It is telling that the Washington Post report on the religious Left's Circle of Protection campaign for big government describes the effort as one that would "send chills through any politician who looks to churches and religious groups as a source of large voting blocs," because, in fact, this is not an honest faith-inspired campaign to protect the "least of these" from Draconian government cuts, as claimed. It is a hyper-political movement that offers up the moral authority of churches and aid organizations to advance the ends of the Obama administration and its allies in Congress.
The Circle of Protection, led by Jim Wallis and his George Soros-funded Sojourners group, is advancing a false narrative based on vague threats to the "most vulnerable" if we finally take the first tentative steps to fix our grave budget and debt problems. For example, Wallis frequently cites cuts to federal food programs as portending dire consequences to "hungry and poor people."
Which programs? He must have missed the General Accountability Office study on government waste released this spring, which looked at, among others, 18 federal food programs. These programs accounted for $62.5 billion in spending in 2008 for food and nutrition assistance. But only seven of the programs have actually been evaluated for effectiveness. Apparently it is enough to simply launch a government program, and the bureaucracy to sustain it, to get the Circle of Protection activists to sanctify it without end. Never mind that it might not be a good use of taxpayer dollars.
It is also telling that the group's advertised "Evangelical, Roman Catholic, mainline Protestant, African-American, and Latino Christian leaders" who are so concerned about the poor and vulnerable in the current budget negotiations have so little to say about private charity, which approached $300 billion last year. To listen to them talk, it is as if a prudent interest in reining in deficits and limiting government waste, fraud, and bloat would leave America's poor on the brink of starvation. It is as if bureaucratic solutions, despite the overwhelming evidence of the welfare state's pernicious effects on the family, are the only ones available to faith communities. This is even stranger for a group of people who are called to "love the neighbor" first and last with a personal commitment.
Although the Circle of Protection has been endorsed by a few Catholic bishops, the predictably left-leaning social justice groups, and Catholic Relief Services, the Catholic Church in America has long moved beyond the heady (and increasinglydistant) days of the 1980s when knee-jerk opposition to any reduction in government spending was the norm. That still holds, even if some of the staff and a few of the bishops at the Bishops' Conference still imbibe such nostalgia.
The actions of Wallis and the co-signers of the Circle of Protection are only understandable in light of political, not primarily religious, aims. Wallis, after all, has been serving as self-appointed chaplain to the Democratic National Committee and recently met with administration officials to help them craft faith-friendly talking points for the 2012 election. And when Wallis emerged from that White House meeting, he crowed that "almost every pulpit in America is linked to the Circle of Protection … so it would be a powerful thing if our pulpits could be linked to the bully pulpit here."
Think about that for a moment. Imagine if a pastor had emerged from a meeting with President George W. Bush and made the same statement. I can just imagine the howls of "Theocracy!" and "Christian dominionism!" that would echo from the mobs of Birkenstock-shod, tie-dyed, and graying church activists who would immediately assemble at the White House fence to protest such a blurring of Church and State.
But in the moral calculus of Jim Wallis and his Circle of Protection supporters, there's no problem with prostrating yourself, your Church, and your aid organization before Caesar. As long as he's on your side of the partisan divide.
This article first appeared at National Review Online.
Rev. Robert A. Sirico is president of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, in Grand Rapids, Michigan.