Thursday, November 03, 2005

Clergy have unexpected meeting with Speaker of the House

They were caught by surprise -- but stepped into the moment handed to them, a chance to speak directly with Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert.

When the time comes, may we all be so ready to speak truth to power with boldness and courage.


From: "RobertEdgar" <>
Subject: Clergy have unexpected meeting with Hastert

Press conference by religious leaders includes chance meeting with Speaker
of the United States House of Representatives, Dennis Hastert

Washington, November 3, 2005 -- Religious leaders came to Capitol Hill
Thursday to express their indignation over proposed cuts to the 2006 Federal
Budget that will hurt persons most in need, and didn't miss a beat when they
found themselves face to face with the Speaker of the House.

The high-level meeting was unplanned, but the clergy lost no time telling
Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) that proposed $35 billion to $50 billion
in cuts to social programs was appalling and immoral.

The four leaders of Protestant, mainline, evangelical and reform Jewish
traditions had just completed a press conference in the Capitol's Mansfield
Room and were on their way to the rotunda to pray when Hastert returned from
a meeting on the Senate side of the Capitol.

"They gave him an earful," said another clergyman who was on his way to pray
in the rotunda.

Hastert appeared surprised but kept smiling throughout the brief encounter.
Witnesses said he responded with "grunts and comments" to the clergy's
questions, but pictures indicate the Speaker was calm and gracious.

The four clergy -- the Rev. Dr. Bob Edgar, general secretary of the National
Council of Churches USA, the Rev. Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourners, Rabbi
David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism,
and the Rev. Elenora Giddings Ivory, director of the Presbyterian Church
(USA) Washington Office -- held a press conference to deplore congressional
efforts "to balance the budget on the backs of the poor."

People of faith know that God has expressed a bias in favor of the poor,
Edgar said. "We religious leaders cannot be the conscience of the President
or members of Congress, but we come here today to remind them whose side God
is on. We call on all representatives of good will to remember God's bias
when they vote on cuts."

"What would Jesus cut?" asked Wallis. "Dust off the Bible, my friends, and
do some Bible study."

Wallis cautioned members of Congress that the people he talks to in the
districts are not in favor of the proposed cuts. "In the light of Hurricane
Katrina, when people hear about increasing tax cuts for the rich and cutting
$35 billion - $50 billion in services to the poor, they are appalled."

"Congress has been actively targeting the poor and the middle class since
the hurricane," Saperstein said. "At the very time when the Congress should
have been increasing the number of social programs, we find they have
decimated them. It is simply morally unjustifiable."

Giddings Ivory cited Bible passages to explain the anger of religious
leaders. "Our understanding of the Bible is that God calls us to do justice,
love kindness and walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8)"

She also quoted Matthew 26:44-45 and suggested Congress was in the position
of asking Jesus, "when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or naked or
sick or in prison and did not take care of you."

"You did it to the 37 million who live below the poverty level," Giddings
Ivory declared.

Bishop Thomas L. Hoyt, Jr., president of the National Council of Churches
USA and Christian Methodist Episcopal Bishop of Louisiana and Mississippi,
joined the press conference by telephone.

"I serve in a place where we are talking to people who are homeless, no
place to go, money is not there from day to day, health care is not there,"
Hoyt said. "They move from place to place depending on the powers that be to
support their livelihood. Unfortunately, 'compassionate conservatism' in
this atmosphere is an oxymoron."

The poor need a compassionate government, not a punitive one, Hoyt said.
"The Bible says, where your money is, there is your heart as well. This
government needs a heart transplant so it will take care of the poor and
racial minorities."

Edgar recalled the words of the late Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey when
he addressed a joint session of Congress in 1971. "He said there was a moral
test for government, and the same test applies to the private sector and to
the church," he said. "The moral test is how we treat those in the dawn of
life, the young; those who are in the twilight of life, the aged; and those
who are in the shadows of life, the needy, the disabled."

Edgar also recalled President Bush's visit to New Orleans when he promised a
new understanding and fresh support for the poor.

"We remind the President that it feels like a slap in the face when he
supports the poor on national television but urges Congress to 'push the
envelope' on cuts," he said.

"Remember, Mr. President, whose side God is on."

Contact NCC News: Philip E. Jenks, 212-870-2252,; and
Leslie Tune, 202-544-2350,

For pictures, see


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