation's economy and future. In such a bitter and unprincipled atmosphere, whoever has the political clout to enforce their self-interest and retain their privileges wins the battles. But there are two casualties in such political warfare: the common good and the most vulnerable.

So how will vulnerable people fare under this deal? "The Circle of Protection," a diverse nonpartisan movement of Christian leaders, has been deeply engaged in the budget debate to uphold the principle that low-income people should be protected. But it is hard to evaluate a deal that averts a crisis when the crisis wasn't necessary in the first place. Over the past few weeks, our economy has indeed been held hostage as politicians negotiated the price of the release. Ultimately, I think most of us wish that no hostages had been taken in the first place, and this was no way to run a government or make important budget decisions.

The deal just passed by the House and Senate raises the debt ceiling with enough room that the issue won't have to be revisited until 2013. The first phase is a set of agreed-upon cuts of nearly $1 trillion over the next 10 years. The second phase sets up a committee of legislators that is tasked with finding another $1.5 trillion in cuts over the same time period. If the committee fails to come up with a deal, then a "trigger" is pulled and automatic cuts are enacted. These triggered cuts are designed to be distasteful enough that, in theory, both sides will stay at the table until they have an agreement.

It appears that the voice of the faith community was at least heard and made some difference in the outcome of the default debate. We met with the president and Democratic leaders Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, and all of them fought to defend low-income people as we asked them to do. The White House protected low-income entitlement programs from automatic cuts in the "trigger" and successfully defended Medicaid. We also pleaded for low-income people in meetings with Republican Paul Ryan and with the staffs of John Boehner and Mitch McConnell. They told us they agreed with the principle but did not uphold it in their final proposals. We hope and pray that the protestations of the faith community will work on the hearts of both Republicans and Democrats as the details of this plan are worked out.

Genuinely reforming federal programs, including entitlements, with a special eye to protect the most vulnerable, is something the faith community has supported, but slashing programs for the poor while exempting the rich from sacrifice is repugnant to our spiritual values and contrary to scripture. This plan could still go either way.

The most glaring problem with the deal is that it doesn't, at this point, include revenues. There is no balancing between spending cuts and tax increases, and this deal, so far, falls completely on the side of spending cuts. It is possible that revenues will be revisited in the new super committee, but given the insistence of a cuts-only approach by the Republican leaders, it is not clear how likely a more balanced approach will be.

Corporate tax loopholes for the very rich were protected, while the core safety net for the most vulnerable is still in great jeopardy. The private jet industry mobilized to protect its tax deductions; the most profitable oil companies in the country will continue to get their public money for offshore drilling subsidies. But programs like WIC and SNAP -- providing critical nutrition help for low-income mothers and their kids -- and malaria bed nets and vaccinations for children in Africa are threatened. If the wealthy are not asked to share in the sacrifice, then cuts will undoubtedly come from those who can least afford it. But if sacrifice is shared, we can both reduce the deficit and reduce poverty as our country has done before.

We heard from those inside the negotiations that the voice of the faith community was heard -- your voice mattered. The 18,202 people across the country who joined the "Circle of Protection" have shown that poor people do have a constituency looking out for them -- and that's what matters in these debates, according to the people involved in them.

This national debate about our priorities and, indeed, our character, is far from over. When all is said and done in any final deal, the faith community will be watching to see if the most vulnerable are being protected or savaged for the financial sins of the rest of us. If low-income people are not exempted from deficit reduction, the result will be a fundamental moral default. With your help, we will continue to remind our legislators to remember that God is watching them too.

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

E-mailE-mail this article to friends
FacebookShare this article on Facebook
CommentComment on this article on the God's Politics Blog


+ See what's new on the blog of Jim Wallis and friends

Basketball Underdogs: The Afghanistan National Team
by Hannah Lythe

Five years ago, Afghanistan re-entered international basketball when the county's Olympic committee decided to draft a team for the 2006 Asian Games.
+ Click to continue

Alabama Clergy Sue to Stop Anti-Immigrant Law
by Andrew Simpson

When the Alabama legislature passed their infamous, anti-immigrant law (HB 56), the religious community in the state immediately cried foul.
+ Click to continue

Blessed Are Those Who Mourn
by Duane Shank

I have gotten so used to stories of violence in the news every morning that I confess they don't move me as much as they should, or used to.
+ Click to continue

Palestinian Nonviolence: Muslims, Not Christians, Are the Leaders
by Sami Awad

The men and women organizing the protests each week in villages where land is being confiscated and the separation wall is being built, chaining themselves to olive trees so they don't get uprooted and lying in front of bulldozers are Muslims.
+ Click to continue

A Response to the American Enterprise Institute's Ad in Politico
by Tim King

Today, "Values and Capitalism," a project of the American Enterprise Institute, sponsored a full-page ad in Politico in response to the Circle of Protection.
+ Click to continue

Hidden Battles: A Story of Five Former Soldiers
by Hannah Lythe

Hidden Battles is a 65-minute documentary which follows a female Sandinista rebel, an Israeli officer, a Palestinian freedom fighter, and two American soldiers as they come to terms with their combat experiences.
+ Click to continue

No More Dirty Work! Clean, Green Jobs, Not Tar Sands Oil
by Rose Marie Berger

President Barack Obama will decide as early as September whether to light a fuse to the largest carbon bomb in North America.
+ Click to continue

Les Misérables Plays in Syria
by Gary M. Burge

I prefer my revolutions to be simple: A corrupt dictator/tyrant, an oppressed population, inspired reformers who risk their lives, calls for democracy, waves of marchers in the streets, background music from Les Misérables.
+ Click to continue

So, What's in The Deal?
by Tim King

Late last night it was announced that the president and congressional leadership reached a deal that should ensure that our country does not default on its debts.
+ Click to continue

Extremism, Terrorism, and the Attack in Norway
by Rev. Mae Elise Cannon

Similar to many of my Western counterparts, my first thoughts when I first heard about the attacks in Norway went to extreme Islamic terrorism.
+ Click to continue

It's Time For Us to Grow Up and Sacrifice
by LaVonne Neff

The other day the mail brought an advertisement for something I desperately need (or so the ad suggested).
+ Click to continue

Neocolonialism and Cowboys & Aliens
by Julie Clawson

Americans have a hard time knowing how to respond to the sins of our colonial past. Except for a few extremists, most people know on a gut level that the extermination of the Native Americans was a bad thing.
+ Click to continue

Saying Goodbye to Uncle John: My Memories of John Stott
by Jim Wallis

John Stott died this Wednesday. He was 90 years old. What many people don't understand is that he was the most influential 20th-century evangelical leader in the world, with the exception of Billy Graham.
+ Click to continue

Friday Links Round Up: Wealth Gap. Tattoos. The Horn of Africa.
by Jeannie Choi

Wealth Gap. Tattoos. The Horn of Africa. Here's a little round up of links from around the Web you may have missed this week.
+ Click to continue

Migrant Workers and The Grapes of Wrath Revisited
by Andrew Wainer

When John Steinbeck's classic novel The Grapes of Wrath was published in 1939, it caused a sensation. It won the Pulitzer Prize and was the best-selling novel of the year.
+ Click to continue

Liberty and Justice for Some
by Lydia A. Morton

In the wake of the tragic bombing in Norway this past weekend, we are left with an unsettling picture of the state of anti-Islamic sentiments in the United States.
+ Click to continue

Family Research Council Attacks Evangelical and Catholic Leaders
by Tim King

In response to Sojourners' radio ads about the budget debates, the Family Research Council's political action committee has launched radio ads in Kentucky and Ohio arguing that deficit reduction should cut programs that serve poor and vulnerable people.
+ Click to continue

The Conservative Radical: An Article by John Stott
by God's Politics Editor

"It seems to be a characteristic of the Anglo-Saxon mind to enjoy inhabiting the 'polar regions' of truth. If we could straddle both poles simultaneously, we would exhibit a healthy balance. Instead, we tend to 'polarize.'"
+ Click to continue

Buddhas Brought Back to Life in Central Afghanistan
by Hannah Lythe

Bamiyan is a central Afghan town, home to two monumental Buddha statues carved out of sandstone cliffs. In a zealous attempt to purge anything considered un-Islamic, the Taliban targeted these historic statues a decade ago when they occupied and controlled Afghanistan.
+ Click to continue


+ Sign up to receive our "Daily Digest" e-mail - the latest headlines on critical issues

Top Stories:

Anabaptist leaders advocate for poor in debt debate
Mennonite Weekly Review
Sojourners, a national Christian advocacy network, recently placed the advertisements in Ohio, Kentucky, and Nevada.

Christians, the debt and the poor
The Washington Post
A Christian group calling themselves the Circle of Protection recently met with President Obama, saying that they spoke for "Christians" and urging him to "protect programs for the poor" from budget cuts.

Kristof's Evangelicals
Religion Dispatches
It's true, many evangelicals performing humanitarian work around the world are well-intentioned. It's also true that liberals who deride the religious right agenda, and even the less firebrand version of evangelical "suppression of sin," have legitimate reasons for their criticisms that aren't religious prejudice.

"Sojourners in the news" articles are the most recent news clippings that mention Sojourners in any way - whether favorably or unfavorably. Though we provide the text on our site for your convenience, we do not necessarily endorse the views of these articles or their source publications.


Click Here!

Click Here!

Click Here!

Click Here!

Click Here!

Click Here!

Click Here!

Click Here!

Ready to redefine Happy Meal? Take the 10 bowl challenge!

Summer reading: Books by New York Times best-selling author Jim Wallis: The Great Awakening, God’s Politics, The Call to Conversion, Faith Works, and The Soul of Politics. Visit the SojoStore.

Scared of being 'left behind'? What does Revelation really teach us? Explore this question with Sojourners' four-part study guide, Christians and the Apocalypse. Use it this Sunday with your small group -- available online. Click here.

Christians and Islam: Do we share more than we realize? This new discussion guide looks at the shared history, theological similarities and differences, and hopes for social justice that both Christians and Muslims share. Download now.



Click Here!

GIVE TO SOJOURNERS: Donate now to support this voice for justice and peace.

GET THE MAGAZINE: Subscribe today

CONTACT US: General inquiries: | Advertising: | About Us

PRIVACY NOTICE: Sojourners won't trade, sell, or give away your e-mail address. Read our privacy policy.