On Easter weekend, I will break my fast. I will have spent almost four weeks drinking only liquids. But, as is often true of fasts, what has been gained is far greater than anything given up. More than 36,000 people and 28 members of Congress joined the fast in their own ways. Millions of people heard the message that a budget is a moral document. Politicians have begun to feel the pressure of those in the faith community who believe that we should not balance the budget at the expense and pain of poor people.
In the FY 2011 budget, the lives and well-being of vulnerable people were compromised. Wasteful military spending was protected while some effective anti-poverty programs at home and abroad were cut. While these cuts crossed moral lines that should never be crossed, analysis by organizations such as Bread for the World and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows that these cuts could have been much worse if the original House budget proposals had been adopted. Pressure on Congress and the administration has been crucial in helping to protect important programs for vulnerable people. Continued pressure will be even more important over the next weeks, months, and years.
Our work to speak out for "the least of these" in the budget process has only just begun. The FY 2012 budget plans that passed the House last week show that the attacks on the poor are getting worse. The big-money interests are using their lobbyists to get what they want out of the budgets. And it is up to people of faith and conscience to push back.
Christians are speaking out against politicians who claim that funding for education for our children and health care for our seniors is wasteful spending. People of conscience are telling politicians that spending $107.3 billion on a misguided strategy in Afghanistan is unacceptable, and military spending is where they should start with the budget cuts. Growing movements of people are calling for corporate tax dodgers to be held accountable. For example, the Boeing Corporation earned $9.7 billion in profits over the last three years, but they did not pay any taxes. General Electric reported $26.3 billion in profits between 2006 and 2010 to their shareholders, but they also did not pay any taxes. These corporations are the real face of "theft" in American life today.
Programs for poor and vulnerable people are not being cut because we can no longer afford them; they are being cut because these programs are simply not a priority for most politicians. Even worse, cuts to programs that serve the poor and vulnerable are being directly used to finance tax cuts for the wealthy and for corporations -- not to reduce the deficit as was promised. And programs that serve vulnerable people are on the chopping block first because we lack political leaders with the moral courage to make better decisions -- in both parties.
The past four weeks of fasting have been personally transformative for me. Fasting has reminded me of the pain that so many in our country and world experience when they go hungry every day. They don't get to end their "fast" at Easter. Most of all, I have been encouraged by all of those who have participated. Too often, injustice is perpetuated because good people just stand on the side lines or feel disempowered to act. The tens of thousands of people who joined in the Hunger Fast for a Moral Budget and added their own passion, creativity, and energy to the movement have confirmed for me that these cuts will not stand. While sometimes the way seems long, this Lent has been spiritual preparation for a sustained political fight. Next week, Sojourners will announce a new coalition of leaders and organizations who will work to grow a movement of Christians and other allies of faith and conscience who oppose unjust and immoral budgets.
On a more personal note, the fast has made me feel fuzzy at times, but also more focused. In coaching both of my sons' Little League baseball teams while fasting, I have had to be careful not to send my players to the wrong base! But my focus on the moral imperative of a decent, fair, and just common life together -- as demonstrated by our budget choices and priorities -- could not be clearer. My two sons, Luke and Jack, understand this message also. Other than their concerns for their Dad's health, they have been very attentive, supportive, and even articulate about the issues at stake in their own ways. I want their generation to understand this message because they will be the ones to build a future with more promise and hope than what we see in our currently confused political moment. And it is my trust in the priorities of the generation represented by my sons, and Sojourners' younger staff and constituency, that gives me the strength to persist with or without my daily bread. The fast will soon be over, but the battle for our common good has just begun.
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.