On Capitol Hill and beyond: Bear witness to the poor and vulnerable[Episcopal News Service] I went to Capitol Hill to talk with legislators last week, and came away with the first two lines of William Cowper's famous hymn running through my mind: "God moves in a mysterious way; His wonders to perform."
The Episcopal Church's Office of Government Relations scheduled seven meetings for me with legislators and legislative staff. I wanted to talk about poverty and women's issues, but found that all that the legislators and their staffs wanted to talk about was the 2012 federal budget. As it turned out, however, our interests were one and the same; many of the programs that affect the most vulnerable Americans -- the poor, women, children, and the elderly -- are encompassed in approximately $3 trillion worth of cuts that the House of Representatives proposes to make over the next 10 years in programs that help low-income individuals and their families.
In February, the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church passed a resolution that "urges all Episcopalians in the United States to engage in advocacy for a responsible federal budget that expresses the shared moral priorities of the nation." After my visits on Capitol Hill, I am more committed to this work than ever, and hope you will consider joining me. We have a significant moral priority as Episcopalians, as Christians, to bear witness on behalf of the poor, the vulnerable and the marginalized. The baptismal promise to strive for justice and peace among all people makes the choice between cutting programs for the poor and elderly or raising taxes an easy one.
Consider that the House Budget Committee's Fiscal Year 2012 budget resolution would make at least two-thirds of its cuts from low-income programs, including a 20 percent reduction in Medicaid, a nearly 19 percent reduction in education programs, and devastating reductions in food stamps and housing assistance. It would also eliminate funding for health-care reform provisions, thereby keeping health insurance out of reach for millions of people.
It is tempting to believe that a church with our membership cannot influence the course of legislation. Those who disagree with our political choices say so all of the time. But last week a legislative assistant told me that he loves it when faith-based organizations come to Capitol Hill. "It brings us good luck," he said.
Well, I don't think it is luck. I think that what the Episcopal Church and other faith-based organizations bring is moral courage. We reinforce the notion that it is essential to speak up with passion and commitment for all of those neighbors whom we, as followers of Jesus, promise to love as deeply as we love ourselves. Three of the people I met with on the Hill spoke to me about their faith, and one was a preacher's son.
I saw a lot of people with heart in those Capitol Hill offices, but they need encouragement. I met people who are bringing all that they are, and giving everything they've got, to the task at hand. They need to see the rest of us doing the same. The soul of America is at stake in this budget. The people of God need to speak up, now.
The Episcopal Church gives us a way to lift our voices on Capitol Hill. The Episcopal Public Policy Network, a program of the church's Office of Government Relations, will connect you via e-mail to your legislators in Washington and keep you updated on the federal budget and other issues on which our General Convention and Executive Council have taken a stand. You can take action on the budget by visiting EPPN here. You will find a sample letter and an "action page" that make it easy to contact your legislators. EPPN also has compiled additional resources about the budget and Episcopal Church policies. Please join me in this advocacy.
While I was in Washington, I visited my own congressional representative from Michigan's ninth district. He told me that the budget is the most important concern on the Hill right now, and that all of the other issues in which I am interested, like the education and women's issues, are "somewhat on hold." Some of those issues hang in the budget balance, and others won't see the light of a legislative day until Congress has resolved the budget and moves on to other matters.
We have, in this budget debate, a huge dilemma, and one that in which I believe God is mysteriously moving. Right now, a big dose of God's wonder is just what Capitol Hill needs, and our prayers and voices can help deliver it.