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The rift between Christian groups over how to handle poverty programs given the country's current economic climate is this wide.
There is no debating that Jesus Christ has always come across as a charitable guy. He spoke a lot about caring for orphans, widows, the sick and the poor. Where we don't have Jesus on the record are his thoughts on the current fiscal debate. What would Jesus have said in a news conference about the debt ceiling showdown, for instance? What comment would he offer on the Affordable Care Act? Would he say high taxes are a necessary sacrifice?
A massive coalition of Christian organizations and churches has teamed up to lobby for what they think Jesus would do. Dubbed the Circle of Protection, it was established earlier this year to lobby for protecting social welfare and aid programs, such as Medicaid, food stamps and Head Start.
The coalition is described as the strongest and most unified Christian voice in the budget debate. They say it's extraordinary that for the first time the progressive National Council of Churches has come together with the National Evangelical Association, because in their view the moral question leaves no room for disagreement. They argue the choices being made in Washington are economic, political and moral – and that protecting programs for the poor is the moral thing to do.
Still there are other Christian groups who have a different interpretation of aiding the poor. The Acton Institute – a think tank that integrates Judeo-Christian truths with free market principles – has called the Circle of Protection "disturbing." Acton argues that some poverty programs "actually demean the poor, undermine their family structures and trap them in poverty, dependency and despair for generations." They are calling for cuts to some entitlement programs.
How do you think Jesus would balance the budget? Which policy platforms line up with Christian theology? With religion playing so prominently in national politics, is this a crucial question to answer? Or is it irrelevant considering the diversity of religions in this country? How much traction has the Circle of Protection had with lawmakers?
Michael Miller, research fellow and director of Acton Media at the Acton Institute, a think tank described as integrating Judeo-Christian truths with free market principles
Michael Livingston, director of the National Council of Churches Poverty Initiative; signatory of the Circle of Protection, a large coalition of Christian churches lobbying to sustain social welfare and aid programs