Every day now, politicians and pundits debate what obstruction of justice technically means, and ask how resilient our political institutions are to a presidency that almost daily goes beyond “unprecedented.” But while we all wait for the next crisis to hit and anticipate the new media cycle about it, we dare not miss what people are faith are always supposed to be most concentrated on — the poor and the vulnerable who are facing unprecedented threats from funding and policy decisions that lie just ahead.
There are no easy answers or strategies. But there is our call to go deeper in our faith, to center ourselves in God instead of news cycles, to pray for God’s wisdom and presence, to fast in order to help focus our hearts and minds, and to be ready to advocate — to speak the truth to power — for those whom Jesus calls “the least of these.”
I believe prayer, fasting, and advocacy are all spiritual disciplines — and ones that we need to link together right now. And a number of faith leaders are joining together to call our brothers and sisters in our diverse faith communities to tie these three spiritual disciplines together “for such a time as this.”
What kind of time is this? I am going a little into the policy weeds here, but these policies will have real consequences and we all need to get our heads around them.
We are living in a time when vulnerable people in the United States and around the world are facing threats from this administration and this Congress that has few precedents in recent American history. Here are just a few of them:
- The president’s budget blueprint proposes deep cuts to foreign assistance — even as four countries in Africa and the Middle East are falling into famine.
- The health care plan President Donald Trump supports and the House GOP passed would cause as many as 24 million fewer people to have health insurance by 2026 and cut $880 billion over the next decade from Medicaid — which serves primarily the poor and disabled.
- The president’s full budget proposal, to be unveiled next week, is expected to propose as much as $800 billion worth of cuts to mandatory spending programs over the next decade. These cuts are in addition to the cuts in the health care bill, and are expected to be primarily aimed at those that help the poor, such as Medicaid (again), the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps), Supplemental Security Income, which is for poor people who are elderly or disabled, and child nutrition programs, to name just a few.
- The House GOP is expected to recommend $400 to $500 billion worth of cuts in its own 2018 budget, aimed at many of the same programs, and hope to pass these cuts under budget “reconciliation” rules ( a horrible use of a good word) that would allow them to pass through the Senate without a single Democratic vote.
- The Department of Justice just announced a new directive that requires U.S. prosecutors to charge offenders with the most serious crimes and longest sentences possible, especially in the case of nonviolent drug offenders, who can be subject to draconian mandatory-minimum sentences. This return to the “war on drugs” mentality of the 1980s and 1990s is likely to exacerbate the crisis of mass incarceration and ultimate political disenfranchisement of people of color, and provide a profit windfall to the private prison industry.
- The Departments of Justice and Homeland Security have begun enforcing immigration laws with a new zeal and ferocity that reflects Attorney General Sessions’ proclamation to border control agents that “this is the Trump era.” Just yesterday, the acting director of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement said immigration arrests under Trump are up nearly 40 percent. The statements from the administration and the behavior of ICE agents are sowing fear in immigrant communities and driving people further into the shadows.
- The administration has made statements, hired officials, and issued executive orders that plainly reflect an Islamophobic ideology. While the executive orders on refugees and travelers from some Muslim countries have been tied up in court, Muslims in America — both citizens and immigrants — have never felt so isolated and afraid.
In the book of Esther, Mordecai tells Esther that God has put her in a position of influence “for such a time as this.” As the wife of the Persian king, she has access to the one person who has the power to save the Jewish people from destruction.
We find ourselves in a similar moment — with a president and Congress pushing for deep cuts to programs that are vital to hungry, poor, and vulnerable people in the U.S. and around the world, and pursuing other harsh and harmful policies that make entire ethnicities and religions uniquely vulnerable. In order to block the worst cuts and policies, we are going to need a “circle of protection” to surround the most vulnerable — and, in terms of numbers of votes needed to stop the most dangerous and damaging things, that circle will need to be bipartisan. We have the power to influence our elected officials, but that power needs to be rooted deeply in our faith — and call upon political leaders to exercise theirs.
Starting with a three-day fast May 21-23, we will observe a day of fasting on the 21st of each month through until the end of the 115th Congress in December 2018. Again, we are fasting for the protection of poor and vulnerable people from funding cuts and other harmful policies.
Budgets are moral documents — they reveal our priorities, who and what is important, and who and what are not. As Christians, we must speak out and stand up against these dangerous policies and cuts. From the example of Esther, we call for a time of public fasting, praying, and petitioning political powers to change or block such unjust actions. It is our faith in a God, who calls us to protect the most vulnerable, that calls us for such a time as this.
This is a fast before God to bring us closer to God, to whom we turn in prayer and hope to change hearts — our hearts, the hearts of our lawmakers, the heart of the nation. We will pray and fast, each of us in our own ways, for mercy, compassion, wisdom, strength, and courage as we challenge and even obstruct the critical budget and policy choices about who and what are most important.
"Is not this the fast that I choose," says the prophet Isaiah, "to loose bonds of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?” Through the sustained spiritual disciplines of prayer and fasting we will prepare ourselves for action and advocacy, speaking out clearly and publicly against budget cuts and policies that would be harmful to the hungry, the poor, and the vulnerable.
I ask you to sign up* for this #ForSuchATime fast, and then share it with others you believe might want to join — family, friends, and pastors. By signing up, you'll receive daily Scripture and prayers to sustain you as you fast and advocate for others. You can also download a fasting and advocacy toolkit here, which contains various options for fasting and a short 101 on contacting your elected representatives.
May God bless each of us during our upcoming fast and move many people to join us in prayer, fasting, and advocacy.
*Editor's Note: This campaign has now ended and we are no longer accepting sign-ups