This message delivered by the Rev. J. Herbert Nelson, Director for Public Witness, at the Loaves and Fishes gathering on Wednesday, March 20, 2013, at Upper Senate Park on Capitol Hill, Washington, DC. The gathering was organized by my faith organizations and was intended to call attention to and to protect programs that impact the poor in the United States.
A Moral Crisis
Today we are faced with a crisis in our nation. Our nation faces a moment of intense pause, which cannot simply be defined in economic terms. Our crisis is one of moral ineptness in high places. We are now in the midst of a sequester – across-the-board, indiscriminate spending cuts – that results from a weakness in moral character that has led to stalemate. This stalemate is the struggle over our vision of our government’s responsibility to support the most vulnerable over and against funding wealthy people and multinational corporations through tax breaks. Central to this stalemate is the question of government’s responsibility to support the “least of these.”
My book of faith reminds me that Jesus declared, “Just as you have done it unto the least of these, my brothers and sisters, you have done it unto me.” (Matthew 25:40) He reminds us that righteousness is etched into the fabric of our willingness to claim residence in the lives and hearts of those whose steps falter on the highway of life. He further reminds us that the act of turning away from the needs of the poor is synonymous with turning away from the son of God. Therefore, the present moral crisis in leadership is more than budget or party ideology. This crisis, caused by our leadership in Congress, is at the core of our spiritual consciousness.
We are acting out of a posture of scarcity rather than abundance. Our resources are not scarce; they are abundant! But we are failing to make sure they get to the people who need them most. Instead, we contemplate cuts to Medicaid, which supports the uninsured; the disabled; the amputee; the mentally ill; the trace nurse who must be in our schools for the child who needs medical attention. Or we contemplate cutting programs that feed hungry families and Head Start early childhood education for low-income children, who will otherwise not know their colors or numbers when they enter the kindergarten. In this nation, we build jail cells based on fourth grade reading levels and homelessness is pervasive in every city, village, and hamlet. How can we declare that the “haves” ought to have more while the “have-not’s” get less? This is a reverse Robin Hood plan, where the poor get poorer and the rich get richer. It is destined for failure! And, we are a better people than that!
We are not bankrupt! There is enough! We must challenge this President and Congress to remember that two candidates ran for the office of President in 2012. One promised to end tax breaks for the wealthy. The other promised to maintain tax breaks for the wealthy. One promised to end corporate welfare. The other promised to end welfare for the most vulnerable of our society. We waded through the debates and made it to the general election. The nation spoke at the voting booth in overwhelming numbers to decide that the candidate who vowed to tax corporations and high-income individuals at a higher rate would serve as the President of this country. Now that the nation has spoken, there is this desire to ignore the vote of the people and return to the fiscal policies that placed us in the doldrums of despair in the first place. Now, there is the desire to place whole communities of people in desperation mode again.
We must hold this President accountable for doing what he said he would do, while declaring to those who would push back that the people have spoken. We must move from this current model – of government of the corporations, by the powerful and elite, and for tax loopholes – to the vision of the founders, who declared that we are a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. There is enough when we are responsible to whole communities with the wealth that God has provided.
We must press for the day when elected officials will be reminded that they work for the people and not for themselves. We must build bridges of hope for future generations by the way we act now. Our nation will be judged by its moral excellence in times of crisis. Therefore, let us get busy pushing for fiscal policies that matter to the people. Let us remember that the people united will never be defeated! For as you have done it unto the least of these, my brothers and sisters, you have done it unto me!