Two years ago I was wandering through our nation's capital, visiting Representatives and Senators from my home state, looking every bit the drowned rat due to the remnants of flood-inducing rains. As a participant in the Sojourners/Call to Renewal Pentecost conference, I was sharing the policy recommendations in their From Poverty to Opportunity: a Covenant for a New America pamphlet and emphasizing their "a budget is a moral document" message.
Whether it's personal, congregational or governmental, how we prioritize our financial resources reflects the priorities we truly embrace. We were meeting in light of the Millenium Development Goals being embraced by worldwide leaders, coming together to commit to reducing worldwide poverty and alleviating third-world debt. A summary of what we were sharing included:
Restoring the hope of our poorest families will require nothing less than a national change of heart. It is a challenge the church and political leaders should embrace. Our vision is:
• Work must work and provide for family economic success and security. Those who work responsibly should have a living family income that provides a decent standard of living.
• Children should not be poor. As a first step, our nation should develop and commit to a plan that reduces child poverty by half over 10 years.
• Extreme global poverty must end. The U.S. should support effective aid, good governance, just trade policies, and debt cancellation in order to help lift billions of people out of extreme poverty.
We embrace this covenant and invite God’s help as we commit to:
• Personal renewal and action.
• Congregational renewal and engagement.
• Societal renewal through the advocacy of voice and witness.
Our presence was graced by prominent Republicans, Democrats and Independent leaders from the government and non-profit sectors. I didn't meet a single person who seemed to disagree with the importance and sincerity of these goals. But, much like the Millenium Development Goals, what people say they value and what they prioritize through their actions do not always match up.
Yesterday, musician and social activist Bono, a long-time advocate of the MDGs, pointed out the vast discrepancy between our nation's stated commitment to the goals and our actual movement toward fulfilling them:
As Congress debates a White House-proposed $700 billion bailout for the worst financial crisis since the Depression of the 1930s, Bono questioned why wealthy countries had not been able to come up with enough aid for the world's problems.
"It is extraordinary to me that you can find $700 billion to save Wall Street and the entire G8 can't find $25 billion to save 25,000 children who die every day of preventable treatable disease and hunger," the U2 lead singer told Clinton's fourth annual philanthropic summit in New York. "That's mad, that is mad."
It is easy for me to sit back and "amen," until I stop to remember my own hypocrisy.
I've already written about this previously, but I just can't decry the ridiculousness of our nation's budgetary concessions without considering my own.
My sea of debt.
My insistence that taking public transportation is just too inconvenient.
My friend Cari lives and works in the heart of poverty in Uganda. She sees the joys and the pain. She rides in overcrowded taxi cabs, lives in sparse conditions, and pours herself out for the people of Uganda. It costs only $35 a month to provide for food, shelter and schooling for an orphan child (though I think that may have increased some with inflation).
$35 a month.
That's 7 lattes.
That's a new dress.
That's less than a tank of gas.
A budget is a moral document, but not just our government's... not just our congregations'... not just the richest individuals... mine.