On April 4th, the global community commemorated the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and remembered that 43 years ago he was on his way to Washington, D.C. for the Poor Peoples' March to bring a message to lawmakers on behalf of the poor. Today, as co-facilitator of the National African American Clergy Network, I reaffirm Dr. King's message and implore congressional leaders and the administration to view the budget as a moral document of our nation's core values. No one doubts the need for deficit and budget cutting measures. Yet, with almost 35 percent of African-American children living in families that struggle to put food on the table, I urge congressional leaders to provide moral leadership and reorder our nation's budget reduction priorities in ways that do not fall disproportionately on African-Americans.
As we make choices and set priorities on what programs to cut based on our shared sacrifices, the main issue in the budget and deficit reduction debate is the question of what kind of nation we want to be. For moral leaders, including the many members of Congress and the administration who are rooted in faith, the issue is also about what the role of government is. To those who say the churches should do more, I have just one response. With black unemployment at 16 percent, or at nearly twice the national average, the 65,000 African American churches today, serving nearly 20 million regular African-American churchgoers, are already maxed out in their ability to address issues of poverty and food insecurity caused by the economic recession.
Today, according to a recent survey done by the Public Religion Research Institute, 62 percent of Americans and 71 percent of young people believe that one of the biggest problems in this country is that more and more wealth continues to be held by just a few people. 58 percent of Americans believe that the federal budget is a moral document that reflects national priorities. Cutting the budget on the backs of the poor, vulnerable, sick, and children, without spreading the sacrifices to the wealthy is simply not worthy of a great nation like ours. African American clergy leaders join our brothers and sisters in the broader faith community in calling for Congress and the administration to listen to the American people and make more balanced budget and deficit reduction choices.
Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner is co-facilitator of the National African-American Clergy Network and co-founder and president of the Skinner Leadership Institute.