Inspired by a common spiritual conviction that God has called on all people to protect the vulnerable and promote the dignity of all individuals living in society,” Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons joined other Christian, Jewish, and Muslim leaders on Tuesday to meet with Republican and Democratic Congressional leadership, lifting up those struggling with poverty in the U.S. and abroad.

As elected leaders in Washington, D.C., continue to squabble over a deal to raise the federal debt ceiling, the faith community is urging them to protect the poor and vulnerable from the effects of indiscriminate budget cuts.  In a time of anemic economic recovery, millions of people are relying on Unemployment Insurance, Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, SNAP (formerly Food Stamps), and countless other federally funded services that make a difference in the lives of millions of people.  Severe cuts to any of these programs, or even across-the-board budget changes like a global spending cap, debt trigger, or Balanced Budget Amendment, would increase suffering and exact the most sacrifice from those who can least afford it, while exempting from additional responsibility those who can afford to pay more.

In addition to meetings with Congressional leadership and their staff, the religious leaders led a daily prayer vigil on the grounds of the United Methodist building on Capitol Hill, where Reverend Parsons said, “We have come to Washington to meet with Congressional leaders and to join with you in daily prayer for a global economy and a federal budget that breaks the yokes of injustice, poverty, hunger, and unemployment throughout the world.” For Rev. Parsons’ full remarks, please visit http://officeofpublicwitness.blogspot​.com.  

After their meetings with Congressional leadership, religious leaders were struck by the pessimism they encountered when they expressed hope for a productive, balanced approach to the nation’s fiscal woes.  The Reverend J. Herbert Nelson, PC(USA) Director for Public Witness, who attended the meetings with Reverend Parsons said, “There seems to be no movement and no hope among political leaders.  Now is the time for faith leaders and the faith community to take deliberate and forthright action to express disgust at the current situation and to demand a fair solution.  We must be actively involved in this debate, both in Washington, D.C. and across the country.”

As the likelihood of a federal default on the nation’s debt grows and the August 2nd deadline looms, PC(USA) leaders, together with interfaith partners in ministry, are growing increasingly alarmed.  If a deal is reached, they are concerned that a raise to the nation’s debt ceiling will be coupled with callous and draconian cuts to programs that serve the “least of these.”  Conversely, if the federal government is forced to default on its debt, they fear that the affects of such a failure will be catastrophic for millions of individuals and families both nationally and worldwide.