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Congress Should Start Thinking: What Would Jesus Do?

Our democracy is teetering on the edge, and inaction will help push it over. Leaders across the board, and especially across Christianity, need to lead with truth-telling if we are to live according to Jesus’ teachings. We would do well to remember the words and actions of faith leaders like the recently departed champion of justice, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” At this perilous juncture in our democracy, we all need to understand that silence means we’d rather be complicit in stripping neighbors of their dignity and right to flourish in our country.

We often hear that our nation was founded on Christian principles. Around 88 percent of the current Congress claim to be Christian, 27 percent Catholic. Their policy proposals and campaign statements often reflect their vision of making the US a Christian nation. For many of these members of Congress their views are shaped by the idea of Christian Nationalism–the idea that we are a Christian nation and the government should actively be engaged in maintaining that idea. This belief is shared not only by Christian politicians but by many Christian faith leaders as well, such as evangelical and mainline Protestant ministers and Catholic bishops and priests.

While many of these Christian politicians and leaders loudly proclaim from the mountaintops their vision of a Christian nation, they seem to forget the actual teachings of Jesus. Teachings such as Matthew 25:35, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat.” The Appropriations’ Committee of the House of Representatives are currently engaged in negotiations for a budget. Republican members are using these negotiations to pursue policies that could potentially decimate or even eliminate programs that protect the poor, the hungry, our environment, and care for the marginalized. Their proposals are more akin to Matthew 25:43, “For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.”

The proposals include cuts to Food and Nutrition for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), education and job training funding, and would remove most climate change and clean water programs. According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities approximately 5.3 million people, mostly infants and young children, will be harmed by the cuts to WIC alone, including 4.3 million children that will have their fruit and vegetable benefits cut.

In the midst of devastating heat waves and fires, the proposals cut funding for the Environmental Protection Agency back to pre-1990 levels. This includes cutting funding for clean water projects by 91 percent. The bill would cut the Legal Services Corporation by 13 percent, a program that helps provide legal services for seniors, veterans, children, domestic violence survivors, and disabled persons. It provides basic legal assistance that helps keep families safe and together and in their homes. These are just a few examples of the destructive effects that the proposed cuts will have on the poor, hungry, and marginalized.

In all Christian faiths, the prayer most frequently prayed is the Our Father, sometimes referred to as The Lord’s Prayer. In this prayer there is a line which says, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.” We at Catholics Vote Common Good wonder if these Christian members of Congress and their supporters believe that God would find it acceptable to pass a budget that will lead to more children suffering from disease as a result of malnutrition. If it would not be acceptable in Heaven, why do we believe that God would find it acceptable on Earth?

In 2021, Pope Francis wrote, “There is always something that isn’t working … (with) people taking a path against the community, against democracy, against the common good. Thank God that this has burst into the open and is clear to see well, because like this, you can put it right…”   As people of faith, we cannot sit quietly while some members of Congress attempt with their budget proposals to destroy service programs that help children and the poor and pursue cuts that would contradict the beautiful message of Jesus.

We have to speak up and challenge these members of Congress. If our bishops, ministers, priests and faith leaders support these efforts we must publicly challenge them. It is not Christian to cut funding for programs that help alleviate hunger and hunger-related disease in children. It is not Christian to reduce programs that provide clean drinking water.

We have been provided with great wisdom to guide us with directives from Jesus, “What you do to the least of my brethren you do unto me” and Archbishop Tutu, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

Brian D. McLaren is an author, speaker, activist, and public theologian. A former college English teacher and pastor, he is a passionate advocate for “a new kind of Christianity” – just, generous, and working with people of all faiths for the common good. He is a core faculty member of The Living School and podcaster with Learning How to See, which are part of the Center for Action and Contemplation.

Patrick Carolan is a Catholic activist, organizer, writer, speaker and storyteller. He is co-founder and co-director of Catholics Vote Common Good. He served as the executive director of the Franciscan Action Network, co-founded the Global Catholic Climate Movement and the Faithful Democracy Coalition. He previously was a union organizer and served as president of a state public employee union. Patrick resides in Connecticut with his wife Stella. Together they raised four children, two biological and two adopted. and took care of several additional other foster children.

McClaren and Carolan have coauthored and published several articles including It’s Time for a Franciscan Renaissance and It’s time to change the abortion debate in America.

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