The official poverty figures for 2011 will be released by the U.S. Census Bureau this fall during the critical weeks before of the November elections, and, as the AP reports, a broad consensus of experts is expecting to see U.S. poverty levels reach their highest point since the 1960s when the war on poverty first began. At the same time, we are seeing story after story about the super-rich getting even richer, profiting from financial crises while the economy is plummeting, and stashing trillions away in off-shore tax havens.
This is an issue that can touch any of us. A recent national survey showed that one in three Americans are just one paycheck away from being homeless. Among those hit hardest by poverty in America are children. According to a report by the Children's Defense Fund, the United States ranks first in number of billionaires, first in defense expenditures, but was the worst among industrialized countries in relative child poverty.
With that background, the proposed GOP budget, spearheaded by Romney's VP running mate Paul Ryan, seems all the more shocking: As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reports, the Ryan/Romney budget would slash funding for low-income programs like Medicaid and food stamps (SNAP), while preserving tax cuts for the nation's most wealthy. Ever since Romney announced Ryan as his VP pick, his campaign has been desperately trying to spin this, and distance themselves from this shocking reality of what their campaign represents, but the facts are overwhelming.
They say you can judge a society by how it treats its most vulnerable members. Looking at the proposed Romney/Ryan budget, however, together with their campaign rhetoric where we see the poor being disparagingly characterized as lazy freeloaders while the über-wealthy are lauded as "job creators," we see a perspective that completely flies in the face of the "Christian values" that Republicans want to claim to represent. As Paul Ryan said himself in a recent interview with CBN, "A person's faith is central to how they conduct themselves, in public and private." Yet the values expressed in his proposed budget are completely at odds with the values of Jesus who proclaimed "good news for the poor," and said that the true measure of a person's love for God is measured in how they care for (or fail to care for) "the least of these."
Of course one does not need to be a Christian in order to recognize the importance of showing empathy and compassion for those who are struggling to make ends meet, or to recognize the importance of caring for those who are the most vulnerable. Compassion is a value we all can share. However, one simply cannot claim to uphold Christian values (as Republican politicians and pundits are so fond of doing) when those values and priorities are the opposite of Christ's who spent the majority of his ministry caring for the sick, the poor, and the marginalized. Poverty was not a minor theme for Jesus, it was undeniably central -- both throughout the Hebrew prophets and for Jesus in the Gospels we see a continual emphasis on compassion for those in need. There are over 2000 verses in the Bible that call our attention to the plight of the poor.
Consequently, a number of Christian groups, including the Evangelical Sojourners, Catholic bishops, and even some nuns on a bus, have confronted Republicans on these policies which seek to build wealth on the backs of the poor. Still, these remain voices in the wilderness. For the most part, conservative Evangelicals still offer unquestioning support for the Republican party. But the fact is, a major change has gradually taken place in the GOP. Gone is the focus on "compassionate conservatism" with its legislation to help the poor, and in its place is an Ayn Rand philosophy that despises compassion as weakness, and idealizes the super-rich. So while Republicans may continue to use religious vocabulary in order to appeal to their conservative Christian base, they are nevertheless promoting values that are diametrically opposed to those of Jesus.
That's why I want to appeal here in particular to my fellow Christian brothers and sisters to recognize what is happening. This isn't anything new: Since Constantine, we have seen it replayed over and over. It's the age old story of the faithful being seduced by power, and it's time for us to wake up and take a stand, even if that means standing against the tide, even it means losing our seat at the table of power and joining the marginalized -- because that is where we will always find Jesus.
The plight of the poor in America is one that is often overlooked in political discourse. Lacking a powerful lobby, they are often not only the powerless and voiceless, but increasingly shortchanged and scapegoated. What we need to realize is that attention to the plight of the poor will only be on politician's radars if we put it there. We need to let them know that we care about those in need, and expect them to care as well. We the people, we the 99 percent, need to stick together. We need to make our voices heard before we end up with a government of the 1 percent, by the 1 percent, and for the 1 percent.
This post is part of the HuffPost Shadow Conventions 2012, a series spotlighting three issues that are not being discussed at the national GOP and Democratic conventions: The Drug War, Poverty in America, and Money in Politics.
HuffPost Live will be taking a comprehensive look at the persistence of poverty in America August 29th and September 5th from 12-4 pm ET and 6-10 pm ET. Click here to check it out -- and join the conversation.
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