By Dan Gilgoff, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor
A coalition of progressive Christian leaders has taken out a full-page ad that asks “What would Jesus cut?” in Monday’s edition of Politico, the opening salvo in what the leaders say will be a broader campaign to prevent cuts for the poor and international aid programs amid the budget battle raging in Washington.
“They’re talking about cutting bed nets for malaria and leaving every piece of military spending untouched,” said the Rev. Jim Wallis, who leads the Christian group Sojourners, referring to Republican spending proposals for the rest of this year.
“Are we saying that every piece of military equipment is more important than bed nets, children’s health and nutrition for low-income families?” said Wallis, whose group paid for Monday’s ad. “If so they should be ashamed of themselves.”
The ad and the broader campaign are aimed mostly at a spending measure passed by the Republican-led House of Representatives that cuts $61 billion from current spending levels, including cuts to Head Start, the Women Infants and Children (WIC) program and international aid programs.
Senate Democrats consider those cuts draconian and won’t pass them.
The faith leaders behind the “What would Jesus cut” campaign are also lobbying the Obama administration to forego proposed cuts to programs like college grants and heating assistance to low-income Americans in the 2012 federal budget.
House and Senate negotiators are trying to find consensus on a temporary spending measure to avert a government shutdown. Republican House Speaker John Boehner is pushing a short-term spending plan that would cut $4 billion.
“Cutting programs that help those who need them most is morally wrong,” Beckmann said in a statement. “Reducing the federal deficit is critical for our nation’s long term health but it should not be done at the expense of the most vulnerable. When Jesus talked about how God will judge nations, he said that God will focus on what we did or did not do for the neediest among us.”
Sojourners recently ordered 1,000 “What would Jesus cut?” bracelets for its supporters to send to their representatives in Congress, then ordered 2,000 more when the initial batch ran out. The group says its backers have sent 10,000 “What would Jesus cut?” emails to Capitol Hill.
Wallis said that he and other Christian leaders are meeting in Washington this week to strategize on ways to prevent lawmakers from cutting programs it supports. They are urging cuts in defense spending instead.
“The most corrupt government spending is military spending,” Wallis said. “Its cost overruns, outdated weapons systems, welfare checks to military contractors.”
“This is a biblical choice of swords into plowshares directly and the House Republicans want to beat our ploughshares into more swords,” he said. “These priorities that they’re offering are not just wrong or unfair, they’re unbiblical.”
On Sunday, Boenher gave a speech that framed the government’s mounting debt as a moral issue.
“We have a moral responsibility to address the problems we face. That means working together to cut spending and rein in government – not shutting it down,” Boehner said. “This is very simple: Americans want the government to stay open, and they want it to spend less money. We don’t need to shut down the government to accomplish that.”
Boehner’s remarks were included in a speech he delivered to the National Religious Broadcasters annual convention in Nashville.
Posted by: Dan Gilgoff – CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor