THE BLOG
10/16/2013 04:28 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

Take Courage for the Common Good, Reopen Government, Prevent Debt Default

Take Courage for the Common Good, Reopen Government, Prevent Debt Default

Yesterday (Oct 15), more than 70 prominent religious leaders joined with locked-out federal workers in a pilgrimage on Capitol Hill to urge an immediate end to the government shutdown and urgent passage of laws to prevent a default on the U.S. debt.

I used my iPhone to take three videos of our pilgrimage. The first two were taken as we gathered; the third, another clergyperson took as two other rabbis and I, and other pilgrims with us, talked with staff of House Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor. (See below for a verbal description of our visit there.)

We marched on key House Republican offices -- Speaker Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, and "moderates" who have said they are willing to vote for ending the crisis -- but have so far not had the courage to break with the rest of the Republican caucus.

Three Rabbis led a multireligious delegation to the office of Congressman Cantor. He is the only Jewish Republican member of Congress and a strongly right-wing member of the Republican caucus. We asked to meet with him, but his staff said that he was at a meeting in the Capitol, presumably to explore a solution to the government crisis.

The three rabbis were David Shneyer, founder of the Fabrangen Fiddlers, former president of Ohalah (Association of Rabbis for Jewish Renewal) and spiritual leader of Am Kolel congregation; Rabbi Gerry Serotta, founder of New Jewish Agenda, executive director of Clergy Beyond Borders, and spiritual leader of Congregation Shirat HaNefesh; and me, on behalf of The Shalom Center.

I began the conversation with Mr. Cantor's staff by reading from the pilgrimage letter. Rabbis Shneyer and Serotta then spoke to the need for Mr. Cantor's Jewish soul to respond to the outcry of the poor, the aged, the mothers all suffering from the shut-down.

About 30 clergy of Catholic, Protestant, and other religious groups also crowded into Congressman Cantor's office. And among us were also several low-income employees of federal contractors who had been thrown out of their jobs by the government shut-down. Two of them spoke in Spanish and had their stories of urgent deprivation -- no money to pay rent or buy food -- translated for the staff.

We sang a song composed by Rabbi Shneyer from the first verse of Psalm 101: "Of love and justice I will sing; to You, O God, I'll sing praises!" We ended with Rabbi Shneyer's sounding the shofar (ram's horn) as a cry of alarm and a call to turn in a new direction.

As the shut-down continues, seniors are seeing "Meals on Wheels" cut, pregnant women and infants are losing vital nutrition support, veterans are facing benefit cuts, and communities are put in peril by the suspension of crucial environmental protections and food-safety inspections.

This suffering -- and the worse that will follow if the U.S. for the first time in history defaults on its debt -- is being caused by the intransigence of the Republican leadership and caucus.

Their meetings -- which were being held yesterday during the pilgrimage -- failed. They refused to have the House vote on any solution, bringing nearer a disastrous debt default as well as multiplying the suffering of government employees and contractors.

"Moderate" Republicans could join with Democrats to make up a majority of House members to sign a "discharge petition" to bring the Senate budget and debt bills to a vote. They would have to be brave enough to face the possibility that the Tear Party would retaliate by running against them in Republican primaries. That is why the pilgrimage called on them for courage and commitment to the common good.

Network, the Catholic social-justice lobby that famously organized "nuns on the bus," initiated the Pilgrimage. "It's time for irresponsible factions in Congress to stop this reckless behavior and end this shutdown immediately," said Sr. Simone Campbell, executive director of Network. "There is no moral justification for holding struggling families, pregnant women and seniors hostage."

Said Alex Vesquez, a contract food worker at the Smithsonian, "Before the shutdown, I was struggling to support my unemployed father and little sister. Now I've gone from low wages to no wages. Tea Party Republicans need to stop these political games and let me get back to work."

Among the organizations that endorsed the pilgrimage and/ or sent leaders to it were the National Council of Churches, United Church of Christ, United Methodist Church, Presbyterian Church (USA), Unitarian Universalist Association, Leadership Conference of Women Religious, Faith in Public Life, Church World Service, American Friends Service Committee, Interfaith Moral Action on Climate, and major sections of the Disciples of Christ.

The Shalom Center and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College were the only national Jewish organizations that endorsed the pilgrimage.