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By The Rev. Chuck Currie
“Woe to him who builds his house on unrighteousness, and his upper room by injustice, who makes his neighbors work for nothing, and does not give them their wages.” (Jeremiah 22:13)
President Obama’s tax compromise with the GOP will mean that by and large the economic policies of George W. Bush that drove the United States of a cliff will remain in place through the president’s term. Most importantly, without the president keeping his election year pledge to reduce poverty by 50% over ten years the compromise over taxes has the potential to increase the divide between rich and poor and force millions more into poverty.
The Bush presidency saw poverty and hunger in America grow to historic proportions after declining in the 1990s (once President Clinton reserved the economic policies of the Reagan-Bush years). According to the Center of Budget and Policy Priorities, millions more would have fallen into poverty (or fallen deeper into poverty) without President Obama’s stimulus package.
The compromise the president reached with congressional Republicans even includes some positive measures: like an expansion of the earned income tax credit, provisions that could spur job growth, and an extension of unemployment benefits.
But as deficits continue to grow under the new Obama-GOP compromise tax plan you will see many in Congress calling for further reductions in programs that help lift working people, families and children out of poverty.
This is an issue of paramount concern to Christians in the United States. After all, we are now in the season of Advent where we wait and reflect on the coming of the child, born homeless, who would one day teach us that how we treat the least of these in society is akin to how we treat God. Jesus has harsh words for those that would ignore this fundamental teaching:
“You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’ (Matthew 25 NRSV)
A case can be made we are already living in that fire Jesus spoke of. We cannot allow this reality to continue. In 2007, Barack Obama said:
It’s been four decades since Bobby Kennedy crouched in a shack along the Mississippi Delta and looked into the wide, listless eyes of a hungry child. Again and again he tried to talk to this child, but each time his efforts were met with only a blank stare of desperation. And when Kennedy turned to the reporters traveling with him, with tears in his eyes he asked a single question about poverty in America:
“How can a country like this allow it?”
Good question. As
The president could help reclaim leadership in the fight against poverty if he used his upcoming State of the Union Address to outline how he intends to fulfill his pledge of reducing poverty by 50% in the coming decade. We’re now two years into his presidency without the president either reaffirming that commitment or outlining an agenda for moving us toward that lofty goal.
How can a country like this allow it?
The Rev. Chuck Currie is a United Church of Christ minister in Portland, Oregon and a former member of the board of directors of the National Coalition for the Homeless.