First Posted: 7/28/11 02:48 PM ET Updated: 7/28/11 03:34 PM ET
A small group of religious leaders was arrested Thursday afternoon in the Capitol Rotunda in Washington, D.C. after refusing to stop a prayer vigil asking for lawmakers to keep social safety net programs intact during negotiations to raise the nation’s debt ceiling and cut federal spending.
The group, which included representatives of ten religious groups and denominations, has held daily vigils at the United Methodist Building near the Capitol for three weeks, but organizers said the continued lack of a resolution to the debt ceiling crisis led them to take more drastic action.
“Congress is paralyzed by toxic partisan politics while people suffer,” said the Rev. Michael Livingston, Past President of the National Council of the Churches of Christ (USA), in a statement. “Our elected officials are protecting corporations and wealthy individuals while shredding the safety net for millions of the most vulnerable people in our nation and abroad. Our faith won’t allow us to passively watch this travesty unfold….Today, we ‘offer our bodies as a living sacrifice’ to say to congress ‘Raise revenue, protect the vulnerable and those living in poverty.’”
The representatives said that if programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security are cut or changed as part of spending reductions, responsibilities for assisting the poor and elderly would fall heavily on houses of worship, which they said are already strained for resources.
In addition to Livingston, those who were arrested included Jim Winkler, General Secretary of the General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church; Rabbi Arthur Waskow of the Shalom Center in Philadelphia; the Rev. Jennifer Butler, Executive Director of Faith in Public Life; the Rev. Paul Sherry, Director of the Washington Office of Interfaith Worker Justice; the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, Director of Public Witness in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.); Sandy Sorenson, Director of Washington Office of the United Church of Christ; Martin Shupack, Director of Advocacy of Church World Service; Jordan Blevins, Director of Peace Witness Ministries of the Church of the Brethren; and the Rev. Dr. Bob Edgar, President of Common Cause.
Also on Thursday, 70 Catholic clergy, theologians and scholars from Ohio released a letter to Republican House Speaker John Boehner, who is from the state and is Catholic, encouraging him to not slash social programs.
“As one of the most powerful Catholics in Congress, you are now faced with a monumental choice. You can heed to the consistent moral calls from Catholics who have urged lawmakers to decrease our debt fairly and protect the most vulnerable or you can heed to growing political pressure from Tea Party Republicans,” the letter read.
The letter follows a similar statement to lawmakers that was released Wednesday by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Also this week, religious groups ran radio ads in Ohio, Kentucky and Neveda with testimonies from pastors about the effect of debt ceiling negotiations on their communities and Sojourners, a liberal Christian network, released it’s latest ad in Politico telling lawmakers that “God is watching” the debt ceiling and deficit reduction debate.