Last week, I stood in a circle with Christian leaders and others from across New York City in the basement chapel of Friendly Hands Ministry in the heart of Spanish Harlem.
Friendly Hands was started with a vision — a vision the Rev. Domingo Vasquez, a Pentecostal pastor, believes he received from God. While driving with passengers in his church van, Vasquez heard God's voice. Idling next to an abandoned, gated lot, God told him to go claim the unused property for God’s glory.
Vasquez wrestled with God, not knowing if he should actually get out of the van and “claim” the property. He sat in silence, while his passengers began to wonder aloud about what he was doing.
They asked, “Are you okay, pastor?”
Vasquez answered: “I’m thinking.”
He heard the voice again: “Go touch the gate and claim the property for my glory.”
After some back and forth with God, Vasquez got out of the van, awkwardly touched the gate and prayed, “God let your glory come.” One year later he signed the deed on the property.
Today, Friendly Hands Ministry is a key organization in Spanish Harlem, serving the needs of one of the poorest communities in New York City. The ministry offers a feeding program, advocacy services for immigrants, and direct services for families in need.
The folks from Friendly Hands shared with the faith leaders standing in that prayer circle last week that they are in danger of losing a massive portion of the funding they depend on to provide desperately needed services for the community.
You see, for the past few years our nation has been embroiled in a philosophical fight over a profound question: “What kind of America do we want our country to be?”
That question is now playing itself out in dollars and cents, and the repercussions of the outcomes of this debate will not be limited to the winners and losers of philosophical discussion. The outcomes will have devastating effect on real communities and real families — real people made in the image of God.
The philosophical fight was waged in Congress throughout the earlier part of this year and came to a head in July when two visions of America locked horns over the question of how the deficit would be reduced. Deficits are moral issues, but how we reduce them is also a moral question.
Do we want to be the kind of America that faces an historic deficit and chooses to extend $690 billion in tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of our citizens while cutting $650 billion in aid to children who need special education, student aid, and additional resources for low-income schools?
Do we want to be the kind of America that protects $44 billion in subsidies for oil and gas companies while cutting $47 billion in energy grants to help poor families heat their homes in the winter?
Right now the wealthiest Americans are wealthier than they’ve ever been and people living beneath the poverty line make up a larger slice of the American pie than they have since the Great Depression.
Is that really what we want? Really?
On August 2, 2011 the powers came to a compromise. They cut $900 billion dollars right off the top and charged a Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (aka “the Supercommittee”), comprised of six Republicans and six Democrats, to come back to congress on November 23 with a plan to cut the deficit by another $1.2 trillion.
But on Monday, we learned that the Supercommittee had failed to produce any proposal at all.
It seems Republican members of the committee insisted on protecting tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans while insisting upon cutting food stamps, Medicaid and other measures that keep people out of poverty.
Over the next month, we must all join hands and create a Circle of Protection around the poor.
The consequence of the Supercommittee’s failure is that across the board budget cuts will be triggered in January 2013. According to the dea,l 50 percent of those cuts must come from defense, while programs that help the poor are exempt from the cuts. Yet, even now, buzz around the Capitol reveals there are major efforts to shield defense spending from those cuts and remove the shield from SNAP/Food Stamps, Medicaid, WIC, Head Start, and international humanitarian aid.
Last Wednesday, I stood in that circle in the Friendly Hands basement and today I continue to stand in solidarity with all those who encircle the poor.
Let us all look toward the Capitol and with one voice say: “Do not balance the budget on the backs of the poor. Not on my watch!”
Lisa Sharon Harper is the Director of Mobilizing at Sojourners. She is also co-author of Left, Right and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics and author of Evangelical Does Not Equal Republican ... or Democrat.