The Religious Right - a demographic so closely associated with the Republican Party that it is difficult to tell the difference between the two- marked the close of 2005 by completely abandoning the poor by either endorsing the president's budget (a budget that cuts services for the "least of these") or by offering their tantamount support by staying silent as Republican leaders slashed funding for anti-poverty programs.
The budget was opposed by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the National Council of Churches USA. Catholic bishops wrote the Congress that:
We urge you to remember that the federal budget is more than a fiscal plan; it reflects our values as a people. Budget choices have clear moral and human dimensions. A just society is one that protects and promotes the fundamental rights of its members--with special attention to meeting the basic needs, including the need for safe and affordable health care, of the poor and underserved. In these difficult times, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops urges you to work for a budget that does not neglect the needs of the "least of these" in our nation and the world.
The president's budget - as adopted in late December by Congress - will continue the process started in 2001 of cutting vital human services (such as health care programs for children) - at the same time new tax breaks for millionaires are phased in.
The "pro-life" United States Conference of Catholic Bishops was joined by "pro-choice" denominations such as the United Church of Christ and United Methodist Church in declaring the budget to be immoral.
...the Washington-based Family Research Council urged its members to support the House budget bill.
Tim Wildmon, president of the Mississippi-based American Family Association, has been pressuring retailers to make more explicit references to Christmas, and said his 3 million members aren't galvanized by issues like federal spending policy. "The gospel message is about individuals helping individuals," said the son of AFA founder Donald Wildmon. "I don't see it in the Bible where it's the government's responsibility to take care of everyone." Besides, he said, "the budget bores people."
The Republican Party-aligned Institute on Religion and Democracy is funded by Republican Party activists. IRD staffer and former 2004 Bush campaign worker John Lomperis used the same spin on the IRD web site:
Wrapping a quintessentially partisan political issue in the messianic language of Advent and Christmas, top officials of five mainline Protestant denominations have joined to urge Congress to "vote down the FY '06 Federal Budget." The five insist that "there should be no compromise" regarding proposed spending "cuts" that might save $35 billion to $50 billion over the next five years (out of federal spending totaling almost $14 trillion over the period). They "pray that Congress will use this Advent season for purposeful reflection and in so doing conclude that the compromises required are unfair."
IRD Interim President Alan Wisdom commented: "This misuse of the Advent message to score political points is offensive. Nothing in the Gospel of Jesus Christ prescribes how one should vote on a complex document like the federal budget. These church officials, claiming to be `representing close to 20 million followers,' never even bothered to consult those church members. The members would likely disagree on the federal budget. But the vast majority would agree that the good news of this season centers on the birth of Jesus Christ, not on government spending patterns...."
The IRD's Wisdom observed: "For these officials of declining denominations, unquestioning defense of every penny spent on the messianic welfare state is a matter of infallible doctrine. They do not understand that differing estimates of the public good, and compromises among those holding the differing estimates, are the very essence of politics. Therefore, they have no constructive advice for the Congress. And they have little true `good news for the poor,' because even in Advent they prefer to preach about politics rather than about the Savior of the world."
The reality is that it is once again IRD that is really spinning a partisan message. The Christian groups that opposed the president's budget on moral grounds included both those who supported the president's 2004 campaign and those who worked against it. Pro-life and pro-choice groups opposed this budget.
Mark Tooley, another IRD staffer, wrote in The American Spectator:
You will not find Religious Left leaders defending the doctrines of their churches as ardently as they defend the virtues of an unendingly growing federal welfare state. For them, the state is nothing less than messianic. Any compromises about its scope and power are "immoral." This political advocacy is supposed to be "good news for the poor." But these church officials, having exchanged the Gospel for liberal politics, are clueless that the true Good News is not based on events in Washington, D.C.
Tooley, who worked at the CIA before joining IRD, is one of the partisans who will never let the facts get in the way of his politics. It doesn't matter if you're a pro-life Catholic or a pro-choice Protestant - if you don't agree with him you're the enemy.
But these are the facts:
Poverty has increased under this president. Hunger has increased under this president. Despite these facts our Congress has adopted economic policies asked for by this president that further hurt those living in poverty while at the same time giving more and more to the richest of the rich.
Note to Alan Wisdom and the IRD: If the complexity of the gospel is such that you cannot understand that Jesus stood with the least of these over the powerful you have misunderstood the basics of the Christian faith. Budgets are moral documents that reflect our most deeply held beliefs. This budget, tragically, continues us on a course that both Roman Catholics and mainline Protestants recognize as detrimental to those who are poor. Look past the partisanship that blinds you, hear the words of Jesus, and abandon the politics that keeps IRD far off the Christian path.