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At US Capitol, Christians protest budget cuts

Christian leaders pray and protest the federal budget cuts President Trump has proposed outside the U.S. Capitol on March 29, 2017. Photo courtesy of Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World

WASHINGTON (RNS) With ashes on their foreheads, sackcloth draped around their necks and the U.S. Capitol as a backdrop, Christians leaders used the words “evil” and “immoral” to describe the federal budget cuts President Trump has proposed and many Republican lawmakers favor.

“It is a time for lamentation,” said the Rev. David Beckmann, explaining the symbols of grief the clergy brought to Capitol Hill on Wednesday (March 29).

Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, a Christian nonprofit that works to combat hunger, gathered with more than two dozen representatives of national churches outside the Capitol complex for a day of protest.

They said their understanding of the Bible compels them to speak out against planned reductions in programs that protect the poor and the environment, provide foreign aid and fund the Justice Department’s civil rights division.

Rev. Barbara Williams-Skinner speaks during a demonstration by Christian leaders opposing President Trump’s proposed budget at the U.S. Capitol on March 29, 2017. RNS photo by Lauren Markoe

How can we tolerate cuts to the civil rights division, asked the Rev. Barbara Williams-Skinner, co-chair of the National African American Clergy Network, “at a time when hate has gone on a rampage in America?”

Trump’s budget blueprint, released earlier this month, calls for deep cuts in social spending and for a significant budget increase for the military. The spending bills that make up the actual federal budget are voted upon by the House and Senate.

After taking turns at the podium, clergy and lay supporters walked to the Senate side of the Capitol, where they placed a waist-high wooden cross on the grass and prayed for the nation’s vulnerable and the strength to confront lawmakers with whom they disagree.

“We ask that you would give us courage, that you would give us boldness, that you would help us to speak truth to power,” the Rev. Leslie Copeland-Tune prayed on behalf of the gathering.

“There cannot be a budget that puts children in danger by defunding after-school programs,” continued Copeland-Tune, head of the Ecumenical Poverty Initiative. “Empower us as we leave this space and go forth to meet with our members of Congress.”

Together, three times, the group sang the hymn “Ubi Caritas,” which translates to “Live in Charity,” and they lifted their arms toward the Capitol dome in a closing prayer.

The coalition of faith leaders, which calls itself the “Circle of Protection,” planned an afternoon of lobbying House and Senate members representing both parties.

Several in the group — which includes representatives from Catholic, mainline Protestant, evangelical, Orthodox and black churches — noted that these denominations often differ from one another on doctrine and tone.

But they are united on the biblical mandate to care for the vulnerable. Many times they recited from the Gospel of Matthew 25:3. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourners magazine, thanked Rep. Joe Kennedy — a Democrat from Massachusetts and the only lawmaker to attend the event — for invoking the verse during the debate earlier this month over the failed GOP health care bill.

“In times of division and discourse in our government, our faith steadies us,” Kennedy, who is Catholic, told the gathered clergy. “It is our connective thread, and a common compass.”

About the author

Lauren Markoe

Lauren Markoe has been a national reporter for RNS since 2011. Previously she covered government and politics as a daily reporter at the Charlotte Observer and The State (Columbia, S.C.)

5 Comments

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  • The verse is rendered “poor in spirit,” which is not quite the same as poor in material circumstance. Perhaps some judicious pruning is due with respect to the federal budget, but we never seem to be able to find a truly objective and balanced approach to it. However, speaking as an evangelical of conservative bent, it is as much or more the responsibility of wealthy churches and Christian individuals to care for the poor and downtrodden as it is the government’s. Significantly, the Beatitudes are not addressed to the governing authority, but the disciples of Christ.

  • it is time to start taxing all religions. They’ve gone far too long without paying for their opinion in government.

  • Amen Brother! If religious depend on the government to fulfill Christ’s admonition to serve the poor, then those religionists need to pay taxes on their intake in order to provide the government with sufficient resources to do their job for them!

  • ““We ask that you would give us courage, that you would give us boldness,
    that you would help us to speak truth to power,” the Rev. Leslie
    Copeland-Tune prayed on behalf of the gathering.”

    That prayer by Rev. Copeland gets gets it partially correct! In place of her petitioning the government to provide tax dollars required to take care of the poor, she would be more in line with the Christ-way, were she to instead, pray for the courage and boldness in challenging their fellow Christians to follow Christ’s admonitions and sacrufuce both their time and financial resources to care for the poor themselves. Her constituency alsos need boldness and courage to “speak their truth to power”–the power” that power being those wealthy Christians who find it easier to advocate for government’s care of the poor, rather than turning loose of their own abundant resources!

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