Today there is a new campaign. As legislators in Washington, D.C. debate cuts in the federal budget, Christian leaders around the country are posing the question, "What Would Jesus Cut?" We simply want to make sure the poorest and most vulnerable are cared for ... as Jesus said: "When you do it unto the least of these you do it unto me."
Just to put things in perspective. Consider this one proposed budget cut of $450 million in contributions to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Malaria, and Tuberculosis. If passed, approximately 10.4 million bed nets that help prevent malaria will not reach people who need them; 6 million treatments for malaria will not be given; 3.7 million people will not be tested for HIV; and 372,000 tests and treatments for tuberculosis will not be administered. I'm not one to place a ton of hope on Capitol Hill, but it does seem all of us could do a little damage control. After all, cutting spending on mosquito nets that can save lives while continuing to spend $200,000 a minute on the military should raise some flags of a different sort.
In fact, U.S. military spending is now 56 percent of the world's total military expenditures, and that is more than the military budgets of the next 20 countries in the world combined. Even though the $533 billion budget is the elephant in the room and the gushing, bleeding wound of America's deficit, it has remained the sacred cow.
But folks are beginning to whisper. I'm not sure about sacred cows making good hamburgers, but I do know that military money could make some good schools. And the Bible I read gives a powerful image of beating "swords into plowshares" -- taking things that have brought death and converting them into things that bring life. It seems the world may be poised and ready for that kind of conversion.
So it's not a bad moral gauge -- What would Jesus do? Who would Jesus bomb? What would Jesus cut? The Jesus who loved the poor, challenged the rich, made friends with enemies, and healed the sick. So let's ask it -- WWJC? And let's hope the politicians who claim to follow the Christ who carried good news for the poor will ask this little question as the debate goes on.
I don't think I've seen anyone illustrate the crisis of the federal budget better than my friend, Ben Cohen, the dessert-man and founder of Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream. He uses his favorite cookies as a measuring unit to show how the dollars stack up. Check it out:
Martin Luther King, Jr. said 40 years ago that every time a bomb goes off overseas, we can feel the second impact of that bomb as we watch our schools crumble and our health care system go up in flames. As Dr. King said, "A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death."
So let us hold up our glasses of milk and toast to another world -- Christians and non-Christians, Muslims and Jews -- all who would rather see ice cream dropped from planes rather than bombs, and let us put our hands together to build that world -- a world where the schools have enough money and the militaries have to sell cookies for their uniforms.
Shane Claiborne is a Red Letter Christian and a founding partner of The Simple Way community, a radical faith community that lives among and serves the homeless in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia. He is the co-author, with Chris Haw, of Jesus for President.