“Congress is paralyzed by toxic partisan politics while people suffer. Our elected officials are protecting corporations and wealthy individuals while shredding the safety net for millions of the most vulnerable people in our nation and abroad. Our faith won't allow us to passively watch this travesty unfold.”--Rev. Michael Livingston, past president of the National Council of the Churches of Christ (USA), arrested today praying and protesting at the US Capital.
Washington, DC: Despite repeated warnings from police, eleven religious leaders refused to end their prayers in the rotunda of the the U.S. Capital and were arrested. They prayed in protest that Congress and the Administration would not balance the budget on the backs of the poor.
One of those arrested was Jim Winkler, the General Secretary of Church and Society—a peace with justice agency of the United Methodist Church. Jim has been a prophetic leader on social issues for a long time, a friend of Communities of Shalom, and I fully support him and his social witness.
Another faith leader arrested today is Bob Edgar, a former member of Congress and current president of Common Cause--a terrific organization that advocates for the poor and holds the powerful accountable. Common Cause was one of the prime organizers of today's prayerful protest.
Bob, too, is a friend of Shalom and also a member of the Board of Trustees of Drew University where Shalom is based. A graduate of Drew Theological School, Bob preached in chapel last Spring on our Christian commitment and calling to help defend the rights of the poor and those to whom justice is being denied.
When President Obama got angry at his press conference last Friday about the budget wars on the Hill, I got more engaged and began repeating one of his most poignant, off the cuff remarks:
“…[Don’t] put all the burden on the people who are least able to protect themselves, who don’t have lobbyists in this town, who don’t have lawyers working on the tax code for them -- working stiffs out there, ordinary folks who are struggling every day. And they know they’re getting a raw deal, and they’re mad at everybody about it. They’re mad at Democrats and they’re mad at Republicans, because they know somehow, no matter how hard they work, they don’t seem to be able to keep up. And what they’re looking for is somebody who’s willing to look out for them. That’s all they’re looking for.” Obama Press Conference
Inspired by a prophetic vision of the beloved community of peace and justice for all, motivated by a common spiritual conviction that God has called on all citizens to protect the vulnerable and promote human dignity, many of us believe that the budget crisis should be resolved morally and prayerfully, and not just pragmatically and politically.
Representatives of 11 religious groups and denominations have held daily vigils at the United Methodist Building near the Capitol for three weeks, praying for a moral resolution to the debt ceiling crisis. Finally, today, they felt lead to take more drastic action—praying at the Capital and getting arrested for not dispersing when warned to stop what they were doing.
According to a NCC news release: “The religious leaders sang "Spirit of the Living God" and "We shall overcome" as they knelt and prayed in the Capitol rotunda. Capitol Hill police asked them to clear the rotunda but the religious leaders continued praying. National Council of Churches
Recent events have catalyzed an eighteen-month public policy campaign led by faith leaders representing the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths to promote a message of the common good in the current economic debate. Members of the campaign are calling for Congress and the Administration to exempt programs from budget cuts that assist the most at-risk families and children in the U.S. and abroad.
Daily prayer vigils will continue to be held on the front lawn of the United Methodist Building (100 Maryland Avenue, NE, Washington, DC), near the U.S. Capitol Building. Led by a different religious organization each day at 12:30 p.m. EDT, the prayer vigils will continue until a budget/deficit deal is enacted.
As National Director of Communities of Shalom, I urge members of the network to pray for our President and political leaders (as the Bible implores us); and also to lift up and pray a circle of protection around the nation’s most vulnerable citizens who can’t afford good lawyers or lobbyists on the Hill, but who can, if organized, transform our nation, one person, one community at a time.
For further information on how to let your prayers be heard, check out this community organizing action to create a Circle of Protection