Years ago, the member communions of the National Council of Churches declared that a budget is a moral document. By that we meant that governments must be guided by moral principles when we put a budget together.
As a former senator and man of faith from Minnesota, the late Hubert Humphrey, taught us to say, the moral test of government is how it treats those who are in the dawn of life, the twilight of life, and in the shadows of life. This is the moral test that faces us today in the passing of a new federal budget. As our rich and powerful nation emerges from a harsh economic downturn, we must be keenly aware of our moral responsibility to build budgets that will support those who have lost so much. A budget shows the priorities of a nation. Who gets left in and who gets left out reveals the kind of character our country has.
Why should Christians care about what the national budget does to the poor? Jesus understood his ministry as one which called on the community, again and again, to respond to the poverty around them. In Luke 4 Jesus says, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me for [the Lord] has anointed me to preach good news to the poor." These are words from Isaiah 61, and after reading them, Jesus announces that that very day, these words were coming into being. These words of Isaiah were words spoken to the king -- the governmental structure of his day. Jesus says my ministry is about announcing good news to the poor by calling on the nations of the world to do the justice that is good news to the poor. The church has not always recognized the extensive presence in the Bible of the call to economic justice in our national life. Sometimes we have gotten so concerned about our personal lives that we have neglected this broad community question.
I am so honored to be with all the Christian leaders who are part of the Circle of Protection. These leaders have joined together to say that we will not neglect our Lord's call, the biblical call for national attention to the poor, for a moral turning of the nation towards the poor. If we've forgotten to read Luke 4, if we've forgotten to follow Christ's call, today we stand together to call on all Christians to join us in reclaiming Christ's call to be a moral nation, just as Isaiah did of the king. Just as Christ announced in Luke, today we want to proclaim that the Spirit of the Lord is upon those who will preach good news to the poor. Despite the economic setbacks of the last five years, we continue to live in an age of abundance. We pray for those who will lead us toward a moral budget.
Rev. Peg Chemberlin is president of the National Council of Churches.