Tuesday, October 18, 2005

A Moral Document

In my email yesterday was a copy of an address given by Rev. John Thomas, the General Minister of the United Church of Christ, at the fall meeting of their Executive Council. There was quite a lot of prophetic plain-speaking to the principalities and powers, but I was struck by this quote:

"Yesterday I participated in a telephone press conference with Frank Griswold, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, and Senator Harry Reid, Democratic leader in the Senate, in an effort to build support for opposing the current recommendations of the administration and the Republican congressional leadership that would cut as much as $50 billion from the 2006 Federal Budget, cuts affecting medicaid, student loans, food stamps, and countless other programs supplying the most minimal safety net for the poor, while either continuing or adding up to $70 billion in tax cuts for the wealthiest of our citizens. The press conference was part of an on-going effort by the leadership of five mainline denominations - Lutheran, Methodist, Episcopal, Presbyterian, and United Church of Christ - to lift up the federal budget as a moral document that in its present form fails miserably to meet the Biblical standards of fidelity" (emphasis mine).

In my own denomination, the Reformed Church in America, we speak often about a "Covenant of Care." It signifies a pledge of obedience to care for the least among us (Matthew 25), and has its roots in God's own concern for the poor and the helpless, expressed in the Torah. "Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, 'Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land'" (Dt 15:11; cf. also Lev 25). When we care for one another, especially the most vulnerable, we live out the grace God has shown to us in our own deliverance.

Speaking to power would seem to require addressing how our taxes are spent, in light of our biblical heritage. The idea that the dry and complicated behemoth which is our multi-trillion dollar budget is a moral document, places the whole discussion in a new and compelling light. It is not merely about policy, but about individual lives which will be affected in profound ways. I have never been asked to pray for a federal budget, but I think it to be a very fine idea. May those who are in power over us, heed God's commandments in the midst of their dreams of hegemony and lucre.

For those interested in slogging through the actual budget for 2006, you can access it here.


Blogger homo unius libri said...

FYI - These are not "real" cuts. There are merely a decrease in the increase.

For example: Rather than say a 12% increase for student loans, now it is a 8% increase. The Democrats start screaming the Republicans want to cut the student loan program by 4%!

By the way I am just as wary when "liberal" Christians cozy up to democratic leaders as some are when Jim Dobson gets Bush/Cheney's ear.

I think that both groups echo the talking points of their party more than they do Scripture.

Shame on us all!

1:38 PM  
Blogger Scribe said...

This level of confusion/complexity is why I put a link to the actual budget.

Talking points are generalities which usually contain enough truth to get one's attention. I don't know any alternative but to be watchful and prayerful.

3:49 PM  
Blogger `tim said...

Amazing concept.

My congregation doesn't have a budget. Since before my time here, they have intentionally not worked from a budget with the firmly-held belief that when something is needed, the people will respond.

I admit there are sometimes problems with this, but (for the most part) I have found it edifying.

Grace and Peace,

10:03 AM  
Blogger Scribe said...


When I did my internship in West Michigan, the very conservative church thought budgets were, if not sinful, lacking in faith.

10:41 AM  
Blogger Annette said...

The last church that I went to worked from a servant budget standpoint.

They worked up a budget as to what they thought the needs might be, and then tore that up. (yes I know, seems weird) but it was a congregational decision with pastoral support.

Since the congregation knew the numbers needed, and they knew what they wanted to support and what portion of the budget that was, they decided that no budget was needed but every offering was divided into catergories.

I.e. in the budget, 12% went to missions, 51% went to pastoral support, 10% to maintence and so forth. So every offering was divided into those percentages.

Does it make it a challenge for the pastor to not know what his monthly salary is going to be? Yes, but a faithful discerning church keeps a close eye on that as well (at least this church did) and when givings were too low over a period of a couple of months, the word would be passed in church of pastor's need and then he would be gifted in other ways, or the next offering would be much larger.

It was actually kinda neat to see how this all played out. It was a real act of faith that I would love to see done in more churches.

Each Sunday it would be announced how much we were able to spend for mission outreach. They made a point of it that really spoke to how outreach was so very important.

It was way cool.

4:19 PM  

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