As the government shutdown/debt ceiling crisis neared its conclusion last week, the chief Presbyterian Church (USA) lobbyist joined a left-leaning religious coalition in blaming Republicans.
The Rev. J. Herbert Nelson II, director of the denomination’s Office of Public Witness, participated in an Oct. 15 “Pilgrimage for Courage and the Common Good” through the halls of the Cannon House Office Building in Washington. The PCUSA News Service reported that marchers delivered a letter “at the offices of key members whose influence and good faith is crucial to ending this political standoff.”
“As people of faith and conscience,” the letter said, “we urge you to place shared democratic values above short-term political expediency, exercise the courage to fund our nation’s government, raise the debt limit without preconditions and get back to work on a faithful budget that serves the common good.”
The advocacy of “clean” debt ceiling and budget resolutions “without preconditions” corresponded precisely with the position taken by the Obama administration and congressional Democrats. In the past, such fiscal measures have often had conditions attached by Congress.
The letter denounced “a minority in Congress who are powerful within their own party but unable to create legislative change within the bounds of due process.” It warned of a political apocalypse: “Blocking routine but essential functions of government to extract specific policy concessions could destroy America’s democratic process.” These harsh words were clearly directed against House Republicans who were seeking to stop or delay the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as “Obamacare.”
Opposing Obamacare is ‘a grave moral failure’
The letter rejected not only Republicans’ tactics but also their objective. “To take such rash and destructive action [putting conditions on the budget and debt ceiling resolutions] in order to prevent further implementation of the Affordable Care Act – which addresses the needs of 50 million people without health insurance – is a grave moral failure,” the endorsers pronounced.
Besides the PCUSA, other organizations endorsing the letter and march included agencies of the United Methodist Church, the United Church of Christ, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the National Council of Churches, the Unitarian Universalist Association and various Roman Catholic religious orders.
The PCUSA’s Nelson released a statement of his own for the occasion. “It is a distortion of our democracy and the foundations of our political process when a small faction of one political party can take the nation hostage in order to accomplish their policy ends,” the denominational lobbyist declared. “We are witnessing a selfishness of governance that was not intended by the founders of our nation.” He insisted that “[m]embers of Congress must give up this misguided foray into political brinksmanship.”
Nelson was dismayed that Republicans were challenging the ACA. “Why are we still debating this landmark legislation?” he asked. The PCUSA official opined that “[t]hose who have contempt for government have no business serving as a Member of Congress.”
Only Republicans targeted
The PCUSA News article described the Oct. 15 event as a “march on Congress.” But a press release from the religious left advocacy group Faith in Public Life was more specific about which legislators were targeted.
“Today,” the press release trumpeted, “over 70 prominent religious leaders joined with locked-out federal workers in a pilgrimage, marched on key House GOP offices—including Leadership—and urged an immediate end to the government shutdown. At each office, the group prayed for the Member [of Congress] to do what is right and vote to immediately end the shutdown with a clean and unconditional continuing resolution and to raise the debt ceiling without preconditions.”
The press release added that “faith leaders invited moderate Republicans to join them in challenging their colleagues who are putting political agendas ahead of the common good.” It blasted Republican conservatives as “[a]n extreme faction of Congress [that] is recklessly playing politics with the lives of countless Americans: seniors seeing ‘Meals on Wheels’ cut, pregnant women and infants losing vital nutrition support, workers locked out of their jobs as bills pile up, veterans facing benefit cuts, and communities put in peril by the suspension of crucial environmental protection efforts.”
There was no indication that the Capitol Hill “pilgrimage” stopped in any Democratic offices. Neither the press release nor the letter nor Nelson’s statement raised any concerns about the Democrats’ role in the standoff.
Conservatives ‘taking food away from pregnant women and babies’
The Oct. 15 march was coordinated with efforts by Faithful America, an online religious left lobby that presented to Congress a petition bearing over 32,000 endorsements. The petition excoriated conservative Christians who both opposed abortion and favored the House position on the budget/debt ceiling resolutions.
“There is nothing ‘pro-life’ or Christian about taking food away from pregnant women and babies,” the petition thundered. “It is hypocritical and shameful for those who tout their commitment to family values to show such callous indifference.”
As Nelson and the other “pilgrims” walked from one House Republican office to the next, conveying their political demands and praying that GOP representatives would yield to those demands, they sang familiar hymns. This video shows them belting out a chorus of “Amazing Grace.” Nelson is seen on the right, wearing a red bow tie, toward the start of the video.