Current Political Issues

Today marks the start of the U.N. MDG Summit in NYC, a once-in-a-generation opportunity to re-assess the progress being made on the Millennium Development Goals. In 2000, the U.S. joined 188 other countries to sign the MDG’s and affirm that by 2015 its 8 goals should be met (including eradicating extreme poverty, halting AIDS and other disease, achieving universal primary education, etc). The U.S. has yet to keep its promise in allocating its part of the funding for the MDG’s, and as the wealthiest country on the planet, this has slowed down progress on the MDG’s just a little. My work with the ONE Campaign, the U.S. campaign to fund the MDG’s, parallels work and awareness being raised in countries all over the globe that all believe in an age when we can – for the first time – actually end extreme poverty and stop the cycle of AIDS, hunger, poverty, we should. Figures differ somewhat, but even just ONE percent of the federal budget (not GNP), the same amount we spend on Iraq every two weeks (roughly 35 billion), would make a huge difference in the lives of the poorest people in the world. Many Americans don’t know that right now, the U.S. spends only about 1/3 of one percent of our federal budget on all of our international poverty-focused development assistance (0.39%).

While the numbers game can seem overwhelming or misleading, there are many leading scientists, people of faith, environmentalists, politicians, and everyday citizens who have joined across many belief spectrums to urge funding the MDG’s as a way for the U.S. to spend a little and accomplish a lot. With an additional ONE percent of our budget, 10 million kids would be saved from becoming AIDS orphans, 900 million people would get clean water, and 6.5 million children under the age of five would live a a result of low-cost vaccinations and/or access to clean water. Its not that much money for our country, and it is a goal we already previously agreed to.

There are, of course, debates around the MDGs, the U.S.’s place in the U.N., the role of people of faith in development assistance, and the details of how the money would work along with debt relief, fairer trade, and anti-corruption measures to really reach the people intended. This week, lots of articles and rallies, prayer vigils and national events are happening Sept. 14-16; so we can all learn more about these issues and think through what role we should or might play in the international world regarding the growing suffering, death, and poverty that exists.

On the domestic front, below is an interesting article on the realities of funding relief to people after Katrina, and the remaining proposed cuts to programs that would help this population and others climb out of poverty here at home.

Congress Finesses the Storm (Washington Post, 9/14/05)

President Bush’s vow to speed welfare assistance to the victims of Hurricane Katrina overlooks the gruesome determination of many Republican Congressional leaders to make $13 billion in cuts for Medicaid and food stamps. They quietly plan this even as they throw short-term emergency money at the crisis.

Sustaining their health and income is vital to the storm’s impoverished survivors now and well into the future. But the most basic cuts in antipoverty programs are planned for enactment later this month by the same Republican majorities that approved the president’s upper-bracket tax cuts and created deficits for a generation to come.

Congress’s budget hawks are clearly hoping that the cacophony of sympathetic speechifying about the storm victims will distract the public from these cuts and from the fact that they will land heavily on the three states most devastated by the hurricane, where roughly one out of three children were already dependent on Medicaid.

Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi, the former Republican national chairman, personifies his party leaders’ contradiction in begging for emergency aid now after having championed painful cuts in the social safety net. Until recently, Mr. Barbour has been in the spotlight as his state’s unapologetic Medicaid antagonist. Rejecting the alternative of a tax increase, he severely cut drug benefits. And before the courts intervened, he had sought to drop 65,000 poor, elderly and disabled people from the program.

Mr. Barbour remains one of Washington’s most powerful emeritus lobbyists. He can spare his president and party a shameful episode by urging that the pending cuts for some of the storm’s neediest be deep-sixed.

Faith AND Politics – humility

As a Christian involved in various forms of political advocacy, I often wrestle with the nuances of how faith and politics intersect. Throw in a healthy dose of passionate emotion, reactionary thinking, and the need to put everything into simple black and white categories – all road blocks to discussing the topics of faith and of politics – and you’ll see why some people caution to never talk about these two “personal” areas of life. But of course, if I am a person of true faith, my call to live into the kingdom of God and “be salt and light” in this world means that my political action (or inaction), should flow from my faith. Too often people compartmentalize their “politics” from their “Christianity” – when Christianity is no more and no less than a way to live, a way to walk by following Christ and imitating Him. Faith must permeate every part of life.

This Sunday morning on our drive to a state park, we listened to an interesting program on Minnesota Public Radio called “Speaking of Faith.” Today’s guest was former Republican Senator and ambassador to the U.N., John Danforth – who is now retired from his days as a stateman, but remains a practicing attorney and an Episcopalian priest. The conversation fascinated me on several different levels – as a person in ministry, a practicing theologian, an organizer with a Christian non-partisan lobby group, and the wife of a man studying public policy. More on Danforth and the two op-eds he recently wrote are available on MPR’s site (and here I am not discussing his past strengths or weaknesses as a Senator or Ambassador), but his comments on the program today centered on the need for humble, “moderate Christians” to caution the rising polarity and sometimes theocractic tendancies of the Republican party. He is a self-labeled conservative, traditional Republican who is troubled by the mis-use of faith and a claim to “truth” in politics lately. Although the word “moderate” is pretty loaded for me, and the topics here are rich enough to make me want to digress on various other threads for quite awhile, I’ve decided to write out more on why faith and politics should mix later on. For now, read an except of what I heard this morning that got me thinking:

It would be an oversimplification to say that American culture wars are now between people of faith and nonbelievers. People of faith are not of one mind, whether on specific issues like stem cell research and government intervention in the case of Terri Schiavo, or the more general issue of how religion related to politics. In recent years, conservative Christians have presented themselves as representing the one authentic Christian perspective on politics. With due respect for our conservative friends, equally devout Christians come to very different conclusions. It is important for those of us who are sometimes called moderates to make the case that we, too, have strongly held Christian convictions, that we speak from the depths of our beliefs, and that our approach to politics is at least as faithful as that of those who are more conservative. Our difference concerns the extent to which government should, or even can, translate religious beliefs into the laws of the state….

Many conservative Christians approach politics with a certainty that they know God’s truth, and that they can advance the kingdom of God through governmental action. So they have developed a political agenda that they believe advances God’s kingdom, one that includes efforts to ‘put God back’ into the public square… Moderate Christians are less certain about when and how our beliefs can be translated into statutory form, not because of a lack of faith in God, but because of a healthy acknowledgement of the limitations of human beings…

Aware that even our most passionate ventures into politics are efforts to carry the treasure of religion into the earthen vessel of government, we proceed in a spirit of humility lacking in our conservative colleagues… To assert that I am on God’s side and you are not, that I know God’s will and you do not, and that I will use the power of government to advance my understanding of God’s kingdom is certain to produce hostility. By contrast, moderate Christians see ourselves, literally, as moderators. Far from claming to possess God’s truth, we claim only to be imperfect seekers of the truth. We reject the notion that religion should present a series of wedge issues useful at election time for energizing a political base….

Following a Lord who cited love of God and love of neighbor as encompassing all the commandments, we reject a political agenda that displaces that love.