Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Circle of Protection

[For readers of Lutheran Confessions, this declaration deserves close and careful attention. It is signed by our bishop, the head of all of our major social service agencies, and has incredibly wide ecumenical support, even from leaders of denominations who we might otherwise differ from widely. Let's let this document and the ethic it reflects resound widely.]

A Circle of Protection:
A Statement on Why We Need to Protect Programs for the Poor

In the face of historic deficits, the nation faces unavoidable choices about how to balance needs and resources and allocate burdens and sacrifices. These choices are economic, political—and moral.

As Christians, we believe the moral measure of the debate is how the most poor and vulnerable people fare. We look at every budget proposal from the bottom up—how it treats those Jesus called “the least of these” (Matthew 25:45). They do not have powerful lobbies, but they have the most compelling claim on our consciences and common resources. The Christian community has an obligation to help them be heard, to join with others to insist that programs that serve the most vulnerable in our nation and around the world are protected. We know from our experience serving hungry and homeless people that these programs meet basic human needs and protect the lives and dignity of the most vulnerable. We believe that God is calling us to pray, fast, give alms and to speak out for justice.

As Christian leaders, we are committed to fiscal responsibility and shared sacrifice. We are also committed to resist budget cuts that undermine the lives, dignity, and rights of poor and vulnerable people. Therefore, we join with others to form a Circle of Protection around programs that meet the essential needs of hungry and poor people at home and abroad.

1. The nation needs to substantially reduce future deficits, but not at the expense of hungry and poor people.
2. Funding focused on reducing poverty should not be cut. It should be made as effective as possible, but not cut.
3. We urge our leaders to protect and improve poverty-focused development and humanitarian assistance to promote a better, safer world.
4. National leaders must review and consider tax revenues, military spending, and entitlements in the search for ways to share sacrifice and cut deficits.
5. A fundamental task is to create jobs and spur economic growth. Decent jobs at decent wages are the best path out of poverty, and restoring growth is a powerful way to reduce deficits.
6. The budget debate has a central moral dimension. Christians are asking how we protect “the least of these.” “What would Jesus cut?” “How do we share sacrifice?”
7. As believers, we turn to God with prayer and fasting, to ask for guidance as our nation makes decisions about our priorities as a people.
8. God continues to shower our nation and the world with blessings. As Christians, we are rooted in the love of God in Jesus Christ. Our task is to share these blessings with love and justice and with a special priority for those who are poor.
Budgets are moral documents, and how we reduce future deficits are historic and defining moral choices. As Christian leaders, we urge Congress and the administration to give moral priority to programs that protect the life and dignity of poor and vulnerable people in these difficult times, our broken economy, and our wounded world. It is the vocation and obligation of the church to speak and act on behalf of those Jesus called “the least of these.” This is our calling, and we will strive to be faithful in carrying out this mission.

Circle of Protection Signatories
Daniel Garcia
International Coordinator, Kairos Prison Ministry International
Wes Granberg-Michaelson
General Secretary, Reformed Church in America
Ken Hackett
President, Catholic Relief Services
Ambassador Tony Hall
Executive Director, Alliance to End Hunger
Dick Hamm
Executive Director, Christian Churches Together in the USA
Bishop Mark S. Hanson
Presiding Bishop, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Herman Harmelink III
Ecumenical Officer, International Council of Community Churches
Mitch Hescox
President, Evangelical Environmental Network
Bishop Thomas L Hoyt, Jr.
Senior Bishop, Christian Methodist Episcopal Church
Bishop Howard J. Hubbard
Bishop of Albany and Chairman, Committee on International Justice and Peace, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
Sister Mary Hughes, OP
President, Leadership Council of Women Religious
Joel Hunter
Senior Pastor, Northland: A Church Distributed
The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop, The Episcopal Church
Michael Kinnamon
General Secretary, National Council of Churches of Christ
The Very Reverend Leonid Kishkovsky
Director of External Affairs and Interchurch Relations, Orthodox Church in America
Heather Larson
Director of Compassion & Justice Ministries, Willow Creek Community Church
Leith Anderson
President, National Association of Evangelicals
Dr. Carroll A. Baltimore Sr.
President, Progressive National Baptist Church
David Beckmann
President, Bread for the World
Geoffrey Black
General Minister and President, United Church of Christ
Bishop Stephen E. Blaire
Bishop of Stockton and Chairman, Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
Bishop Charles E. Blake
Presiding Bishop, Church of God in Christ
Bishop John R. Bryant
Senior Bishop, African Methodist Episcopal Church
J. Ron Byler
Executive Director, Mennonite Central Committee United States
Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS
Executive Director, NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby
Patrick Carolyn
Executive Director, Franciscan Action Network
Very Rev. Thomas P. Cassidy, SCJ
President, Conference of Major Superiors of Men
Rev. Peg Chemberlin
President, National Council of Churches of Christ
Luis Cortes, Jr.,
President, Esperanza USA
Sr. Gayle Lwanga Crumbley, RGS
National Advocacy Center, Sisters of the Good Shepherd
Dave Evans
U.S. President, Food for the Hungry
Joseph Flanagan
National President, National Council of the U.S. Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Inc.
Dr. Rudi Maier
President & Executive Director, Adventist Development and Relief Agency
John McCullough
Executive Director and CEO, Church World Service
A. Roy Medley
General Secretary, American Baptist Churches USA
Rich Nathan
Senior Pastor, Vineyard Columbus
Stanley J. Noffsinger
General Secretary, Church of the Brethren
John A.Nunes President and CEO, Lutheran World Relief
Gradye Parsons
Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
Bishop Sharon Zimmerman Rader
Ecumenical Officer, Council of Bishops, United Methodist Church
Robert Radtke
President, Episcopal Relief & Development
Bishop James C Richardson, Jr.
Presiding Bishop, Apostle Church of Christ in God
Commissioner William A. Roberts
National Commander, The Salvation Army
Samuel Rodriguez
President, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference
Bishop Monroe Saunders
Presiding Bishop, United Church of Jesus Christ (Apostolic)
Ron Sider
President, Evangelicals for Social Action
Very Rev. Thomas H. Smolich, S.J.
President, The Jesuit Conference
Rev. Larry Snyder
President, Catholic Charities USA
Richard Stearns
President, World Vision United States
Ervin R. Stutzman
Executive Director, Mennonite Church USA
Stephen J. Thurston
President, National Baptist Convention of America
R. Lamar Vest
President and CEO, American Bible Society
Daniel Vestal
Executive Coordinator, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship
Berten A. Waggoner
National Director, Vineyard USA
Bishop George W.C. Walker
Senior Bishop of the AME Zion Church
Jim Wallis
President and CEO, Sojourners
Gary Walter
President, Evangelical Covenant Church
Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins
General Minister and President, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Rt. Rev. Elijah Williams
General President, The United Holy Church of America
Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner
Co-facilitator, National African American Clergy Network
Dr. Aidsand F. Wright-Riggins III
Executive Director, American Baptist Home Mission Societies

Additional Signatories
Bishop Claire S. Burkat
Bishop of Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Bishop Minerva CarcaƱo
Bishop of the Desert Southwest Conference, United Methodist Church
Kate Kooyman
Christian Reformed Church
Rev. Dr. Ken Booker Langston
Director, Disciples Justice Action Network
Michael Livingston
Director, Poverty Initiative, National Council of Churches of Christ
Carlos Malave
Associate for Ecumenical Relationships, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
Wendy McFadden
Executive Director and Publisher, Brethren Press, Church of the Brethren
Rev. Dr. Stephen Sidorak
General Secretary, General Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns, United Methodist Church
Jim Winkler
General Secretary, General Board of Church and Society, United Methodist Church


  1. This statement should include "that we prayerfully consider whether the structure of assistance provided by government agencies have accelerated the rates of poverty and social dissolution, and if found to be so, to work to change these programs to provide true financial security and a path to self-sufficiency."

  2. Can you help me understand that a bit better?

  3. Over the last 40 years we have spent hundreds of billions of dollars on a myriad of social programs to help the poor, including direct financial assistance. But we now have a permanent underclass, with dependence on public assistance passed to each new generation. Illiteracy and insufficient education to participate in the global economy is at staggering levels in the underclass, as well as illegitimacy and social dysfunction. If we truly want to do God's work to assist the poor, honesty demands we consider whether the present structure of this assistance is actually counterproductive to improving improving the lot of the poor. I believe that is more essential than just protecting levels of funding of government bureaucracies that putatively are charged with "ending poverty".