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. The ads assert that it is the private individual, not government, who has a responsibility to the poor. The ads say, "Jesus didn't instruct the government of his day to take the rich young ruler's property and redistribute it to the poor. He asked the ruler to sell his possessions and help the poor. Charity is an individual choice, not a government mandate."
This could put the speaker of the House, a Catholic, in a difficult position. Catholic social teaching instructs that the government does have a direct responsibility to the poor and that private charity is only one of the ways that Christians express concern for "the least of these." This ad sets itself in direct opposition to that teaching and the values that it comes from. The speaker was already in a tough spot when the Catholic bishops came out with a strong critique of the House plan, but now he has a powerful political organization calling for him to ignore Catholic social teaching all together.
Most denominations in the country acknowledge some sort of role for government to ensure that basic needs are met for the poor, as evidenced by the substantial list of signers of the "Circle of Protection" statement. These groups might disagree on how to implement those values from a policy perspective, but they at least agree on the premise that when it comes to concern for the poor, there is a role for private charity and government action.
This also sets up the Family Research Council in opposition to major evangelical anti-poverty groups like World Vision and the Salvation Army. While just a few years ago, "compassionate conservatives" were at the forefront of increasing effective aid to address pandemic diseases and extreme poverty, the Family Research Council has been calling for cuts to USAID's anti-poverty work, which would hurt groups like World Vision and the Salvation Army.
Sometimes, budget cutters have good intentions, but are misinformed and don't realize what they are cutting and who those cuts will affect. For example, during the 2011 budget process that we just completed, international funding for grants that fight human trafficking were cut by almost 24 percent, and domestic funding was cut by about 22 percent. This funding is an essential part of the fight against human trafficking and makes it much harder for groups like International Justice Mission do their work. But these are the results of budget plans that place the burden of deficit reduction on those who can least afford it.
Our hope is that Speaker Boehner will work to ensure that Catholic teaching concerning the poor is upheld in any deal to avoid default. Others are hoping that he changes his values all together.
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