Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and dozens of other Christian leaders concerned about poverty in the United States and around the world have released two exclusive video presentations by President Barack Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney outlining their policy prescriptions for addressing the issue.
The videos, released on September 12, were requested by the coalition of Christian leaders, the Circle of Protection, in separate letters to the two politicians in early July.
“We believe that this presidential campaign should include a clear focus on what each candidate proposes to do to provide help and opportunity for hungry and poor people in the United States and around the world,” the letters said. “We write to request that you address this issue publicly, consistently and systematically in your campaigning.”
Bishop Stacy F. Sauls, chief operating officer of the Episcopal Church, said that “as people of faith, we encourage Episcopalians and congregations to view these videos and discuss the issue of poverty in our country.
“We need to make clear that we maintain poverty is a touchstone issue in this election,” he said, noting that domestic poverty was cited by the General Convention as a priority issue for the Episcopal Church.
The U.S. Census Bureau reported on September 12 that, in 2011, the poverty rate fell to 15 percent, down slightly from 15.1 percent from the year before. More than one in seven U.S. citizens, or 46.2 million people, lived in poverty last year, including more than 16 million children, the agency said.
Alexander D. Baumgarten, director of government relations for the Episcopal Church, said that the church has been a strong supporter of, and active coalition partner in, the Circle of Protection, which espouses federal budget principles aimed at protecting the poor and hungry at home and abroad. He told TLC that Bishop Jefferts Schori was one of the original signatories to the initiative, which was launched in April 2011.
Sister Simone Campbell, meanwhile, said earlier this month that she expects the Episcopal Church to sign on to a similar initiative that she is spearheading as executive director of NETWORK, a Roman Catholic lobby for social justice, known as the Faithful Budget campaign (faithfulbudget.org).
But Baumgarten told TLC that the Episcopal Church has declined to endorse the Faithful Budget campaign, saying that the Circle of Protection campaign “most accurately reflects the totality of the public-policy positions of the General Convention, which ultimately stem from our baptismal promise to seek and serve Christ in all persons.”
Campbell made headlines this summer as leader of a nine-state “Nuns on the Bus” tour for social justice. She spoke to TLC in Charlotte, North Carolina, before addressing the Democratic National Convention on September 5.
“[Rep.] Paul Ryan claims [his] budget reflects the principles of our shared faith,” Campbell told the convention delegates, taking aim at Romney’s vice presidential running mate, who has said that his faith provides the basis for his budgetary proposals. “But the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops stated that the Ryan budget failed a basic moral test, because it would harm families living in poverty.”
Campbell said that the nuns who traveled with her on the bus tour agree with the bishops, “and that’s why we went on the road: to stand with struggling families and to lift up our Catholic sisters who serve them. Their work to alleviate suffering would be seriously harmed by the Romney-Ryan budget.”
But Romney said in the video released by the Circle of Protection that, as president, he would work to “protect the poor and vulnerable among us.” His plan, he said, focuses on restoring the health of the economy and reducing the debt. He said that, while it will be necessary to make budget cuts, the government provides a safety net for the less fortunate, the sick and the elderly and that “we have a responsibility to keep it intact for future generations.”
“I am committed to protecting those in or near poverty,” Romney said, adding that he will work to save and strengthen the nation’s entitlement programs.
President Obama, for his part, said that his faith has taught him that poverty is a moral issue. During last year’s heated budget battle, he said, he promised to protect vital assistance for the poor. “I’ve kept that promise,” he said.
He said that government cannot solve every problem, but it can help. He said, moreover, that the budget cannot be balanced on the backs of the most vulnerable. “It’s not just bad economics,” he said. “It’s morally wrong. … It’s not who we are as a people.”
The complete videos have been posted on the Circle of Protection’s Web site at www.circleofprotection.us.
Gary G. Yerkey