As a Christian, I cannot stand idly by during a time of increased poverty, war, and national tragedy as Congress attempts to cut billions of dollars to life-giving programs that assist our nation’s most vulnerable, while at the same time they attempt to pass billions more in tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans.
(If the House version of the budget passes, 220,000 low-income families may lose their food stamp benefits. If the potential capital gains and dividend tax cuts get passed, 80 percent of the benefits will go to the top 3 percent of earners, who make more than $200,000.)
Without taking action, I could not celebrate with integrity this season the birth of Jesus Christ, who said, “Just as you did it to one of the least of these…you did it to me'” (Mt 25:40), and whose first words in his public ministry were, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor” (Lk 4:18).
2.) My work has afforded me the privilege of traveling across the country and meeting amazing local leaders whose faith inspires them to serve and empower those living in poverty in their communities.
I have heard their testimonies of the incredible increase in the need for food assistance and shelter, the growing lack of health care, the difficult choices more and more single mothers have to make between child care and work and the hopelessness of the growing population of unemployed men and women.
In many cases, with the support of community and federal programs, these men and women are able to become self-sufficient and children become healthier. I’ve heard many inspiring success stories.
However, in most cases, the needs are just too great and too many families are falling through the cracks.
Policies like the ones being proposed with this budget will hurt the efforts of my friends across the country, who are working so hard to support their neighbors and rebuild their communities. I am risking arrest, in part, to stand up for my friends.
3.) I am grateful to God that I live in a country that respects my rights to protest my government’s actions and to peacefully dissent.
I believe it’s important for each of us to exercise that right when we feel called. I also believe I’m demonstrating my love for my country when I am challenging its leaders to pass laws that are more compassionate, just and fair.
4.) More than my belief in democracy, I believe in a higher order, and in an individual’s responsibility to respond to his or her conscience.
Henry David Thoreau put it best when he wrote: “Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every [person] a conscience then? I think that we should be [people] first, and subjects afterward. It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right. The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think is right.”
I believe in the dignity of each person and their right to food, shelter and health care. My conscience cannot respect this proposed law; instead I feel called to “defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Prov 31:8).
5.) More than anything, I’m risking arrest this Advent season because I have hope. And hope is what Advent is all about.
Every year during this time we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, the child who will have the government on his shoulders and will be called the Prince of Peace. His rule will establish justice and righteousness (Isa 9).
Like Mary, I strive to be one who “believed that what the Lord said to her will be accomplished.”
I believe the peace and justice celebrated as we anticipate Christ each Advent really are possible. I believe Jesus’ birth really does mean good news for the poor and that liberation for each of us is possible. I have hope that the hearts of members of Congress can be softened for Americans struggling with poverty.
And more important than the hope I have related to the budget–because God knows even if we win this budget there will be more to fight for–I have hope in the movement of people of faith speaking up and acting for economic justice.
I have only been doing faith-based social activism for roughly five years now, but I think it’s long enough to sense that God’s Spirit is moving.
Christians who were never before taking action on poverty, engaging with legislators, or thinking politically are beginning to recognize their power.
They recognize the responsibility of their power to be agents of social change to help usher in God’s kingdom, a kingdom that recognizes the dignity and rights of all of God’s people.
As Mary’s Magnificat describes, God’s kingdom does not favor the wealthy over the poor, as does our Congress. Instead, God “lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away hungry” (Lk 1:53-54).
Christa Mazzone is field organizer for Sojourners and Call to Renewal. Sojourners 2005 (c) http://www.sojo.net