World News: Church Activists Arrested in U.S. Budget Protest

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More than 100 singing church activists were arrested on Dec. 14 outside the U.S. Capitol as they protested the 2006 federal budget, which they reject as immoral. The event was organized by Sojourners and Call to Renewal, two progressive faith-based groups that focus on poverty.

The peaceful demonstrators were frisked, photographed, and booked on trespassing charges—a misdemeanor that carries a $250 fine or 90 days in jail. The demonstration reflected the ongoing tussle between liberals and conservatives over what constitutes “moral values.”

Protesters said deep spending cuts in the budget will primarily hurt the poor. “This is not just bad public policy,” said the Rev. Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, general secretary of the Reformed Church in America. “This is morally disgraceful.”

But religious conservatives who focus on hot-button social issues were noticeably absent from the rally. Tim Wildmon, president of the Mississippi-based American Family Association, said his 3 million members aren’t galvanized by issues like federal spending policy. “The gospel message is about individuals helping individuals. I don’t see it in the Bible where it’s the government’s responsibility to take care of everyone,” said Wildmon.

Rev. Jim Wallis, founder of Call to Renewal, insisted that viewing poverty and the budget as moral issues is gaining traction among churchgoers and cited a growing consensus against poverty in America’s heartland. “There’s a moral center emerging in this country,” he said. “Don’t go left, don’t go right, but go deeper in the middle.” (RNS)

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