President Trump just got some mail – a letter sent to him by 100 prominent Christian leaders. The signatories include Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Catholic archbishop of New York; Leith Anderson, president of the National Evangelical Association; Jonathan Reckford, CEO of Habitat for Humanity; Craig Barnes, President of Princeton Theological Seminary; Christian music artists Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith; denominational leaders, directors of numerous Christian global relief organizations, pastors, and writers.
I daresay these 100 people almost never get together around anything but the broadest, blandest principles of Christian identity. But they’ve all united to oppose the President’s budget proposal, which slashes State Department funding by 28%, gutting in the process various international aid programs. “As followers of Christ, it is our moral responsibility to urge you to support and protect the International Affairs Budget, and avoid disproportionate cuts to these vital programs that ensure that our country continues to be the ‘shining city upon a hill,’” the letter reads, pointing out that the International Affairs Budget, which represents only 1% of the total budget, “has helped alleviate the suffering of millions; drastically cutting the number of people living in extreme poverty in half, stopping the spread of infectious diseases like HIV/AIDs and Ebola, and nearly eliminating polio. Additionally, it promotes freedom and human rights, protecting religious freedom for millions around the world.” The letter makes the point that because our nation has abundant resources, we have a responsibility to aid countries in desperate need, and that promoting our values around the world increases our security at home.
International aid is not the only victim of Trump’s budget proposal. He wants to slash funding of music and the arts, scientific research, and a host of federal programs that support the elderly, give critical assistance to farmers, ranchers, and people living in rural poverty, and encourage national public service. All of these expenditures have received bipartisan support for decades because they are so effective. They represent good government. The stated reason for defunding them is to free up money to expand our military arsenal and build a wall along our southern border. But the numbers don’t add up. The combined savings from these cuts represent only a tiny fraction of the budget’s proposed increases.
Is this proposal just an opening bid from the dealmaker-in-chief? Or is it an actual statement of the President’s values? The fact that we don’t know is one
I do not accept that we have entered such a dark chapter in our history that all we can afford to do is batten down the hatches, wall ourselves in (literally), and prepare to be attacked. We are not in a state of dire emergency that justifies starving all creative initiative and allowing millions of own citizens to languish in poverty with no assistance and little or no healthcare. Policies rooted in fear and trumped up threats (sorry, the pun just keeps on giving) are typical of authoritarian states that place “nation” above all else, including a nation’s own ideals.
Of course, passing a federal budget is a long process that involves painstaking negotiation. So it’s nearly impossible that the President’s proposal will be adopted without significant changes. In fact, the final product may be unrecognizable from its first draft. Still, it is troubling that even a starting point would be as pessimistic and callous as what has been presented by the White House. By contrast, it is a sign of hope that otherwise fractured faith leaders have come together to denounce what is so obviously a betrayal of American – not to mention Christian – values.
If a truly ecumenical spirit emerges among Christians to provide a needed prophetic voice instead of a rubber stamp for one partisan agenda, then we will have something to celebrate. And maybe, just maybe, that ecumenical spirit will mature into an interfaith voice that draws attention to common religious social values and defends true religious liberty. I dare to dream.
In the meantime – Mr. President, read your mail!
©2017 by J. Mark Lawson