by AT News Team

In the aftermath of a vote last week by the United States House of Representatives to delete the "food stamps" program for the poor while retaining agriculture subsidies for farmers and large corporations, the Seventh-day Adventist Church was represented among a long list of Christian leaders who issued a statement on "why we need to protect programs for the poor." The statement recognized that in the face of "historic deficits" government has a responsibility to reduce spending, but stated that to make these cuts in programs essential to the basic needs of the poor is not moral.
 
"As Christians, we believe the moral measure of the debate is how the most poor and vulnerable people fare," the statement said. "We look at every budget proposal [in terms of] how it treats those Jesus called 'the least of these' (Matthew 25:45). They do not have powerful lobbies, but they have the most compelling claim on our consciences and common resources."
 
The statement signed by more than 5,000 Christian leaders came as Congress is planning to take a lengthy vacation, starting August 5, before addressing a number of items vital to the poor as they consider the nation’s fiscal challenges. The "pastoral letter" urges lawmakers working to reduce the national debt to maintain a circle of protection around programs that effectively alleviate hunger and poverty in the United States and internationally. It advocates against balancing the budget on the backs of the poor and disabled.
 
The statement thanks President Barack Obama for his efforts to reduce the deficit while limiting cuts to programs serving poor people, and it asks lawmakers from both parties to work together to end hunger and poverty "by engaging in respectful, bipartisan dialogue and by ending brinksmanship." The Christian leaders signing the statement ask lawmakers to develop a plan that finds revenue and savings without increasing poverty and to frame budget discussions in terms of moral choices understandable to the American people.
 
The statement does not oppose changes in programs. They "should be made as effective as possible, but not cut. … We are committed to fiscal responsibility [and] we are also committed to resist budget cuts that undermine the lives, dignity and rights of poor and vulnerable people." The statement addresses both domestic programs and international humanitarian and development assistance.
 
The religious leaders backing this statement include both liberal and conservative figures. Galen Carey, vice president of the National Association of Evangelicals, is among the signers, as is Richard Stearns, president of World Vision, the largest relief organization among conservative Protestants. It was also signed by Kathryn M. Lohre, president of the liberal National Council of Churches, and Jim Wallis of Sojourners.
 
Surveys have shown that the majority of Adventist churches in the United States offer an emergency food pantry for needy families in the community. Most of these get some assistance through the regional food bank in their area which is, in part, funded by some of the government programs currently being debated. Middle class Americans in general are not aware of the extent to which government funding is involved in volunteer community service activities and tend to believe that these services are entirely funded from private donations and church funds.
 
United States government funding is also key to the work of the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA). Nearly 80 percent of its efforts would have to be ended if all government funding were removed from the international projects ADRA implements.