Family Research Council (FRC) recently released a new ad, saying that Christian leaders who are trying to protect poverty programs "well-meaning but misguided." FRC's Faith Family Freedom Fund released radio ads in Ohio and Kentucky in response to a Sojourner-sponsored campaign. Sojourners' ad calls on Christians to join the Circle of Protection, a broad coalition of Christians that wants to reduce the debt without harming programs aimed at helping the poor.
Sojourners' ads hit the airwaves last week, targeting Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada), and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky). The Sojourners ads feature local pastors calling for protection of the poor. The Ohio ad, for example, featured Pastor Nan Erbaugh (Lower Miami Church of the Brethren) who lives in Boehner's district. She said in the ad,
The Book of Proverbs teaches that "where there is no leadership, a nation falls" and "the poor are shunned, while the rich have many friends." Sadly, Congress has failed to heed these Biblical warnings, and our own Rep. Boehner is risking the health of our economy if America defaults on its debts. All to protect tax cuts for the rich and powerful.
In budget debates, the rich have many political friends and lobbyists. The poor and needy do not. That's why thousands of pastors are joining a Circle of Protection to protect programs that keep the most vulnerable from going without food, shelter, and medicine.
Please join this growing chorus of faithful Americans by telling Representative Boehner not to balance the budget on the backs of the poor. He is responsible to all of us, not just a few at the top. (listen to the Ohio ad)
The FRC countered the Sojourners ads with one of its own. The group said it was "countering an ad campaign by Sojourners opposing necessary cuts to government spending." The FRC ad featured pastors who said government programs hurt the poor and get in the way of charity. The Ohio ad featured Pastor J.C. Church (Victory in Truth Ministries, Bucyrus, Ohio) and Bishop Harry Jackson (Hope Christian Church, Washington, D.C.):
There's a group of well-meaning but misguided ministers who believe that the government is responsible for meeting the needs of the poor, calling proposed budget cuts immoral. But Jesus didn't instruct the government of his day to take the rich young ruler's property and redistribute it to the poor. He asked the ruler to sell his possessions and help the poor. Charity is an individual choice, not a government mandate.
Multiplied billions in government spending has not eradicated poverty. In fact runaway government spending and increasing debt have actually crippled our economy and now churches have even less to spend to meet the needs of the poor, so that we might tangibly show them the love of Christ. (listen to the Ohio ad)
The ad concluded with a call to tell Congress that the "moral choice" is for Congress to live within its means. The FRC broadcast its ads in Ohio and Kentucky only, not Nevada.
Sojourners communications director Tim King said the FRC's response goes against the teachings of most denominations. King said most churches believe that government is responsible for making sure the poor have their basic needs met.
The Circle of Protection includes a broad coalition of Christian groups. Evangelical supporters of the Circle include leaders of the National Association of Evangelicals, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, World Vision, the Salvation Army, Evangelical Environmental Network, Willow Creek Community Church, Vineyard Columbus, Evangelicals for Social Action, and the American Bible Society.
"These groups might disagree on how to implement those values from a policy perspective, but they at least agree on the premise that when it comes to concern for the poor, there is a role for private charity and government action," King said.
King said the FRC position on the budget would hurt the work of evangelical groups such as World Vision, the Salvation Army, and the International Justice Mission. King cited the FRC's support for cuts to USAID. The FRC does support cutting $1.39 billion in support for USAID from the federal budget. Interestingly, the FRC's justification for the proposal was taken verbatim from a January 2011 report by the Republican Study Committee on a bill to cut the federal spending.