Over two dozen Democratic members of Congress and Moveon.org have joined the religious left in a fast coinciding with Lent to protest federal budget cuts. Moveon.org executive director Justin Rubin announced earlier this month that he and other “progressive” groups were joining religious leaders to “protest the brutal and unjust budget cuts being debated in Washington.”
Rubin explained: “All week long I've been looking into the eyes of my 2-year-old daughter, and thinking about the hundreds of thousands of kids who will get kicked out of preschool, who will lose access to health care, who will go to bed hungry each night if these cuts pass.”
For good measure, Rubin quoted the Prophet Isaiah about fasting, while insisting: “I joined because according to my faith and my conscience, letting children starve while giving handouts to giant corporations is wrong, plain and simple.” Later, Moveon.org broadcast a video from the musician Moby, who denounced the cuts as “incredibly offensive” for their “tax breaks” for millionaires and attacks on “women’s rights,” which is apparently a euphemism for government funded abortion.
Reportedly 36,000 have pledged to join the anti-budget cut fast, including at least 28 members of Congress. The fast was kicked off in late March by former Ohio Democratic congressman Tony Hall and Evangelical left Sojourners chief Jim Wallis. And it will conclude on Easter Sunday. Originally the purpose was to denounce Republican budget cuts. But $38 billion in cuts of course eventually became bipartisan after agreement from President Obama and Senate Democrats. The Congressional Budget Office then estimated that actual reductions in 2011 may be as little as $352 million or so. But the fasters were undeterred, evidently persuaded that even mere talk about significant budget cuts was an assault upon the poor.
“By voting for the Ryan budget, my colleagues have chosen to continue ignoring the voices of poor and hungry people,” Hall announced this week. “On Easter Sunday I will start eating again, but millions of people here in America and around the world will not have the same luxury; they will continue to go hungry.” Endorsers of the fast include United Methodist agencies, the Islamic Society of North America, SEIU, and the evangelical relief group World Vision, among others. Hall has likened this fast to President Lincoln’s call for a national fast of 1863 during the Civil War.
Also ending his fast on Easter Sunday is Jim Wallis, a prominent Obama supporter, who is celebrating that “politicians have begun to feel the pressure of those in the faith community who believe that we should not balance the budget at the expense and pain of poor people.” Without the fasters’ pressure, he surmised, the cuts, as originally conceived by U.S. House Republicans, would have been much worse.
Wallis, who last year initially denied and then admitted to funding from George Soros, is revving up for a fight over the 2012 budget against U.S. House Republicans and “big-money interests.” The millionaires and corporate titans have high paid lobbyists, so “people of faith and conscience” must “push back.” A month of fasting has been “personally transformative,” Wallis observed, reminding him of “so many” in America who experience hunger and whose “fast” will not end on Easter. “Lent has been spiritual preparation for a sustained political fight,” he noted. Next week, his Sojourners group will announce a “new coalition of leaders and organizations who will work to grow a movement of Christians and other allies of faith and conscience who oppose unjust and immoral budgets.”
Exploiting Lent, a Christian holy season of self-reflection preparing for Good Friday and Easter, as a tool for a “political fight” seems questionable. But evidently it has been somewhat successful, persuading tens of thousands at least to pledge they would fast, along with 28 members of Congress, and groups like Moveon.org, not typically renowned for religious fervor. Exploiting Lent is not new for the religious left. In 1995, the National Council of Churches urged churches during Holy Week to hang purple draperies from their sanctuaries to protest the then new Republican Congress’s assault upon “children, the elderly, the poor and the oppressed.”
President Bill Clinton later invited a National Council of Churches delegation to visit him in the Oval Office to “pray” that he would be strong against the Republican Congress during the 1995 budget showdown. Old religious left groups like the NCC don’t count for very much any more. But Jim Wallis, by helping to create a new Evangelical left that works seamlessly with secular left wing groups like Moveon.org, has more than filled the void. Massachusetts Democratic congressman Jim McGovern even announced his personal anti-budget cut fast during a speech on the U.S. House floor.
Most believers who celebrate Easter Sunday will not associate it with political mobilizing. But if Jim Wallis and the Evangelical left have their way, politically piggybacking on religious holidays may become increasingly common.